The future of a $4 million addition to Jonathan Law High School rests in the hands of Alderman Raymond Vitali, R-5, after the Board of Finance rejected authorizing funds for the work Monday night.
The Finance Board’s 3-2 rejection means the request will be sent back to the Board of Aldermen. The aldermen will need a supermajority to approve the addition, and reverse the Finance Board’s decision.
Earlier this month, the aldermen voted 10-5 to approve creating a draft bond authorization, which was a critical first step toward allocating the $4 million for the work.
All nine Democrats and Vitali, a retired longtime school principal, approved creating the draft bond allocation, while the board’s remaining five Republicans voted against the project, saying a recession is not the right time to be borrowing funds.
In order for the aldermen to get a supermajority vote, Vitali would again need to break from his party and vote with the Democrats.
Vitali, who is aware of his role, stood up during the Finance Board meeting held at the Parsons Government Center Monday, and said, “I am the two-thirds vote.” He said the entire process has been “purely political,” but did not elaborate.
After the meeting Vitali declined to say how he’d vote, saying he needed to learn more about the city’s finances and “do some thinking.”
Before the Finance Board’s vote, Republican Mayor James L. Richetelli Jr. again reiterated his strong objection to borrowing any money, while the nation is in a historic recession.
He also said it sends a terrible message to borrow funds many residents are suffering financially.
Finance Board Chairman Jack Skudlarek said he had concerns that the aldermen, and not Richetelli, placed the project on the agenda calling it an “extraordinary” measure. Skudlarek said the mayor as the city’s chief executive officer places items on the agenda, and Richetelli said, while unprecedented, the move was legal according to the bond counsel.
Skudlarek also said he was not convinced there were any immediate health and safety concerns warranting that the project be approved now.
Proponents of the Law addition say the bids came in $1 million less than anticipated, and waiting would likely mean the city would receive less state reimbursement.
Jonathan Law Principal Janet Garagliano said the addition is needed because next year 15 teachers are projected to be using carts, which means they do not have their own classroom.
She said the school is short two science labs, and is looking to convert storage space into reading classrooms. Four classrooms have been converted from storage spaces in the school.
The work includes construction of a 12,234-square-foot addition including seven regular classrooms and two science laboratories in a ninth-grade wing.
Finance Board member Joseph Agro said the project should move forward because it’s likely costs will only increase in the future, but board member Joseph Fitzpatrick argued the bids are too high, and it’s likely the costs will drop.
Aldermanic Chairman Ben Blake, D-5, defended the aldermen’s actions saying typically the city spends $15 million annually on bond projects and by approving only $4 million for the Law addition it’s still “reining back considerably” the amount of money that is borrowed.
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