NORWALK, Conn. — Gov. Ned Lamont joined Norwalk Democrats and school leaders Friday to celebrate state funding for a new Norwalk High School.
Lamont ceremonially signed the school construction bill passed last week by the legislature, authorizing 80 percent State reimbursement for building costs. The bill represents a commitment of about $150 million in State money for the school, and references were made to the controversy the unusual move inspired.
Video by Harold F. Cobin at end of story
The bill signing at the school came 10 months to the day after State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) surprised the public by announcing the idea, which hadn’t been on the Board of Education’s radar screen.
Instead, the BoE had been repairing the 50-year-old building, but costs kept escalating. The work was “just really putting good money after bad,” Duff said Friday. “And finally, we started have the conversation about that we could not really responsibly renovate this school anymore, we had to start thinking about building a new school.”
Though some BoE members decried the surprise nature of the plan, then-Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski acknowledged that he’d been in the talks from the get-go.
Opposition from some
The bill met resistance on the House floor Sept. 30 when Republican proposed an amendment to remove the Norwalk High School project. State Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125) said the state could not afford the project because it’s taking up so much of the bonding.
State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) rose to oppose the amendment, agreeing that the State’s fiscal future is uncertain. If you’re looking at costs, you also have to consider “the cost of inaction in this case,” Perone said. “I think it’s problematic because you’re talking about a facility that is 50 years old, it’s basically reached the end of its shelf life.”
There are increasing maintenance costs and operation costs, and the $11 million then-slated for repairs “does not buy us much time,” Perone said. “We’re going to have to have this conversation about whether to rebuild this school, re do this school, going forward.”
State Rep. Lucy Dathan (D-142) also defended the project, noting as Perone did, that the P-Tech (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) program is a great success and will be expanded under the new school construction plan.
P-Tech would be expanded to include up to 100 students from Bridgeport and Stamford. The school would also create an arts academy, open to 100 students from the towns surrounding Norwalk.
Not only does P-Tech provide job training and reduce college expenses for the students, “it’s also keeping these kids in a Connecticut., which is helping our local economy,” Dathan said.
“If we do not do this program, IBM is going to be looking in other places to expand this program, it has been that successful for them that they would like to do that,” Dathan said. “So there is a lot of evidence that we need to keep these projects in our state to increase the number of young people, talented young people, in our state to grow our economy. It really is an investment in our future.”
The amendment failed, 86-51. The next day, the bill sailed through the Senate to unanimous confirmation.
Former Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek called it a “very sad day for Norwalk,” alleging that the State Bond Commission will never authorize the money because “the state is over it’s constitutional debt spending limit by a long shot.”
Dathan on Oct. 2 responded, “The state passed school construction back earlier this year which included money for the high school. The Governor also is in charge of the bond commission. The agenda of the special session is closely worked with Governor and this high school was part of the agenda.”
Loving the idea
“This particular bill, $448 million, involves investments all over the state,” Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D-11) said during Friday’s ceremony. “It’s important for the building trades. It’s important for stimulating the economy, in every community in the state, like Norwalk with his major project, the town of Hamden, that I represent, getting new money for an expanded middle school so that the sixth grade can be added there. Similar stories are being told in every single one of the 169 communities in Connecticut.”
“I’m most excited about the P-Tech program,” Dathan said. “I come out of technology and I know how important it is to get these kids up and ready for the next generation of jobs. We are going to be doing that here in Norwalk.”
Lamont called the new high school an “easy sell.”
“I love the whole concept behind the school,” he said, calling P-Tech “amazing” because it “gives you an on ramp right from high school to a place you way may want to be for the rest of your life, right here in the state of Connecticut.”
And, “I love what you’re doing on the digital media and the arts media,” he said.
“This is a wonderful, remarkable day, a day that nine months ago or 10 months ago, we were waiting for,” Mayor Harry Rilling said, thanking Duff, Looney and the legislative delegation. “It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens because good people are dedicated to making progress. And this is, absolutely, this is progress.”