A re-referendum appears imminent and the fate of the Southington middle school renovation project could wind up back in the hands of the town’s voters as early as March.
Members of the Southington Town Council on Monday approved a motion setting a timetable for re-referendum, the first in town’s history, with a bond authorization of $89.725 million to be discussed in January and the vote to occur on March 19, 2013.
Southington Town Attorney Mark Sciota said the referendum would be held at the Derynoski Elementary School, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., if both the council and the Southington Board of Finance approve the bond authorizations following public hearings in January.
All voters would go to Derynoski to vote on the referendum, officials said.
“We will introduce the bond authorization at (the Town Council’s) Jan. 14 meeting,” Sciota said. “On Jan. 16, there will be a hearing at the Board of Finance level and they will vote that night, then there will be a hearing on Jan. 28 meeting at the council level. If this all happens, discussions have been that the referendum would be held on March 19, 2013.”
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Despite months of problems that have plagued the project including excessive costs for remediation of PCBs from the DePaolo and Kennedy Middle Schools, the request for an additional $4.725 million comes with a bit of a bonus for taxpayers – it would actually save the town a total of $940,000 to $1.8 million due to increases in reimbursement.
“The savings were found thanks to a number of things, but even in value engineering, I want to stress that no teaching or learning will be impacted by the changes,” said Councilman Christopher Palmieri, a member of the Middle School Building Committee.
In a presentation to the council on Monday, Palmieri highlighted what members of the committee learned at their meeting last week – that increased reimbursements as a result of value engineering and the implementation of Project Choice are helping the town ride the waves coming with environmental remediation needs.
Due to changes in square footage as a result of the elimination of a second teacher’s lounge area and other unnecessary space needs, the town will now receive a 56.07 percent reimbursement, a 3.55 percent increase over when the project was first approved.
Palmieri said the town is also seeing added benefits including an additional 2- or 3-percent reimbursement as a result of the town’s involvement in Project Choice, a program that brings students from Hartford to Southington.
The program, which was integrated by School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. several years ago, provided an unexpected benefit, Palmieri said, as students in the program will be entering middle school when renovations are complete. This allows for the additional reimbursements, he said.
The town also saved money as a result of a plan that will eliminate the need for a third construction year by adding project managers to expedite the remediation process.
There are some concerns, however, as the town has already value engineered out as much as possible in an effort to obtain the best cost for the taxpayers.
Councilman John Barry praised the efforts of the committee, but said that with so many cuts including the elimination tennis courts, the project has already been stripped of the state-of-the-art design promised to the taxpayers.
“These cuts, they aren’t for me to decide, but I would not have wanted to see cutting something as simple as tennis courts,” Barry said. “The bigger issue, the building is not going to have a generator. It is supposed to be state-of-the-art building to open in 2014 and we won’t have generator. I feel we are nickel and diming in ways that, in the long run, could have a negative impact. That’s my only concern.”
Sciota said the town is currently exploring other options including donations and grant funding to get a generator for use at the schools, particularly at DePaolo. DePaolo serves as a secondary site for emergency response in bad weather and other situations that could create a large need for shelter space in the community.
The schools will be fitted with proper wiring as part of the project, he said, and the generators can be installed at a later date.
But the question remains, would the changes be enough to gain approval from the voters a second time?
The original referendum, held as part of the general election in November 2011, passed with little opposition by an almost 4-1 margin, but issues discovered during the planning phase of the project could present some challenges as the town seeks the approval of voters a second time.
In addition, the vote would come during a special referendum and would be the only question on the ballot. These referendums often see a much lower turnout and can inspire those opposed to a project to come out, according to Republican Registrar of Voters Robert Sherman.
Either way, the project is likely now in the hands of the Southington voters.
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