Bonding for Ledyard's school building projects faces delay

Ledyard — The state Senate on Friday, May 13, approved a measure that would delay until next year the state's reimbursement of the town's $65 million projects to renovate Ledyard Middle School and Gallup Hill School.

Delaying the reimbursement also may delay the construction schedule, according to Permanent Municipal Building Committee Chairman Steven Juskiewicz, leaving the town with a number of less-than-ideal options to move the projects forward.

State Sen. Cathy Osten said she was told the projects were delayed because plans still needed to be confirmed with the Department of Adminstrative Services and were not "truly shovel-ready," as were a number of projects removed from the bonding bill.

The delayed eligibility list is new this year, created in a bill encompassing capital bonds and school improvement projects. School construction grants fall under Department of Administrative Services, which consults with the legislature to include projects on a bill for reimbursement.

Juskiewicz, Osten and Rep. Mike France will meet with members of the DAS to get more information about the decision next week.

The House, which still needs to approve the bill, could do so the same week.

"I'm hoping ... they can find a way to recognize Ledyard should have been funded," Juskiewicz said.

Ledyard's middle school project, along with one in New London, was listed on the 2016 School Building Priority list in category A, which includes projects to renovate or build facilities to correct code or compliance issues.

Gallup Hill was listed in category B. 

All three are part of over $1 billion in projects removed from the state's bonding bill.

Rep. France said it was the first time category A school projects had been removed from the bill.

Unlike the New London project, which was slated to begin construction in 2020, the building committee in Ledyard had hoped to issue a bid package as early as next January and begin site work in summer of 2017, getting reimbursement for expenses as early as July or August.

However, with the yearlong delay in confirming that state money, those contracts would have to be issued without confirmation they will receive reimbursement, putting the town on the hook if the state money doesn't come through.

"There's no guarantees from the state ... . I would be more comfortable if we were on the current year's list," Juskiewicz said.

The town has two other options to continue the projects if the reimbursement is delayed, as he explained.

The town can delay construction until the bill has been put into law next year, or compress its construction schedule further.

Each of the latter two options has costs, Juskiewicz said.

Town Council Chairwoman Linda Davis said it came as a shock when she and other town officials found out the project would not be on the list.

She said she and the council are waiting for more information before directing the building committee on which course of action to take, though she was reluctant to make the town responsible for the full bond.

France said the risk of that is "low," though it was something the Town Council would certainly have to consider.

Ledyard's projects are linked: The sixth-graders, currently located at elementary schools, will be moved to the middle school into the expanded space, while Gallup Hill will receive additional elementary students as Ledyard Center School is closed and demolished, making the construction schedule complicated.

Many aspects of the project, such as asbestos abatement, need to be done during the summer when the kids are out of the school.

"The problem is we're delaying that, they're still in the old school longer; we're trying to not disrupt them more than we have to," Juskiewicz said.

The delayed eligibility list is a new creation this year, said Director of Communications for the Department of Administrative Services Jeffrey Beckham.

The measure guarantees that delayed projects will be on the list DAS submits to the Senate next year and that it will receive the same level of reimbursement.

Ledyard qualified for 62.5 percent reimbursement.

"Ultimately the drafting and enactment it is the General Assembly's will," Beckham said.

n.lynch@theday.com

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