NEW BRITAIN – Renovations for three New Britain schools could happen faster as funding through a school construction bill was passed by the state House this week.
“I am pleased the New Britain school district is slated for these funds and I thank my colleagues for recognizing this request,” said state Rep. Bobby Sanchez. “For these projects, the legislation increases the state’s rate of reimbursement to New Britain to 95% of eligible construction costs and greatly reduces any financial burden on the city and taxpayers.”
The allocation for New Britain will cover nearly the entire cost for work at Pulaski and Slade Middle School that both need new roofs, and Chamberlain Elementary School will get some much-needed renovations and upgrades that would cost an estimated $50 million. The new roofs are estimated to cost about $2.5 million for each location.
Renovations for Chamberlain will be similar to the project that Smalley School underwent from 2017 to 2019, where the facility had an almost 80% building makeover through a roughly $40 million project that brought primarily new spaces outdoors for students, including playgrounds, a garden area and outdoor amphitheater. Twenty-two thousand square feet and eight classrooms were also added.
Sanchez, who co-chairs the legislation’s Education Committee, fought to ensure the city’s reimbursement percentage is higher this time around.
“New Britain would always get a reimbursement from the state at about 80%, and because New Britain has such a high property tax rate, a mill rate at 50.5%, I don’t think taxpayers can afford to pay more in bonding because the city would have to bond for their portion and add that to their budget,” he said. “Because of that, I wanted to do more to help because we’re a poor city and our tax rate is high.”
So he asked for 95% of state reimbursements for the three projects in the bill and discussions went back and forth between the committee, other state departments, and Governor Ned Lamont’s Office over the last several months. Now that the bill has passed in both the state House and state Senate, it is just waiting for Lamont’s signature to make everything official.
Once the money is made available, the $50 million Chamberlain project will cost the city $2.5 million rather than $10 million.
“Which is a huge savings,” said Sanchez.
Some of the renovations will include a new family health center, a family resource center, and making the gym and auditorium accessible for community use during non-school hours.
In terms of starting projects amid the covid-19 pandemic, the state representative said several school officials have stated that with a large number of students currently on the remote-learning platform, it would be a good time for construction to happen while the students are not in the buildings.
“If schools shut down and students don’t return this year, some schools have said that they would start construction immediately,” he said. “There are obviously pluses and minuses, but we are just moving forward in the best ways we can.”