NEWINGTON – Following a three-hour virtual public hearing, Town Council voted unanimously to move the proposed $35.5 million renovation to Anna Reynolds School to referendum.
Current and former members of the Anna Reynolds School community put forward a lot of support for the project, which would raise taxes by $64 annually for the average taxpayer in Newington, according to the latest calculations by the town’s finance director.
Around 60 letters were read into the record by councilors, the majority in favor.
The Martinez Family shared the thoughts of their young daughter, a student at Anna Reynolds, who said the sight of water dripping from the ceiling in the school’s classrooms made her feel “frustrated, mad and sad.”
Jennifer Garofolo told councilors in her letter that not sending the project to referendum would be “irresponsible.”
“Please do the right thing by our children and the staff of Anna Reynolds,” she added.
Some residents also called into the meeting to share their thoughts with the council.
State Rep. Gary Turco, D-Newington, told elected officials he had “full confidence” the state will award Newington the grant to cover up to 58 percent of the project’s budget.
“Not only is it very important we do this for the safety and health of all those in Anna Reynolds but it’s also going to save the taxpayers money,” he said. “It’s a win-win here.”
Not everyone who spoke was totally in favor of the costly renovation.
“I am a big supporter of education but concerned about the cost of the project,” Brian Haggerty said. “No one denies the condition the school is in, but we also need to be fiscally responsible as a town.”
BOE member Michael Branda wrote, “Every time this project gets pushed aside the end result is more problems arise and more tax dollars are thrown out the window.”
“This project is probably 15 years overdue,” read a letter signed by William and Lynn DiBlasio. “Please continue to support this project and its advancement.”
Mayor Beth DelBuono pointed out that the cost of the project is high, but the facility has immediate needs and all taxpayers should have a chance to vote on funding the renovation.
“My primary concern is the $35 million price tag before us,” DelBuono said. “We were warned that municipal funding could be cut next year. We have to be conscious of that.”
The mayor shared that when she toured the building she smelled a musty odor and as an asthmatic, she would be concerned teaching inside it every day.
“I believe there are many needs to be addressed,” she said.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Maureen Brummett, who summarized the plans at the start of the meeting, told councilors the facility’s condition is not up to par with the other elementary schools in town.
“The Board of Education and I are charged with making sure all our schools are equitable in what they offer students and Anna Reynolds is not equitable with the other schools,” she said.
Brummett went on to point out that the covid-19 pandemic has triggered historically-low interest rates, which would benefit loan repayments if the project moves forward at this time.
“The project has been discussed for about 10 years and it’s not going to get any cheaper,” she said. “The longer this gets put off, the more we’re going to see rising costs.”
Deputy Mayor Gail Budrejko defended the mayor for being cognizant of the project’s high cost.
“It’s very obvious that Anna Reynolds can’t continue to operate in the condition that it’s in; there so much that needs to be done,” Budrejko said. “However I think the cost of it kind of took some of us by surprise; it’s our job as town councilors to have proposals or projects in front of us and pull them apart and ask questions. Even though timing is bad in terms of covid, taxes and economic loss and uncertainty, this is an important project and it’s ultimately going to be up to the voting public and the taxpayers to decide where it stands in terms of their priorities, so I fully support moving this to referendum in November.”
The council adopted a resolution establishing the bond question and setting the referendum date to Nov. 3, 2020.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.