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CT legislature greenlights 80% rate for new Norwalk High School; Jefferson funding approved

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) , second from right, unveils the highpoints of the plan to build a new Norwalk High School, in December at the school.

NORWALK, Conn. — The unusual state financing arrangement that would allow Norwalk to build a new Norwalk High School has been greenlighted by the Connecticut State Senate, without objection.

The Senate approved HB 7010, which authorizes an 80 percent reimbursement rate for NHS construction, provided that a qualifying grant application is made before Dec. 31. The bill also authorizes $33.4 million to renovate Jefferson Elementary School.

The Norwalk High School project would expand the P-Tech Academy to include 100 students from Bridgeport or Stamford and a new Arts Academy would be created, to include 100 students from Norwalk’s wealthy neighboring communities in its student body.

Those elements make it a pilot program under the bill, making it eligible for the high reimbursement rate.

The Board of Estimate and Taxation approved a $50 million capital expenditure for Norwalk High in April. The state bill allows for a maximum $189 million cost for the new school.

The new school proposal came as a surprise to Norwalk, announced by State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) in December. It was developed through discussions that included Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski and Konstantinos (Kosta) Diamantis, Director of the Connecticut Office of School Construction Grants & Review.

Duff detractors have predicted that the school would not get funding. Duff expressed confidence that it would.

They have also said it was developed in “back room discussions.” Some Board of Education members were as surprised as the public when the proposal was announced.

Since that surprise announcement, the Board of Education and other Norwalk governmental bodies have approved the project without objection.

COVID-19 ended the legislative session in March, delaying the expected debate over the reimbursement to this pre-election special session. Lawmakers said the project needs to be included in this year’s budget.

The bill met opposition Wednesday in the House, where Republicans tried to strike the project from the bill, saying Duff was seeking to go outside the normal review process. Their amendment failed, 86-51. The bill passed, 99-38, after midnight.

Thursday’s Senate vote was uneventful. The bill passed unanimously.

Duff, in speaking to the Senate, reminded his colleagues that many Connecticut communities benefited from state grants for school construction, while Norwalk has not had a new school in years. Norwalk High School is 50 years old, he said.

Norwalk is not the only community green-lighted for an unusually high reimbursement rate: Danbury would receive 80 percent reimbursement to convert commercial space into a Danbury high school, for a maximum cost of $93 million. The standard reimbursement for this would be just under 54 percent this year, the bill states. The commercial conversion is considered a pilot program.

The bill will now be sent to Gov. Ned Lamont.

“I’m very pleased the Senate approved the funding for the new Norwalk high school,” Mayor Harry Rilling said. “The old school is very tired and in need of replacement. With the funding in place, we can now move forward with the design phase to provide students with a facility of which they can be extremely proud. I thank Senator Duff for getting this done.”

Connecticut Mirror reporter Mark Pazniokas contributed to this story.

 

Story rewritten at 11:40 p.m. Original story:

NORWALK, Conn. — The new Norwalk High School construction project has been greenlighted by the Connecticut State Senate, without objection.

The Senate approved HB 7010, which provides $189 million for a new NHS, an 80 percent reimbursement rate, provided that a qualifying grant application is made before Dec. 31.

The school would expand the P-Tech Academy to include 100 students from Bridgeport or Stamford and a new Arts Academy would be created, to include 100 students from Norwalk’s wealthy neighboring communities in its student body.

The high reimbursement rate hinges on those elements, as it’s considered a pilot program.

This proposal came as a surprise to Norwalk, announced by State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) in December. It was developed through discussions that included Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski and Konstantinos (Kosta) Diamantis, Director of the Connecticut Office of School Construction Grants & Review.

Duff detractors have predicted that the school would not get funding. Duff expressed confidence that it would.

They have also said it was developed in “back room discussions.” Some Board of Education members were as surprised as the public when the proposal was announced.

Since that surprise announcement, the Board of Education and other Norwalk governmental bodies have approved the project without objection.

The bill met opposition Wednesday in the House, where Republicans tried to strike the project from the bill, saying Duff was seeking to go outside the normal review process. Their amendment failed, 86-51. The bill passed, 99-38, after midnight.

Thursday’s Senate vote was uneventful. The bill passed unanimously.

Duff, in speaking to the Senate, reminded his colleagues that many Connecticut communities benefitted from state grants for school construction, while Norwalk has not had a new school in years. Norwalk High School is 50 years old, he said.

The bill will now be sent to Gov. Ned Lamont.

“I’m very pleased the Senate approved the funding for the new Norwalk high school,” Mayor Harry Rilling said. “The old school is very tired and in need of replacement. With the funding in place, we can now move forward with the design phase to provide students with a facility of which they can be extremely proud. I thank Senator Duff for getting this done.”

Connecticut Mirror reporter Mark Pazniokas contributed to this story.

9 comments

Bryan Meek October 1, 2020 at 10:48 pm

The state is broke. There was no money for this before the global pandemic. This is one of the most cynical acts of chest pounding in the history of history here but should that surprise you from someone dense enough to launch a war on public safety officers? The state is over it’s constitutional debt spending limit by a long shot and this will never escape the bonding commission without a supermajority constitutional amendment.. This project is never going to happen under the current scope for the property itself. Recall the local neighbors opposition around 10 years ago over the electronic billboard. Massive for a 6 foot sign. Does anyone really think they will be happy with a 600000 square foot building in it’s place under the current concept? It is only going to cost Norwalk a few million in wasted engineering and planning fees, but Duff gets his headline for standing up for us so I guess it did what it needed to do. Very sad day for Norwalk.

