During a brief special meeting August 5, the Board of Finance unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the town to appropriate $49,250,000 for the planning, design and construction of a new Sandy Hook School. The finance board also voted to add that construction project – which will be underwritten by state grants – to the Town Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).
Prior to the vote, finance Board Chairman John Kortze called on First Selectman Pat Llodra to explain the plans and timeline for moving forward on the new school project.
Mrs Llodra told the board that the push to approve the appropriation at Monday’s special meeting was to build in enough time to plan a town wide referendum for Saturday, October 5. The appropriation was approved by the Legislative Council two days later, and now the language of the referendum question will be crafted by town officials and submitted to the Secretary of the State’s Office for review and eventual approval.
She said the plan is to submit the ballot question to the state by Friday, August 9.
The first selectman said the October 5 date was chosen for the local vote, because it is the earliest date after a September State Bond Commission meets to approve committed funding for the Sandy Hook School project.
Mrs Llodra said Governor Dannel Malloy has assured her and the town, that the state bond to cover the rebuilding costs will be on the agenda and approved “sometime in September.”
She said approving the appropriation locally, and sending the referendum question for approval “gives the state assurance that we are moving on getting this school project done.”
Once the state bond commission approves the funding, Mrs Llodra said delivery of the funds is final.
Town Attorney David Grogins walked the finance board (members John Godin and James Gaston, Jr were absent) through the stipulations of Legislative Act 13-239, which in part commits the state to providing the $50 million in bonding required to complete the project.
It has been determined that a new school facility will be rebuilt in the general vicinity of the existing building. Mrs Llodra said the plan is to have work on the current building begin as early as October 7, so the entire structure can be razed before the first anniversary of the 12/14 tragedy.
Upon questioning from finance board vice-chair Joe Kearney about whether the state might reduce the bonding amount due to unforeseen financial deficits, Mrs Llodra said the governor has assured her the money was coming as promised.
“The governor said there is no danger that these bonds will not be activated,” she said.
Mrs Llodra said she wanted to expedite the local process to provide the maximum time of 45 days for the Secretary of the State to review the ballot language, in case language needs to be modified. Once and if the ballot language is approved, there has to be sufficient time to warn the referendum both legally and practically.
Finance board member Carol Walsh asked Mrs Llodra what happens if the referendum accepting the state grant fails. The first selectman replied, “If the referendum failed, we don’t have a school project at all.”
She also referred to the recent referendum on the new high school addition, which initially failed and was then endorsed after the project was re-scoped and the cost was reduced.
Mrs Llodra said the only thing left to do once the grants are approved by voters is to work out the logistics on how the money will transact between the state and the town.