Hawley School HVAC Bonding Resolved, Finance Board Moves CIP To Council
After hours of vetting and discussions on bonding for a Hawley School HVAC project, the Board of Finance decided to parse out $8 million in funding over three years and put the finishing touches on a five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) during a special meeting November 30.
That recommended CIP was presented to the Legislative Council two nights later by finance board Chair Sandy Roussas.
A flurry of suggested amendments by finance officials during their November 30 meeting involved not only authorizing the Hawley HVAC project, but also repositioning several other planned capital expenditures to ensure the collection of bonding initiatives did not significantly spike the town over its self-imposed borrowing cap in any of the five fiscal cycles beginning July 1, 2021.
In the end, the finance board opted to unanimously adopt a suggested bonding schedule for the Hawley project that was offered by town Finance Director Robert Tait. If approved by the council and taxpayers at referendum, the $8 million allocation for the full project will see $1.5 million bonded next year to get some preliminary constriction and site preparation completed.
That $8 million figure was derived from Christopher Williams Architects’ Conceptual Estimate report. The bulk of construction and materials will be financed by $2.5 million in bonding in year two (2022-2023), and $4 million in year three (2023-2024).
It was also agreed upon during the meeting to support the retaining of a construction manager (CM) to be brought on as soon as possible so cost refining, plan and site review, and other logistics can commence as final engineering and pre-construction wraps up. The anticipated retainer of $50,000 would be covered by a small surplus in the project design budget.
In order to maintain a consistent schedule of borrowing while protecting the debt cap, officials also had to move several other bonding plans around in the CIP. That action resulted in a planned generator installation at Hawley to be moved into year one. That action was favored by Public Building & Site Commission (PBSC) Chairman Robert Mitchell, who attended the meeting remotely.
Mitchell said because the overall Hawley project will involve significant electrical work, it made sense to also take care of the generator and related infrastructure work in year one.
The act of shifting capital borrowing around the CIP will also see $795,000 earmarked next year for replacement and restoration of the high school stadium turf; $1,539,894 for a new gas boiler and LED lighting replacement at Reed School; and $425,000 for new LED lighting installation at Head O’ Meadow School.
The only year two school district bonding, if approved, would be the aforementioned $2.5 million Hawley allocation. Year three proposes the balance of Hawley’s $4 million in bonding, along with $425,000 for a Head O’ Meadow boiler plant replacement and $300,000 to activate the design phase for a Newtown Middle School HVAC renovation.
Last year, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal and Tait proposed and received approval to initiate a moratorium on any bonding in year four. That means fiscal year 2024-25 will see funding of $3.1 million for the town Capital Road Program as the only capital spending — with all related funding coming from the operating budget.
“By holding off on bonding that year, we’re creating a debt break,” Tait told The Newtown Bee following the finance meeting.
The finance director said that borrowing break relieves pressure on the town in terms of financing new debt service.
“We know we have major capital projects we need to pay for, but the break helps our debt service schedule,” Tait said.
That schedule shows principle and interest payments over time, and the town needs to ensure those annual payments can be made.
“By taking a borrowing break, the debt schedule doesn’t increase,” he added, “and it takes pressure off the budget by deferring any new debt service that year.”
Renaming And Clarifying
The balance of active CIP bonding for the school district comes in year five (2025-2026) with $3,782,228 earmarked to complete the middle school HVAC construction phase.
The shifting of the middle school bonding resulted in several district projects moving out of the active CIP and into future planning years. Middle Gate School Window Modifications earmarked at $1 million and a new high school turf practice field behind the school budgeted at $1.1 million were moved to year six.
Several school district project names in the CIP were also modified by the finance board to better clarify what the bonding would cover. “Middle School Improvements” was changed to “Middle School HVAC”; “Middle School Improvements Design” changed to “Middle School HVAC Design”; and “Multi-Purpose Building Improvements” changed to “Multi-Purpose Building Electrical/Mechanical/HVAC”.
On the municipal side, as previously reported, the finance board made few adjustments. Among them was adding a project that is going to be plugged into year six earmarking $750,000 in bonding for Fairfield Hills water infrastructure improvements.
Tait said that funding will eventually be recouped through increased assessments against water system users.
Finally, in year three, the finance board adjusted Library Renovations/Replacements/Upgrades from $650,000 to $1,046,000 — adding $396,000 to properly account for paving costs.
Final approval of the latest CIP and the selection of capital authorizations to go before voters at referendum will be made by the council, which received the CIP following a presentation by Roussas, December 2.