Bobby Lamb October 2, 2020 at 1:04 am

A sad day for Norwalk??? We just got $140 million dollars that would have gone to other communities. I say THANK YOU Bob Duff!! This is a boon for Norwalk – there is literally no other way to look at this.

Townie October 2, 2020 at 7:42 am

Once again, shame on Duff. From health, life & safety standards there is absolutely no justification to support a new NHS Building. Age has nothing to do with how long any building structure can support usefulness.. There exists no established life expectancy for any school building or any other type of structures. While they do for equipment, mechanical, electric, plumbing, electronic, roofs and windows, etc. these are all very normal & typical things that have and can be replaced or upgraded. There is no limits on the number of times this can be accomplished and with every action taken to do so, you achieve new life, efficiency, modernization and obtain the benefits of any increased life, health and safety improvements available at that time. You don’t tear down and replace a high school building based purely on its age. If this were the case, Brien McMahon would have been torn down 15 or so years ago instead of being “Rebuilt as New”, an action established & encouraged by the State Government, the State BOE, the State DAS & School Construction Dept, and rewarded with increased cost reimbursement incentives. NHS was built in 1970, with one addition in the early 20’s and several upgrades, improvements, modernizations since. Everyone of them made the school better, safer, healthier, more efficient, productive user friendly , with upgraded program
Improvements. More attractive and user appealing. Full and complete abatements have been accomplished to remove all asbestos containing materials, lead, mold/mildew, as well as PCBs, along with other possible toxins discovered at that time. In door air quality has been drastically improved throughout the school, meeting or exceeding all established Ct DEEP, EPA and DEP standards. The school meets or exceeds all established Life, Health and Safety Standards and is in complete compliance with all other State, National and International Building Codes. In conclusion and in my opinion (shared by many, many others) a new NHS is not needed, nor can it be justified. The State of CT,, more importantly the taxpayers of the State and Norwalk, can’t afford this project. Question for Duff and those that support his NHS plan: All of Norwalk’s other 18 school buildings are older in age than NHS, some by many, many years. Is it necessary, or will you be proposing to tear them down and rebuild as well? If not, why not?

as what the State BOE and DAS School Construction

Bryan Meek October 2, 2020 at 8:56 am

The constitutional debt limit is 90% of 1.6 times forecast revenues, which were just forecast to go down $2 billion to around $15 billion. Or $21.5 billion and we are already over that right now with another $700 million deficit likely for this year that they are telling us about now even though a lot of our economy is still shut down. There is no money and this is just a headline for Duff and a move towards regional schooling. If we really cared about the kids in Stamford and Bridgeport, we’d create PTECH programs in those cities and save $100s of millions of dollars they won’t have to pay back in taxes if there are any jobs left in CT once they graduate.

https://www.data-z.org/state_data_and_comparisons/detail/connecticut

Bryan Meek October 2, 2020 at 4:27 pm

@Townie, nice summary of the details that haven’t been discussed.

However, you are wrong about one thing. Abatement continues, or was continuing until Duff put the brakes on that. Fortunately only a few million of the scheduled $11 million in recent improvements will be bulldozed if this pipe dream finds its way. The building’s economic depreciated value is still north of $50 million. Much of that is in debt that we will be paying off for the next 20 years, regardless of whether or not it gets demolished.

http://gis.vgsi.com/norwalkct/Parcel.aspx?pid=22936

steve October 2, 2020 at 9:34 pm

lots of knee jerk reactions here. $189 Million coming to the District- BOE is supportive (even if they were surprised)..oh yeah—regionalization, because we are so worried with the hordes of students coming in from Wilton, Darien, New Canaan and Westport…ugh…if you put someone’s name other than Bob Duff like Ellie Kousidis, they’d be jumping up and down congratulating her. Their hatred of all things Bob is palpable

John O'Neill October 3, 2020 at 7:33 am

@Steve – Let’s be serious for a second. #1) It’s nice change to have money flowing our way from Hartford, so that’s a win. 2) Do you really think a new Norwalk HS is a top priority? Are there better ways to spend $189 Million? While I think the money is nice, this demonstrates how absurd the decision making is in Hartford. This is a great example of why central government control just doesn’t work. Hell, 20-25% of our students can’t speak English for goodness sakes. Wouldn’t funding ELL programs be more pragmatic? Yes, this is a nice trophy for those into trophies. BUT, is this the best way to spend $189 Million? PLUS, another $50-60 Million from Norwalk? Ridiculous, but atleast it’s something.
Finally, a Saturday morning shoutout to the Norwalk Police Dept — Keep up the good work.

Townie October 4, 2020 at 9:20 am

Excellent comment John O’Neill. Does anyone really think that the current BOE would oppose a new school if offered? Let’s be real Steve. And let’s be honest and practical Steve, if Hartford & Duff have access to such a large sum of money, why not spend it on district needs that have a much higher priority than a new building. Finally, do you honestly believe that kids from our lilly white, wealthy neighboring school districts want to leave their perfect little lands of plenty to be with us. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved Norwalk all my life and our diversity. I’ve experienced or witnessed far too many episodes of racism and otherwise unacceptable behavior from our Lilly white privileged neighboring kids and parents during my school sports days, as well as my children’s. Not much has changed over this 50 year period and don’t have any hope that it will over the next 50. They are the extreme form of political hypocrisy hiding behind their Democrat Party membership card. Do as I say, not as I do, talk the talk, but never walk the talk! Very, very sad. I love Norwalk!

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