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Stamford Capital Budget: $25M for the city, $25M to rid it of mold

January 31, 2019

STAMFORD — The coming fiscal year’s Capital Budget proposal had its first moment in the spotlight this week with a public comment period before the Planning Board Tuesday.

But like most everything else in the city this year, mold — which has infested everything from city schools to City Hall — stole the show. Planning Board Chairwoman Theresa Dell said the 2019-20 budget includes a previously planned $25 million for city projects, and another $25 million for mold alone.

As the budget now stands, city departments and non-governmental agencies had requested $77.8 million for projects and the Planning Board has already cut that down to $50.4 million — mold included.

The move to a $50 million total came after the Board of Finance doubled the city’s safe-debt limit so important capital projects and mold remediation could both happen, said Dell.

Within the original $25 million, several inventive projects hide such as free downtown Wi-Fi, and money to help plan for a driverless-car route.

But before talk of interesting capital projects, one must pay for the mold.

Mold money

Nearly all comment Tuesday was on mold and coming from parents of students at Newfield Elementary School who bemoaned the desperate shape of the school’s many moldy “modular” classrooms.

All three women who spoke lobbied for real construction instead of more of the trailer-resembling modular additions.

“We’re not trying to get more modulars,” said one Newfield mother.

“Our school has outlived its shelf life,” said another.

The parents were there to press for the $2.97 million the Board of Education has requested for the district-wide construction. The capital budget also calls for $650,000 for modular construction.

Both charges are dwarfed by the school board’s mold asks, which comprise $2.6 million for classroom upgrades and replacement, $3.9 million for indoor air quality improvement, $2.1 million for roof replacements, $570,000 for energy-efficiency projects, $750,000 for asbestos abatement, $400,000 for infrastructure renovation at Westhill High School and $500,000 for Stamford High School renovations and expansions.

Dell explained that all these projects fall into a separate mold tier with access to the $25 million, “Tier 5,” which does mean the projects in earlier tiers take precedence, although such structuring is the usual way the Capital Budget is compiled.

The school board isn’t the only group seeking money to deal with mold. The Fire Department is requesting $80,000 from the mold fund for work at Woodside Station, and the Ferguson Library is seeking $500,000 in mold money for restoration work to the main library building.

Interesting initiatives and big ticket items

The most expensive items are not fascinating, but important to resident daily life.

The Planning Board is considering sending the Highway Department $4.5 million for street patching and resurfacing, for example, and allocating $1.5 million to the Engineering Department to dredge three city marinas for easier boat traffic.

Then there is the $400,000 to renovate the Government Center.

But there are eye-catching proposals, too. Most of them are coming from Economic Development Director Thomas Madden.

Although the Planning Board has already slashed $250,000 from the Economic Development Department’s original $2.1 million ask, it is still considering funding $400,000 to plan for autonomous shuttles and another $400,000 to bring free high-speed Wi-Fi downtown.

The bulk of the money to Economic Development is from dollar-for-dollar matches with previously awarded state grants — so, for example, only $112,000 for the branding and marketing of Stamford’s “Innovation District” will come from city coffers, the other half from the state.

The $400,000 for autonomous car planning is also a match.

barry.lytton@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2263; @bglytton

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