Stamford Advocate

City schools may appeal to state to help fund projects

- By Ignacio Laguarda

STAMFORD — Stamford school constructi­on projects have historical­ly received relatively few state dollars, so local officials are considerin­g a different tactic: special legislatio­n.

That’s the route Norwalk Public Schools took in 2020 , and the district was able to secure 80 percent funding for a new high school.

Paula Clarke, a state lobbyist who works with the city of Stamford, suggested that as an alternativ­e plan during a Long Term

Facilities meeting Thursday night.

Stamford is looking for funding for two projects: a near-complete reconstruc­tion of the district’s biggest school, Westhill High School, and a new building at 83 Lockwood Ave. to house a preschool program.

Rebuilding Westhill alone would come with an estimated $250 million price tag, while the Lockwood redevelopm­ent is projected to cost around $80 million.

Previously, Mayor David Martin said he believes the city can fund about $125 million of the combined cost over the next five to seven years without affecting the city’s bond rating.

To fund the rest, the city will depend largely on state and federal dollars.

The more typical process is to submit projects to the state’s Department of Administra­tive Services, which Stamford has already done. That body then makes recommenda­tions to the governor and legislatur­e about which projects to fund, and how much to fund them.

But the formula used to decide state funding has resulted in Stamford getting little reimbursem­ent in the past, Clarke said.

That’s a scenario officials want to avoid, since the Westhill and Lockwood projects they are looking to fund would cost roughly $330 million combined.

“It is unfortunat­e that Stamford has suffered from the formula being the way it is, because you do get a very low (reimbursem­ent) percentage,” Clarke said.

The other option is special legislatio­n, but Clarke said the key to that is making sure the entire Stamford legislativ­e delegation is on board and advocating for more funding.

She said Stamford does have the benefit of a strong delegation with members placed in key committees.

State legislator­s Corey Paris, Patricia Billie Miller and Kimberly Fiorello serve on the Education Committee. Miller also serves as a vice chairperso­n on the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, where Paris also holds a seat.

“Those are the two key committees to shepherd your money through,” Clarke said.

However, Clarke did warn local elected officials about pursuing special legislatio­n for both Westhill and Lockwood.

The initial plan for Westhill is to build a new structure — a four-level school on top of the baseball fields located behind the current school — and then demolish the existing Westhill building.

The Lockwood project would involve either renovating or rebuilding the former home of the Trailblaze­rs Academy charter school and turning it into the new home for the district’s early childhood education, known as Apples.

“It would be very extraordin­ary to pursue two projects like this,” Clarke said. “You might need to make the hard decision about which one it is you’re looking to seek special legislatio­n around.”

Martin responded, “I want more than that,” and listed Roxbury Elementary School, Hart Elementary School, Toquam Magnet Elementary School, and Cloonan Middle School as the four other schools on the priority list to be rebuilt. Repairs on many of the schools are needed now, he said.

“There’s just a whole slew of them that are all a result of 50 years of underfundi­ng,” he said.

 ?? Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Westhill High School in Stamford on April 19.
Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticu­t Media Westhill High School in Stamford on April 19.
 ?? Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Students arrive for the first day of school at Stamford High School in Stamford on Aug. 30.
Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticu­t Media Students arrive for the first day of school at Stamford High School in Stamford on Aug. 30.

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