New London City Council's finance committee to discuss $200 million school bonding ordinance

New London — The City Council’s Finance Committee will meet Thursday to once again take up the proposed ordinance that would authorize roughly $200 million in bonding to fund a school construction project.

If the ordinance is approved by the Finance Committee on Thursday, the full City Council will convene at a special meeting later Thursday night to vote on the issue, said council President Wade A. Hyslop, who also is chairman of the Finance Committee.

Hyslop said the City Council could still pass the ordinance before the deadline — 4 p.m. Monday — though the council would have to meet on Friday and Saturday to approve the second and third readings of the ordinance if only four councilors approve it Thursday.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio publicly announced the project and its associated costs June 13, and said the council would have to approve the plan by Monday in order to “lock in” the funding commitments from the state.

The project, which would pay for the facilities portion of the city’s transition to an all-magnet school district, would involve renovating as new Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School and New London High School, and constructing a building to house a science, technology, engineering and math middle school on the high school campus.

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

The council’s Finance Committee will meet in council chambers at 6 p.m. to debate the issue. Hyslop said he has invited Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer and all seven Board of Education members to be part of the discussion.

“This is changing the face of New London Public Schools for the better and it affects thousands of kids,” Board of Education President Margaret Mary Curtin said. “I think some people need to step aside, throw personal feelings aside, take a look at this and say yes to it.”

The Board of Education has rescheduled its meeting Thursday for 7:30 p.m. so that board members can attend the Finance Committee meeting, Curtin said.

The latest draft of the ordinance estimates a total project cost of roughly $196 million — all of which the City Council is being asked to authorize the city administration to bond — although 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.

On Monday, the Finance Committee and the Education, Parks and Recreation Committee decided to leave the matter in the committees for further study.

Several councilors expressed concerns that they had too many questions about the school construction plan and the bonding proposal, and had been put under too tight a deadline to pass the ordinance.

City Finance Director Jeff Smith said Monday night that he would need a few months to work with other financial experts to develop a detailed analysis of all the costs associated with building, operating and maintaining the new facilities.

c.young@theday.com

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