New London high school project to get $10 million boost

New London — A $98 million high school construction project is getting a much-needed $10 million boost in funding.

City Finance Director Don Gray said the state Department of Administrative Services has agreed to allow the city to use $10 million from a failed $31 million plan to locate an arts magnet school campus downtown at the Garde Arts Center.

It turns a $98 million project into a $108 million project.

Ninety-five percent of the $10 million will be reimbursed by the state, as opposed to the 80 percent reimbursement rate that applies to the rest of the project.

The infusion of funds eases concerns that the long-delayed magnet school construction project can now get underway. The money also will help make up for cost escalations and changes in plans through the years.

“Every year since it was approved, and because nothing has been built, we’ve probably lost $2 million a year,” Gray said. “This is basically getting us back to where we were before.”

Delays were caused when negotiations broke down between the school district and the Garde Arts Center for the downtown campus and $31 million in fully reimbursable funds were lost. Months were spent in an effort to recoup the money and apply it to what would become a revised high school project.

“I do believe we’re on the right track now,” Gray said. “We’re close to the point where we can put a lot of this stuff causing delays behind us. At least the taxpayers will be able to see some action going forward.”

While the state has offered money from the Garde Arts Center project in the past, up to $17 million, it always had come with a caveat that the city go back to taxpayers for authorization and an uncertain outcome.

The $10 million will not need taxpayer approval, since taxpayers already approved $110 million for the north campus when they voted in favor of borrowing $165 million for the project in 2014.

Gray said the extra money was added to the overall project for contingencies such as rejection of reimbursement for portions of the project, which is not altogether uncommon in projects of this scale, Gray said. The state reimburses the city only after the project is completed.

The downside to using the contingency money now is that any added costs will come back to the city later.

The north campus project technically started this year with a running track rehabilitation project at the high school. Construction of the buildings is not likely to start until 2020, or late 2019 if a more aggressive schedule is pursued.

The state Department of Education only recently approved of the school district’s operations plan for three magnet schools spread between two campuses.

The future north campus is at the current site of New London High School and the adjacent Science and Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut. The $49 million south campus project is located at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School and the second phase of the overall project.

Under the current plan, students in sixth through 12th grades in the arts magnet pathway will attend school at the north campus. The same campus will accommodate high school students from the two other magnet themed schools: STEM and International Studies/International Baccalaureate.

The south campus will be home to middle schoolers in the STEM and International Studies/International Baccalaureate schools.

Conceptual designs for the north campus were drafted by Antinozzi Associates and await approval by the School Building and Maintenance Committee, said Diana McNeil, the senior project manager with the Capitol Region Education Council, which is overseeing the north campus project.

McNeil said the next stage is schematic designs. She called it a “good faith effort by the state” to revise the grant and allow access to $10 million and forward thinking by the city’s previous administration to build in “wiggle room” in the bond authorization that went to taxpayers.

McNeil said in a meeting on Tuesday with the DAS officials that they appeared pleased at the progress of the design of the project, a good sign moving forward.

g.smith@theday.com

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