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    Sunday, March 26, 2023

    State legislature to consider funding for Norwich’s $385 million school project

    Norwich ― The city’s $385 million school construction project was approved easily by voters in November, but state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, needed to convince the General Assembly committee in charge of school funding that the project should be on the state’s priority list this spring.

    By a vote of 5,600-3,660 in November, Norwich voters approved the $385 million plan to build four new elementary schools, either replace or substantially renovate one middle school and move adult education and administrative offices into the vacated Samuel Huntington School. Three school buildings will be demolished and three other elementary schools will be shuttered as the new schools come online.

    Osten, whose district includes Norwich, said the Norwich project initially was not on this year’s priority funding list by the legislature’s School Construction Project Priority List Review Committee. Osten said she called the state Department of Administrative Services and was told state officials did not think the Norwich project would be ready for funding this year.

    Osten responded that voters already had approved the project and it would be “very much ready” for funding this year. The review committee, which consists of chairpersons and ranking members of Appropriations, Finance, Revenue and Bonding and Education committees, approved the Norwich project “with very small amount of debate,” Osten said. She said members asked questions on local voter support and project timing.

    “I was able to tell them the taxpayers in Norwich have turned down a lot of bond agendas in the past, and voters came in and overwhelmingly supported the school bond. I told them it is a testimony that Norwich taxpayers want these schools (upgraded),” she said.

    As the local School Building Committee is going through the early steps of selecting an owner’s representative program manager, Osten is working to secure state reimbursement for much of the project cost through the current legislative session.

    Voters were told of the estimated $385 million total project cost, city taxpayers would pay between $97 million and $153 million, depending on the reimbursement rate provided by the state.

    Osten said she will work to boost the city’s reimbursement rate later in the legislative session in connection with state budget discussions. Norwich is slated to receive about 67% reimbursement, but Osten said she will argue that Norwich should receive at least “what Stamford got,” which is a 80% reimbursement for its school construction project.

    The General Assembly’s Education Committee will hold a public hearing on the school construction priority list this spring, Osten said. The date has not been set.

    The Norwich project calls for building new schools on the grounds of the current Moriarty Environmental Sciences, Uncas and John B. Stanton elementary schools. The existing buildings will be demolished when the new schools are ready. A new school will be built on the grounds of the former Greeneville School, which was torn down several years ago.

    The Teachers Memorial Global Studies Magnet Middle School either will be completely renovated or replaced. The recently renovated Kelly Middle School will remain as is.

    School Building Committee Chairman Mark Bettencourt said the committee is moving forward with plans to hire an owner’s representative program manager for the first phase of the project. The committee received five responses to its request for qualifications and will interview candidates at its Feb. 21 meeting.

    Once the program manager is hired, the committee will work with the manager to select an architect for the first phase of the project, which calls for building the Stanton, Greeneville and Moriarty schools.

    Bettencourt said the committee also will focus this spring on securing a higher state reimbursement rate.


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