Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Jonathan Law Addition Re-Approved, Board of Finance "Over Ruled"

Republican Alderman Raymond Vitali broke from his party and pushed through a $4 million Jonathan Law High School renovation project when the Board of Aldermen met Monday night.

Vitali had labored over the vote. He said last week that he planned to study plans and cost projections in the days leading up to the Board of Aldermen meeting, knowing that the pressure was on him to move the renovations forward, or to stop them in their track.

The aldermen needed to override a Board of Finance veto of the project by a two-thirds vote to get the project going. Democratic aldermen were united in their desire to approve the project. Republicans, except Vitali, stood beyond Mayor James Richetelli in opposing the addition now because they said the economy does not warrant such spending.

The Democrats, who hold a 9-6 majority on the board, needed one Republican to cross the line to give them the two-thirds voting power they needed.

“This is a very difficult situation,” Vitali said moments before the aldermen voted. “It seems to be the worst times and the best of times to go forward with this project.”

Vitali, a retired middle school principal, said he is sensitive to teachers who have to teach on carts because there is no classroom space for them, and he said it is the administration’s job to make sure staff is happy and that the building is adequate.

“I’ve made my mind up,” Vitali said.

Republican Alderman Scott Willey led the GOP opposition, charging that the project should not go forward in this economy.

“These are unprecedented economic times and you don’t go spending money you don’t absolutely have to spend,” Willey said. “Where’s the money going to come from to pay on what we borrow? We’re not reducing class size. We’re not increasing teachers. We’re still going to have teachers on carts even with the addition.”

Willey also criticized the process that led to approval of the $4 million bonding project. Typically, the mayor recommends bonding projects and the Board of Finance approves or denies them.

In this case, the Democratic aldermen took up the cause for teachers and parents who insisted it should move forward, approved it at last month’s Board of Aldermen’s meeting, and then forwarded it to the finance board, which rejected the plan.

“The mayor didn’t propose it; finance said ‘no don’t do it’,” Willey said. “This is wrong and it sets a terrible precedent.”

Parents and other school supporters defended the bonding request, however, arguing that bids for the addition came in $1 million lower than expected, interest rates are low and they expect state reimbursement rates to be less favorable in coming years.

“The truth is that the responsible course is to move forward now,” said Democratic mayoral candidate Genevieve Salvatore. “It’s fiscally irresponsible to delay this further.”

Jonathan Law High School Principal Janet Garagliano has said the school sorely needs more classrooms. She said 15 teachers would be working from carts next year, and the school is short two science labs.

The new addition would be a one-story, 12,000-square-foot structure consisting of nine classrooms, plus storage, according to Phil Russell, deputy supt. of operations for the Milford school system.

The school now contains 205,765 square feet. The addition would represent more than a 5% increase in square footage.

With Monday’s vote, the project is set to move forward, Russell said.

A contract is expected to be awarded the week of Aug. 17, following a 10-day appeal period. Construction will start in early September and will take about nine months to complete.

“Work will take place in an exterior courtyard,” said Bill Silver, of Silver Petrucelli and Associates, the main architects on the project. “So it won’t affect any classrooms.”

Original Post By Jill Dion

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