Killingly looks to move on a comprehensive school upgrade project

John Penney
| The Bulletin

KILLINGLY – Presented with a time-sensitive – and higher state reimbursement – opportunity to apply for a top-to-bottom school renovation project, the Town Council on Wednesday agreed to withdraw a previous application that would only have demolished portable classrooms and added a new wing at the Killingly Memorial School.

The option came to the council just days before the today’s deadline when Town Manager Mary Calorio needs to give an answer to the state Office of School Construction on which way the town wishes to proceed with the new offer.

The “renovate-as-new,” state-favored plan calls for replacing an antiquated heating system at the Main Street school with a combination heating-cooling system; re-doing the facility’s electrical system; adding a fire-suppression system to the main building; renovating the cafeteria’s kitchen area; and conducting asbestos abatement throughout the structure.

The cost for the main building work is estimated at approximately $15 million with a state reimbursement rate of 72%. When combined with the previously approved $16.5 million cost to remove the school’s portable classroom and the addition of a single-story wing, preliminary costs for the entire project are pegged at about $34 million, with the town’s share estimated at $9.5 million.

The smaller project came with a 60% reimbursement rate and would have required the town to bond $7.5 million. If the town opted to tackle the main building work separately in the future, there would be no incoming state reimbursement money.

“Yes, it’s an additional $2.2 million the town would be paying, but we’re talking about $2.2 million for more than $15 million in renovations,” Council Chairman Jason Anderson said during the council’s special meeting. “That’s $13 million covered by state reimbursements.”

Calorio said a recent conference call with Konstantinos Diamantis, director of the Department of Administrative Services’ Office of School Construction Grants & Review, changed concerning the portable classroom project, which was slated to be reviewed by the state in anticipation of being placed on priority grant status.

“The conversation very quickly switched gears to concerns with the main building,” Calorio said, with Diamantis favoring a comprehensive overhaul of the school. “The idea was one of cost-efficiency.”

The state’s stance is having workers concentrating on just one comprehensive renovation project is more efficient than doing piece-meal work over the course of several years.

The council did not approve authorizing any new funding on Wednesday – that will have to be determined after conversations with the Board of Education and, depending on Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders, town council action or the normal public approval process.

Calorio said both the school district’s interim and new incoming superintendent are in favor of the more comprehensive project, though the Board of Education has not yet been formally consulted on the option.

The downside to pulling the current renovation application is one of timing, Calorio said. By withdrawing the previous application, the town must reapply for the larger project by June, likely pushing any work at the school until 2022.

If the town opts not to approve the larger project, the bonding money previously approved for the portable classroom work with still be available.

Calorio said the state taking such a specific interest in a school renovation project is rare, but not unprecedented.

“This director has done that more and more frequently lately in other communities, including Groton,” she said.

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