Stonington will not bond sidewalks, school repairs

Stonington — The Board of Finance this week agreed to begin funding school repairs and possibly long-awaited sidewalks along Route 1 in Pawcatuck using the town undesignated surplus, unspent capital improvement funds and other funding instead of bonding the work and incurring more debt payments for the town.

Originally the board has been considering sending a potential $6.9 million bonding proposal to install sidewalks, replace mechanical equipment at the high school and middle school and repair the town’s aging sewer system to votes later this year.

But on Wednesday night, the board agreed to reallocate unspent money from the capital improvement account to replace the 21-year-old leaking roof and install air conditioning frames at Stonington Middle School. The roof is estimated to cost $817,000 after state reimbursement.

The board held off on funding other items, such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning repairs at the high school and middle school and new field lighting at the high school.

The board also learned this week that the town has $3.4 million over and above an amount equal to two months of the town’s operating budget in its undesignated surplus fund that could be used for projects. The two-month amount is what bonding agencies require the town to have on hand in order to maintain its high bond rating which results in lower interest rates on projects the town bonds.

The town also will design the areas of sidewalk to fill in areas from the high school to downtown Pawcatuck where sidewalks do not currently exist along the narrow, busy road. Simmons said the town will return to the finance board with the engineering study and more detailed cost estimates in about three months and seek approval for funding. Preliminary estimates have placed the cost at about $800,000.

Residents have pushed town officials for years to install sidewalks that link Stonington High School with downtown Pawcatuck. Attempts to secure state funding have been unsuccessful and money was never included in the town capital improvement budget for the work.

Recently First Selectman Rob Simmons convinced the southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments to include the sidewalk work among its short list of projects that are a priority to receive any state funding. Initially, the sidewalk project was left off the list. But he said it is unlikely there will be any state funding coming to the town because “the state is broke.”

After residents resumed their call for sidewalks this past spring, $80,000 was included in the 2019-20 budget to initiate an engineering study to determine the scope and cost of extending sidewalks from the high school to downtown Pawcatuck.

The town also faces needed repairs to its sewer pumping systems and sewer lines.

The discussions also come as the town learned this week that it will bond $3.5 million less than approved for the expansion and renovation projects at Deans Mill and West Vine Street schools.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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