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State Approval Leaves Fate of Middle School Project in the Voters' Hands

The state approved the second set of blueprints for the Southington's middle school renovation plans on Wednesday, but some officials worry state funding "is no guarantee."

The state has approved plans for the renovation of DePaolo Middle School on Wednesday and with the Southington Town Council approving a referendum for March 19 earlier this week, the fate of the project now lies solely in the hands of the voters.

It’s a best case scenario for the project, which appeared to be potentially doomed just a few months ago when members of the Middle School Building Committee learned that the project would require environmental remediation costs that were higher than anticipated.

“To be here, to come before the council and be able to present something that could potentially save the taxpayers in town money, it’s a testament to members of the working committee and the effort they put in,” said Edward Pocock Jr., chairman of the building committee. “They deserve all the credit for us being able to present a reasonable plan to the voters.”

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When voters take to the poll on March 19, they will be asked to approve $89.725 million for the project, almost $5 million more than voters approved in a 2011 vote. The primary reason for the increased cost is $9.2 million for unexpected PCB remediation needs at both Kennedy and DePaolo.

The cost may be increasing, but Town Councilman Chris Palmieri said there is good news that comes along with it. Changes to the project are expected to increase state reimbursements by nearly 4 percent and with additional funding available from the town’s involvement in the Project Choice program,.

But there is still one question left that the town may have to wait years to receive an answer on – will Connecticut follow through in providing the funding that Southington has been promised for the project?

John Barry on Monday expressed concerns that the state’s growing financial problems could adversely effect reimbursements due to the town.

“The state is out of money. They will be looking for ways to cut and I’m concerned it will include items like this,” Barry said during the council meeting this week. “There is a very real possibility based on the state budget crisis that Southington could see a reduced reimbursement rate.”

Both Kennedy and DePaolo Middle School renovation plans have been officially approved by the state, however, and Pocock said he believes that barring an emergency, the town should be able to expect what it has been promised.

By approving the projects – DePaolo was approved Wednesday, just a little more than a week after state officials put their stamp of approval on plans for the Kennedy renovation – Pocock said it sets in motion a long process that will lead to reimbursement of 56 percent once the project is complete.

Still, there’s always a possibility that something could change, he said.

“You never truly know what’s going to happen, but we are in a good position now,” Pocock said.

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Paul B January 31, 2013 at 11:19 AM
“To be here, to come before the council and be able to present something that could potentially save the taxpayers in town money, it’s a testament to members of the working committee and the effort they put in,” said Edward Pocock Jr., chairman of the building committee. “They deserve all the credit for us being able to present a reasonable plan to the voters.” I'd be more inclined to say something along the lines of, "Now that you've fixed your screw up from the first go around, we can proceed." I also think that John Barry's concern is a valid one for the taxpayers. The State is running bone dry and Malloy has already said he doesn't intend to raise taxes. So Hartford will be looking for programs to cut. One has to think that a renovation program for two fairly decent buildings will be a target. Voters should nix this project for now until the economy improves. The last thing we need with all the money the current council has spent is to have the rug pulled out from under us on a $90 million renovation.
S10 January 31, 2013 at 12:53 PM
What is the "Southington student increased growth or decline number" for the renovated middle schools projected at over the next decade? I was told by a school administrator from a neighboring town that they are expecting student enrollment to decrease and "the same thing will happen to Southington" as the town's population ages. My concern is the Bldg Committee expanding and renovating our middle schools so that we can bus in more students from neighboring cities through 'the project choice program'and not because Southington students need it? Palmeiri is not an objective committee volunteer because he has a vested interest ,as his paid job is as the Vice Principal of Depaolo Middle School, to see the student enrolment at his school increase regardless of where the students come from. He doesn't have any of his own children slated to attend our schools so any change in School Culture or Climate doesn't effect him as much as an increased bottom line.
MKP January 31, 2013 at 01:22 PM
S10 have you looked around Southington lately?? Subdivisions of large homes are being built on Savage St and Pleasant St just off the top of my head, and families with children will be moving to these subdivisions. Children who will need an education so I strongly doubt that enrollment will be declining! Also if you are concerned about students being bused in from nearby cities then you should go live under a rock someplace ... we are no longer in the 1950s and those children deserve a quality education just as your children do. Chris Palmieri has always separated his position as a school administrator from his responsibilities as a member of the town council, and if he had children I'm sure he would embrace the idea of sending them to local schools with the cultural diversity that exists in our world today. My child attends a magnet high school in Hartford for half the day and it has been the best experience for them, even better than what she experiences at our local school. The time for updated middle schools in this town was like 10 years ago and I will strongly support this project!
Arthur Cyr January 31, 2013 at 05:13 PM
#1. ASK someone if Southington has EVER received LESS than the % promised from the state for a school renovation project. ANSWER = NO. 2. "a renovation program for two fairly decent buildings" is an absurd statement. They are both 42-25 years old with no upgrades since being built in the 1960's. 3. State and federal governments and agencies (like EPA and DEEP) change requirements all the time. Thats what caused the increase in hazardous remediation. 4. Chris Palmieri, or myself, or other committee members don't need to have a child in or going to be in either middle school to be involved in this project. But the difference is that Chris Palmieri works with teachers and students on numerous after school programs as well as homework programs and other town activities. AND he formed a sub-committee of department heads and administrators to help do a five page list of VALUE engineering to make the finished design better for staff & students while cutting over $10 million from the architect's original estimate. 5. Back to Paul B - "Voters should nix this project for now"?? Another absurd statement. This re-referendum will SAVE us over $1 million and building costs only go UP the longer we wait. The State of CT has already approved the Kennedy plans and now the DePaolo plans. There is NO chance of someone "pulling the rug out from under us." That is pure scare tactics and absolutely wrong. Informed voters should approve this by voting YES in March.
Les February 01, 2013 at 11:12 AM
I'm thankful you have not spread your seed, Arthur Cyr. [leastways as far as we know] I agree with Paul - drop this idea and just fix what needs fixing. By your own comments, Arthur Cyr, the administration hasn't properly maintained the building but lack of maintenance is no excuse to completely redo two structures to the tune of 90 million bucks. A 45 year old public building is so old that it to needs to be redone if properly maintained as you go along. S10 is correct, too: The first renovation that was put to referendum included things like climbing walls and teachers lounges, stuff that bears no relationship to growth in student body (nor, frankly in this writers opinion, to need). This whole project is a complete waste of money and I am glad the first approval blew so that taxpayers can give a resounding NO to the next one. I would, too, urge voters to vote NO to the renovation project.
Arthur Cyr February 01, 2013 at 06:48 PM
"To Les" I noticed you're too embarrassed to post your name. Not surprising with you nasty comments and wrong assumptions. Both my children went through the middle schools and SHS. Yea, you were wrong all the way. Any home in this town built in the 1960's by now has had the plumbing and electrical components upgraded and renovated - but not our two middle schools. It may be too much reading for some to do, but on the town website you can go read the minutes of this Building Committee and see what they've reduced and revised to get to the new totals. Anyone who posts "This whole project is a complete waste of money" is so uninformed or misinformed they need to read all the attachments and reports with every set of minutes. It is all documented. BTW, the currently approved total is $85 million and the SOUTHINGTON TAXPAYER portion is $40 million. The new referendum total is $89.725 million..... but the SOUTHINGTON TAXPAYER portion drops to $38 million! You vote NO and you'll pay $2 million more!! We'll VOTE YES! and pay less property taxes.

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