$200 million school bonding plan in New London City Council's hands; cost to city put at $34 million

New London - The City Council on Monday night passed to its committees the proposal to bond more than $200 million to fund a school construction project that would complete the city's transition to an all-magnet school district.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio rolled out the bonding ordinance - which, after state reimbursements, would cost the city roughly $34 million - at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday and said the council will have to approve it by June 30 in order to "lock in" funding commitments from the state.

The City Council's Finance Committee and its Education, Parks and Recreation Committee will review the plan during a joint meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, according to the committee chairmen.

"My committee will be dealing with the financial bonding package, to take a look at the bonding and be able to hopefully pass it on to the full council," said Wade A. Hyslop, the council's president and chairman of the Finance Committee. "Hopefully all of it will be vetted and then any question that come up can be answered."

Councilor Anthony Nolan, who is chairman of the Education, Parks and Recreation Committee, said he wants the issue to get a full public airing before the City Council takes a vote on it.

"I want us to talk about it so people can understand it and people will know the specifics of the plan," he said. "There seems to be a lot of confusion about it, so I want to make sure everybody understands it."

Because Monday was the last regularly scheduled full council meeting of the month, the council will have to hold at least one special meeting if it is to meet Finizio's June 30 deadline.

At Monday's council meeting, Finizio said he regretted "that the ordinance could not have been brought forward sooner, but it was affected by the result of the legislative session which didn't wrap up until recently."

Finizio said he never expected or asked the council to approve the plan Monday.

"The assumption has always been that this would be referred to committee and that indeed several meetings may be necessary to secure passage of this ordinance and for the public to gain a full understanding of what this ordinance entails and why this bonding is necessary," Finizio said.

The plan would involve building a new STEM - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - middle school adjacent to the current STEM magnet high school on Jefferson Avenue to create a STEM campus.

New London High School would be renovated as new to accommodate the leadership and public service pathway. Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School also would be renovated as new, to house grades six through 12 of the dual language pathway.

Some facilities of the Garde Arts Center, as part of its own capital improvement plan, will be expanded and renovated to accommodate an arts magnet high school in downtown New London.

In total, the project would cost about $216 million, though the state legislature has approved reimbursement rates of 95 percent for the Garde project and 80 percent for each of the other two buildings, leaving the city to pay the balance of roughly $34 million.

Whether it is part of a larger plan or not, the city must have a plan in place by Sept. 1 in order to salvage the New England Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation of New London High School, which has not been compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act since 1988.

c.young@theday.com

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