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Mayor urges school district to apply for state money to help pay for mold repairs

May 6, 2019

STAMFORD - If Mayor David Martin were a football coach and the members of the school board his team, his charge to them would be characterized as a Hail Mary pass.

Martin went before the Board of Education last month to implore that district officials apply for funding the state doles out to municipalities, even though Stamford often doesn’t qualify.

“Under the current regulations, some school districts get 75 percent and 80 percent reimbursements from the state for capital projects,” Martin told the board. “Stamford gets 28 percent. The state has shortchanged Stamford for years.”

The city now needs tens of millions of dollars to repair the foundations, roofs, windows, HVAC and drainage systems of school buildings where water has permeated, creating a mold infestation that began with last summer’s record rainfall.

One elementary school, Westover, was closed. In others, classrooms are shut down for cleanup and repair, and students are learning in closets and other makeshift spaces.

“I’ve shared this with Governor Lamont. I have spoken to the entire Stamford delegation in Hartford. I talked to state commissioners. I told them we need help with regard to this emergency,” Martin told the board.

The city plans to issue $60 million in bonds in July, and $40 million more next year, to borrow money for the repairs. But it won’t be enough, Martin said.

“We don’t have the resources to do all these projects,” Martin said. “I know we don’t apply to the state because we know we won’t get awarded. But you’ve got to apply. We are being turned down for the funding we need.”

Uneven sharing

The state has a Municipal Revenue Sharing Account, which gets a portion of the sales tax revenue to fund four grant programs for municipalities. The grants come in the form of reimbursements from the state Department of Administrative Services, which uses a formula to decide which cities qualify for money for which projects.

“The reimbursements follow a methodology similar to the one used for (Education Cost Sharing) grants,” said Michael Pollard, Martin’s chief of staff. “The Grand List is one of the factors used, and that puts Stamford at a disadvantage.”

Stamford has the second-largest Grand List — the total of all taxable property — in Connecticut, which makes it appear that the need is not as great as it is in other cities. Under the grant formulas, Stamford is seen as a city that can fund itself.

Still, Martin said, “if we don’t apply for projects we want to do, we won’t get anything. I cannot go to the governor only to have DAS tell him, ‘They didn’t apply.’ I want an application for every project that, if the state were reimbursing us at 50 percent or 60 percent, we would do.”

Help in Hartford

After Martin’s appearance at the meeting, the Board of Education authorized a list of school capital projects to be submitted to DAS.

The board has already approved the projects, but some were never funded and others were only partly funded, said Chief Fiscal and Operations Support Officer Clarence Zachery during the meeting.

The list shows 103 projects costing a total of $90.6 million.

State lawmakers from Stamford are doing their part.

Two state representatives, Democrats Patricia Billie Miller of District 145 and Matt Blumenthal of District 147, have introduced a bill that would allow the Connecticut education commissioner to waive certain requirements for the awarding of money through the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account.

The bill seeks to prioritize funding for projects “related to remediation of indoor health emergencies in schools.”

State Rep. David Michel of Stamford, a Democrat from District 146, co-sponsored the bill, which now sits before the House and Senate education committees in Hartford.

It’s worth a try, Martin said.

“DAS has been inconsistent. We need to keep these projects in front of them to let them know there’s really a need down here,” Martin said.

Long list

The projects submitted to DAS include:

Academy of Information Technology & Engineering — pave parking lot.

Davenport Ridge Elementary School — repairs to prevent water intrusion; pave; renovate staff and student bathrooms; repair playground.

Dolan Middle School — renovate bathrooms; upgrade fire-protection system.

Hart Magnet Elementary School — repair rear wall, roof, floors; upgrade intercom, exterior doors, bathrooms; improve safety in vestibule; repairs to prevent water intrusion.

KT Murphy Elementary School — pave; upgrade electrical system; improve safety in vestibule.

Newfield Elementary School — replace modular classrooms; upgrade boiler; repair media center roof and skylights; replace concrete steps.

Northeast Elementary School — replace heaters in gym; install air conditioning in auditorium and classrooms; replace exterior doors.

Rippowam Middle School — install air conditioning in media center; upgrade heating system; repair concrete sidewalks and ramps.

RISE building at Westhill High School — renovate as new.

Rogers Elementary School — repair canopy and boiler; correct playground drainage.

Roxbury Elementary School — repair boiler, bathrooms, roof and skylights; replace doors, windows and playground surface.

Scofield Middle School — upgrade HVAC system.

Springdale Elementary School — upgrade boiler, fire alarms, intercom, HVAC controls; repair floors and exterior concrete.

Stamford High School — pave; replace boiler, windows and synthetic turf fields; repair roof and overhangs; upgrade classrooms.

Julia A. Stark Elementary School — pave walkways and driveways; repair windows; replace exterior doors, classroom flooring tiles, fire panels, roof, gutters.

Stillmeadow Elementary School — update bathrooms and HVAC in gym; replace gym floor; improve safety in vestibule.

Toquam Magnet Elementary School — replace fire panels; repair brick and mortar.

Turn of River Middle School — upgrade heating and cooling systems; replace roof; renovate locker room; repair concrete in courtyard.

Westhill High School — upgrade HVAC system; replace sprinkler heads, science tables, turf fields, and interior and exterior door locks.

Westover Magnet Elementary School — repairs to prevent water intrusion; upgrade boiler and bathrooms.

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2296.