High school roof referendum must be redone due to legal glitch

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Mon., Dec. 16, 2013

A legal glitch has rendered the Dec. 3 referendum vote on the high school roof replacement invalid, and town officials are scrambling to schedule a new vote in enough time to take advantage of early-season low bids.

Despite a 298-122 vote approving the bond to fund the $3 million roof replacement cost, questions arose in the wake of the referendum concerning wording on the ballot and publication of legal notices regarding the referendum.

“In the beginning of the process we needed to get the opinion of the bonding attorney, and it didn’t happen,” said First Selectman Kevin Skulczyck. The selectmen’s office was responsible for obtaining that opinion. But Skulczyck noted that the town’s last bonded project was the new elementary school, which went to vote six years ago. That was before his predecessor, Philip Anthony, came to office, so the board was unfamiliar with bonding procedures, he said.

Following a Dec. 16 meeting with bonding attorney Joe Fasi and representatives from the boards of finance and education, the selectmen scheduled a re-do of the entire process. Public hearings were scheduled for Monday, Dec. 23, and Monday, Dec. 30, at 6 p.m. in the Griswold High School cafeteria. A town meeting will take place Monday, Jan. 6, at 6 p.m. in the Griswold Middle School auditorium, and the new referendum vote is slated for Tuesday, Jan. 14, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“It’s been a great learning experience, but unfortunately it comes around to cost to the taxpayer,” said Skulczyck. A second referendum will cost the town between $5,000 and $6,000 in staffing, ballots and legal notice publication, but he said that’s preferable to the town having to pay the full $3 million cost of the roof.

Stuart Norman, Jr., the school board vice-chairman and member of the school building committee, said that state statute requires a series of checks and balances to cover the bonding process. “If you do the process properly, the community has locked itself into paying the bond,” he said. The request for the bond goes from the building committee to the selectmen, who then set the necessary public hearings and referendum dates and provide the public notices, he said. “We don’t do a lot of bonding” in Griswold, he said.

“Obviously we want to meet all the requirements to secure bonding for the project,” said Griswold Superintendent of Schools Paul Smith. “We’re hoping for people to ask questions and get as much information as possible.”

Norman said that it was imperative that the process moves quickly, since bids on the work will be higher and harder to come by as the spring building season approaches. “You don’t want to be out there [soliciting bids] later in the season,” he said. At that time of year, “you’re getting people who are not so anxious to get the work.”

The 21-year-old roof has already exceeded its warranted life, and despite attempts at repairs, school maintenance personnel are struggling to contain leaks in various places in the building. Of the $3 million total price tag, more than 72 percent would be reimbursed by the state, leaving the town’s actual liability at $887,309.

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