A long time dream for many parents and teachers took a major step forward this week with the news that the state had not only passed a budget but approved over 30 million dollars for the Walsh project.
While the school had become a major issue for decades, fixing that was no small matter. And while process saw strong bi-partisan support, seeing first selectman Jamie Cosgrove joined by the state delegation of Representatives Sean Scanlon, Lonnie Reed, and state senator Ted Kennedy, there process had to overcome uncertainty at the state level and efforts by local Democrats on the RTM to sabotage the funding.
But overall, the project had near unanimous support. The project passed the Board of Education in a unanimous, bi-partisan vote. It then passed the Board of Finance in the same manner. The RTM Democrats, who have spent the last 4 years opposing as much as possible, largely abstained from the vote, and one, Peter Jackson, has attended meetings trying to fight the project from gaining zoning approvals and funding the state.
Multiple requests for comment have been sent to Lynda Mollow, the Democratic candidate for first selectwoman, but have been ignored, regarding her decision on the project. Despite a lengthy process, Mollow abstained from the school vote, and has avoided detailing why.
However, she has since reversed her stance, praising the project and stating that the town should be shouting about it “from the rooftops” in a recent campaign video. She does not explain her change and sudden support for the Cosgrove initiative.
Still, the state delegation was proud to help Cosgrove and the town bring in funding for the Walsh project.
“As a member of the legislature's Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, I was able to successfully advocate for more than $30 million in state bonding to help renovate Branford's Walsh Intermediate School,” said state Senator Kennedy, Jr. (D-Branford). “At a time when Connecticut is cutting back on spending and capping state bonding, I was still able to convince my colleagues that this project is a good investment for the children of Branford.”
In a video posted to Facebook, Sean Scanlon also shared how he was proud to fight for the funds and see them come back to Branford.
The money is no small matter, especially since Branford has traditionally sent far more in tax revenue to the state than it has received back. The new school will be a major part of not only education improvements, but also economic development, with Walsh’s layout, which features open classrooms without walls, being a concern for residents and real estate agents alike.
The concerns about Walsh are hardly a new phenomenon. Under Democratic first selectman Unk DaRos, the BOE formed a commission to look at all of the school, holding meetings in each of them. Both Walsh and Sliney were listed as concerns, and the decision was made to try and move Walsh forward. The school, with its open concept, has seen piecemeal attempts to build classrooms in the past, resulting in an awkward and inefficient layout.
Initial cost estimates came in at over 90 million, and some pushing close to $110 million. Cosgrove first looked at trying to upgrade the current facility, but even minimal improvements needed triggered a new set of building codes and egress requirements, drastically inflating the cost. It was clear a major renovation or a new facility was needed, and the sooner the better: construction costs row each year at anywhere between 2-5%, which would add million to the project in the event of a delay.
Ultimately, the Board of Education and town bodies settled on an addition and partial renovation as a means to maximize the percentage of reimbursement by the state. By doing so, the town was able to see a significant 35.36% reimbursement rate.
At the state level, Kennedy Jr. and state representative Lonnie Reed testified in person along Cosgrove, and Scanlon submitted written testimony. Kennedy praised Cosgrove’s leadership in town and detailed the misconception that Branford is a wealthy town, and Scanlon felt positive about the towns chances after the testimony.
““The delegation is 100% united in helping Branford secure the 30 million dollars needed for the project,” said Scanlon. “I feel like we have a very good chance to get it, and I know we will be fighting like crazy to be sure that we do. Jamie (Cosgrove) and the town have done an incredible amount of work to get to this point, and the families, really everyone, in Branford is looking for us to do the final piece so we get this project moving forward.”
As it turns out, he was right.
“I appreciate the work that was put in to ensure we secure these funds, the state dollars were critical to seeing the success of the project,” said Cosgrove. “It was a priority of the community for close to 20 years, through several administrations, Boards of Education and parents. I am grateful to State Senator Kennedy, Rep. Lonnie Reed and Rep. Sean Scanlon for their strong support; it was vital.”