Legislature postpones New London school construction funds

As a cost-cutting measure, the state legislature on Friday was expected to postpone for at least a year the funding for a portion of the New London school district’s $150 million magnet high school construction project.

The Senate voted to strip the $39.4 million promised to New London from a previously approved school construction bonding package. The House of Representatives was expected to follow suit later on Friday.

The money represents the state’s share of a $49.4 million construction project that would transform the campus of the Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School into the south campus of the New London High School. It is one of several major undertakings by the school system on its way to transforming into an all-magnet school district. The $98 million in funding for the first phase of the project — the north campus at the site of the current high school — remains in place. Each of these campuses will eventually serve grades 6 through 12.

Kate McCoy, director of planning and magnet school development for the school district, said school officials have received assurances from both the commissioner and director of school grants at the Department of Administrative Services that the project will be placed back onto the 2016 priority list.

The postponement, she said, will not impact plans for school construction since the district is currently working to complete an operations plan.

“Although we were unaware it would occur, it does not shift our timeline,” McCoy said.

State Rep. Ernie Hewett, D-New London, and State Rep. Aundre Bumgardner, R-Groton, both said the project funding was pulled because, like other projects that were not funded, it was not shovel-ready. They said they expected the funding to be placed back on the priority list if there is some movement in the way of planning for the project.

“We were not 100 percent ready anyway,” Hewett said. “At some point up here, you have to have a little faith in the system. I’m confident that everything’s going to work out.”

Construction for the high school’s north campus was tentatively slated to begin in 2020, though officials said that date is in flux.

The funding for the south campus of the high school was previously approved by the legislature’s School Construction Project Priority List Review Committee and the Department of Administrative Services. The Connecticut Mirror reports that the $271 million earmarked for new construction this year represents just over half of the $518.8 million previously approved.

 g.smith@theday.com

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