New London to finally get $3 million from state for Jennings School project

New London — The state has agreed to release about $3 million in refunds due to the city for the construction of the C.B. Jennings Elementary School, city officials announced on Thursday.

City Councilor Michael Passero said the money will come after several years of work to clear up paperwork on the construction project and satisfy a host of state requirements.

Passero attended a meeting at the state Capitol Thursday with state Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, and representatives from the state Office of Administrative Services, whose division of construction services is responsible for the administration of the state school construction grant program. Administrative Services Commissioner Donald DeFronzo was among those in attendance.

Passero said he was pleased the money due to the city was finally coming back and would help to avoid further bonding being proposed to fill gaps in the city finances.

The news comes nearly 13 years after construction at the Jennings school began and just days after the City Council authorized bonding $4.4 million to help shore up finances, in poor shape in part because of other uncollected state grant funds.

Passero said the city was expecting the money, but the issue took on new urgency when the council was presented with a proposal to bond $10 million — more than $3 million of which was money to compensate the unpaid grants from the Jennings school project.

New London should expect about half of the $3 million by mid-May and the remaining balance several months later after the final audit is completed.

“This is very good news for our city, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and cooperation of our legislative leaders, Senator Stillman, Representative Ernest Hewett and Representative Elissa Wright,” New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said in a written statement.

In his State of the City address, Finizio said the city was in financial peril and virtually out of money with a diminishing fund balance and deficits in the city’s capital projects fund.

“The timing couldn’t have been better,” Finance Director Jeff Smith said in a written statement. “The first half of this money will arrive before the end of this fiscal year.”

In total, city officials estimate they have failed to collect $6.9 million in state grant funding, including $5.3 million for school projects dating back to 2000.

Passero said that meeting with the administrative services representatives also helped to ensure that closing of the construction projects and requests for grant funds for the Nathan Hale and Winthrop elementary magnet schools would go smoothly. Those projects, he said, are now in the process of being closed out.

g.smith@theday.com

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