Norwich City Council kills proposed school renovation project

Norwich — Calling it ill-conceived, with more questions than answers, the City Council on Monday killed a proposed $144.5 million major school renovation project that proponents had hoped would be placed on the November ballot for a referendum.

The council had tabled action on the proposal at its May 1 meeting, and nearly let the project die for lack of action Monday before raising it at the last minute before adjourning the meeting. With Mayor Deberey Hinchey absent due to illness, the council voted 4-2 against endorsing the project, ending any chance that it could be revived for this November's ballot. Alderman H. Tucker Braddock and Alderwoman Stacy Gould voted in favor of sending the project to referendum.

The plan, which would have cost city taxpayers $57.6 million if current state reimbursement formulas remain intact, called for renovating four schools and consolidating the seven elementary schools and one sixth-grade academy into those buildings. The recently renovated Kelly Middle School would remain for grades seven and eight.

But aldermen objected that the four schools chosen were concentrated in the western half of the city, leaving students in the southern and eastern neighborhoods with longer bus rides and no neighborhood schools.

Alderwoman Joanne Philbrick, who served on the School Facilities Review Committee, said the consultants and supporters of the project never answered questions about how the project would improve the city's education system.

“A bigger, better, more expensive building does not necessarily equate to a better education,” Philbrick said.

School Superintendent Abby Dolliver, who attended Monday's council meeting, said she and other project supporters were not given the chance to provide more information and to answer aldermen's questions. Dolliver had prepared an information packet for the council, but did not bring it to Monday's meeting, because the school project was not on the agenda for that night.

She was told it was not up for a vote Monday, but not that the project would have died anyway without a vote Monday. Aldermen were unsure on that point as well, until Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll confirmed just before the vote to adjourn Monday's meeting that failing to act that night also would have killed the project for this year.

Dolliver said consolidating schools was proposed to help the financially strapped school district and city deal with the problem of having so many small, aging school buildings. While she wouldn't argue that new buildings raise test scores, having fewer and newer facilities would reduce building maintenance costs, diverting those resources to the education system.

c.bessette@theday.com

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