Councilors choose not to act on magnet district bonding ordinance

New London - Two committees of the City Council on Monday night wrestled with a proposal to authorize a roughly $200 million bonding ordinance to fund a school construction project.

As of late Monday night, the committees had elected to leave the matter in the committees for further study.

"There are questions out there that need to be answered," said council President Wade A. Hyslop, who also is chairman of the finance committee. "I think the best thing to do is leave this in committee until we get some answers."

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 of a deadline to pass the ordinance.

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 at 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.

In total, the project is expected to cost roughly $216 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.

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 June 30 in order to "lock in" the funding commitments from the state.

Finance Director Jeff Smith told the committees that by approving the ordinance, it effectively would hold a spot in line for the city to access state funding for a school construction project. The city actually would not issue the bonds for about five years, he said.

"Obviously, we want what is best for our kids and want them to have everything they deserve," Councilor Anthony Nolan, chairman of the Education, Parks and Recreation Committee, said. "But unfortunately, what you put before us, or what the mayor put before us, has too many questions and leaves us confused. And to push something forward and have this much confusion isn't good."

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 that would be associated with building, operating and maintaining the new facilities.

It was not clear Monday night whether the council's committees would revisit the issue this week, as would be necessary to meet the June 30 deadline.

c.young@theday.com

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