PLAINVILLE – Citing inflated costs, a majority of the Town Council voted not to move forward with a grant application to support renovations at the Middle School of Plainville this year.
The Middle School of Plainville is the only school in Plainville which has not been renovated in recent years. Superintendent of Schools Steve LePage had supported renovations to address a variety of concerns with the building.
Ultimately, Republican town councilors Kathy Pugliese, Deb Tompkins, Joe Catanzaro and Jacob Rocco voted not to move forward with the project this year. Republican David Underwood said that it should be up to voters and Democrats Rosemary Morante and Chris Wazorko were for the school renovation.
Town Council Chair Kathy Pugliese said that the project would have cost $58.7 million according to Construction Solutions Group, LLC due to the escalating costs of materials. There would have been a possibility for the state to reimburse up to 65.7 percent of the project.
“The majority of Republicans felt that 59 million was too much to take on right now,” said Pugliese. “With escalating costs and inflation, it has become prohibitively expensive.”
Pugliese said that she may be open to looking into alternative plans down the road. But, with recession fears looming, a majority of town council members didn’t want to make the financial commitment.
“Right now, the town is in a strong financial position,” she said. “Our fund balance is healthy. But, this would have been a 20 year commitment.”
Wazorko said that he felt like some of his fellow councilors may have “misunderstood” the vote. In his mind, the vote was to leave a “placeholder” with the state in order to secure the grant. Construction, he said, was not likely to begin for another 18 months to two years.
“If we were to put shovels in the ground next week, I would agree that now is not the best time,” he said. “But, in 18 months or two years, I think we might be looking at a better economic outlook.”
Wazorko said that he doubted that the project costs would go down within this time frame. However, with the state grant potentially offsetting it, he said that the project would be more like $24 million for the town. He said that the he felt that there could have been room to negotiate waivers to remove some renovation requirements, like changing the size of classrooms.
“I think we could have got the project down to $20 million,” he said.
Wazorko said that he “anxiously awaits an alternative plan” from his fellow councilors.
“I’m disappointed that they voted no without an alternative plan,” he said. “Doing nothing is not an option. We’ve put some capital investments off for the last 5 to 10 years because we were operating under the assumption that we would be doing a renovate like new with this school. We need a plan; we need something.”
LePage said that he was “extremely disappointed by the decision.” He said that he had spent a year working on the project and was not expecting the no vote.
“I can understand the sticker shock – the expenses went from a projected $35 million to $59 million,” he said. “But, while I expect prices will normalize, I think it is unlikely that they will come back down to where they were a year ago.”
LePage said that he felt tow town’s Debt Service budget of $4.4 million could absorb the costs without a large impact to taxpayers, especially with other projects such as the Linden Street School coming off it.
“I’m pretty fiscally conservative, but this is something that needs to be done,” said LePage.
LePage said that areas of concern with the Middle School of Plainville include a leaking roof, a state required HVAC upgrade and the lack of a secure vestibule at the school entrance. While the doors do lock, the building lacks the additional security that the town’s other schools have. The school gym, he said, is a “sweatbox” and he has received many complaints about it.
“I don’t believe that this was a good decision in the long run,” he said. “The next application we can do is a year away and we now won’t be able to qualify for a renovation grant. We will now have to piecemeal out the projects.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.