To close gap, Norwalk school Facilities Committee advances shifts to project schedule
NORWALK — To make up for a recently discovered roughly $20 million budget shortfall, the Board of Education Facilities Committee voted unanimously to defer one school project and shift funds from others in order to move forward with three projects: the new Columbus School at Ely, the Jefferson School renovation and the new Norwalk Global Academy at Concord Street.
At its Tuesday meeting, the full board will vote to advance amendments to its long-term plan to add more seats to the district, which includes the shifting of $13.5 million from elsewhere in the capital budget and cutting the renovations originally planned for Cranbury School. The idea, instead, is to advance a new Cranbury School during next year’s budget cycle.
“I had identified, or we had identified, the shortfall, essentially at the time the capital budget was, for 19-20, was before the mayor,” said Norwalk Public School Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton. “It was obviously late at that point to indicate to the mayor that there was a shortfall that totaled, at that point, it was about $20 million. And the mayor indicated to me at that point that he was declining to add $20 million to the capital budget. So that’s why we’ve gone back to look for ways to identify, how can we advance these projects.”
At the March meeting of the Board of Education Facilities Committee first discussed the shortfall, which exceeded $23 million but, because of re-purposed funds, was brought down to the ballpark of $18 million.
The shortfall was blamed on former Norwalk CFO Bob Barron, who manipulated cost projections, Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski said in March “in an attempt to meet a dollar amount that he was comfortable with,” in past budgets.
Included in the actions approved by the Facilities Committee is a new, slightly more expensive plan to build the Global Academy School as new, rather than using the old Columbus School building, costing roughly $1.5 million more up front, but in theory saving the city money long term.
“I’m sick and tired of watching these band aid projects at every school, as long as I’ve lived here. We always run over money, we always have to cut corners at the end, we end up with something half-assed,” said board member Bryan Meek. “What we really need is we really need new schools, stop getting into these projects where we give these developers all this money to make something that’s have as good as what we need.”’
Board member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell wondered if by approving the more expensive Global Academy School, the board was cutting into projects badly needed at other schools, such as Wolfpit, Cranbury and Naramake elementary schools, all of which still have a shared cafeteria and gymnasium space.
Board of Education and Facilities Committee Chairman Mike Barbis responded that a deal had already been reached with Mayor Harry Rilling to build a new cafeteria in every school.
“The mayor’s very committed to adding cafeteria’s at every school, so everyone’s got to get in line. It can’t all be done overnight,” Barbis said.
Hamilton explained that $11 million of the shortfall would come from the deferred Cranbury project and from money originally allocated for Fox Run School, and from elsewhere in the capital budget, like the district BMS and fire alarm systems.
“Essentialy we scoured all of the board’s capital accounts to identify where is the money that can allow us to proceed with these projects,” Hamilton said.
Additionally, the board is seeking to increase it’s total capital request by $1.5 million. Funding for all projects, and the request for more money, need to be moved along quickly to meet state regulations.
“In the meantime, in order to advance these others projects ... we do need to have sufficient funds available on or before June 30,” Hamilton said, referring to state regulations that mandate that municipal funds be allocated before projects can be approved.
To hit that June 30 deadline, the amended project plan needs approval from the mayor, the Planning Commission, the Board of Estimates and Taxation and the Common Council.
“We can do it but there’s not time to delay at this point,” Hamilton said.
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