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Board of Finance delays school project

STONINGTON — The Board of Finance last week denied a K-12 School Building Committee request for up to $50,000 to move forward with plans to renovate and expand two of the town’s aging elementary schools.

Instead, board members voted to include the requested money in the 2014-15 budget as a capital improvement item.

The move, opposed only by finance board member June Strunk, effectively halts any chance the committee had to meet a state deadline next year.

“It’s off the table now until at least 2015,” Superintendent of Schools Van W. Riley said. “We believe there is a strong need for this elementary schools project. This is very important for the community, and we were trying to put it on a track.”

The approval of the $50,000 now was crucial to the committee’s objective. The money would have paid for an architect to develop conceptual plans for a referendum, one of many requirements that the committee had to meet so it could submit a project application to the state for consideration by June 30, 2014.

The application needed to include certification that the project had been approved in a referendum.

The committee estimates that the West Vine Street portion of the project, which would eventually put all of Pawcatuck’s elementary school students under one roof, would cost $22.3 million, and the Deans Mill portion nearly $20 million.

“One of the concerns is the condition of these buildings,” Riley said of the West Vine Street and West Broad Street schools in Pawcatuck, and the Deans Mill School. “They’re in need of repair. Now, we’re going to have to patch them, make temporary fixes. How much money is it going to cost to put a patch on?” he asked. “It’s disappointing. We’ll continue working and doing what we need to do to bring to fruition.”

The committee approached the Board of Finance with the request in September, but board members were hesitant to authorize spending $50,000 before they knew the potential cost to taxpayers.

After the committee presented cost estimates and project information at the Board of Finance’s meeting last month, board members tabled the request to “allow everyone time to digest” the information, Strunk said.

“We have a lot of debt on the books that hasn’t come off,” newly elected bard Chairman John O’Brien said. He recommended putting the money into the budget as a capital request.

The former chairman, Glenn Frishman, who is now serving as secretary, agreed. “It makes sense to include it in the budget,” he said.

K-12 School Building Committee chairman Robert Marseglia said the committee will continue to meet and plan.

“We can continue to work on the priorities based on need for both the Pawcatuck side and Deans Mill,” Marseglia said. “We can streamline the process, develop more information to give to the architect. We can get the documents, everything we need prepared, so we’re ready.

“I’m disappointed because our method of thinking was to plan out for the future for when the money is available. Now we don’t know if it will be,” he said.

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