Commission OK’s borrowing for Sandy Hook and housing, for people and bears

The state Bond Commission approved nearly $250 million in borrowing Friday to help finance a new Sandy Hook Elementary School and a wide array of other bricks-and-mortar projects, including a $30 million parking garage, improvements to theaters, and a home for Andean bears.

The commission approved $750,000 to design a replacement for Sandy Hook Elementary, where 26 students and staff were fatally shot last December. It is a down payment on what is expected to be at least a $42 million project to build a new school on the site of the worst primary-school shooting in the U.S.

“As you know the community made a decision they want to move forward with a replacement school. I support that decision,” said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is chairman of the commission.

Funding for the new school in Newtown was the highest profile item on a long list of projects approved by the commission, an administration-dominated panel that green-lights borrowing for projects authorized by the General Assembly.

There was no dissent on any item, although Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, issued a statement late Friday afternoon objecting to $30 million authorized to purchase the Morgan Street parking garage from the city of Hartford to provide parking for nearby offices the state is acquiring.

McKinney said the state was grossly overpaying for a facility with an appraised value of no more than $9 million.

“It is hard for me to see this project as anything more than a bailout gift for the Democratic mayor of Hartford,” said McKinney, a potential challenger to Malloy in 2014. “What exactly does the state of Connecticut get out of this deal?”

Ben Barnes, the secretary of policy and management, said the $9 million appraisal was based on a depressed Hartford office market with fewer garage customers. The city owes $23 million in outstanding bonds on the 1,600-space garage.

The purchase price of $14,000 per-parking space is less than half what it would cost the state to build parking for the offices, he said.

“I think it’s a fair price and a great asset,” Barnes said.

The $30 million in bonding covers the $23 million purchase price, about $3 million for a 99-year lease on the underlying city land and another $4 million for improvements.

Malloy chose to highlight $7.3 milion in funds to improve a successful community-college program that prepares students for careers in manufacturing, still a significant source of well-paying jobs in a high-cost state that has maintained its base of precision manufacturing.

The manufacturing centers opened last fall at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, Naugatuck Valley in Farmington, and Quinebaug Valley in Killingly and recently graduated their first class of students. The curriculum was modeled after a successful manufacturing center at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield.

“Time and again, I hear from manufacturers about their need to have a trained, skilled workforce that can fill some of these in-demand manufacturing positions, many of which are good paying jobs,” Malloy said.  “To compete, we need to show these manufacturers that our workforce has the skills they need and that we are training our students for the real-world jobs they want to fill.”

But the panel also funded improvements to theaters and other cultural institutions, such as the Bushnell in Hartford and Shubert in New Haven, for affordable housing in several communities, maintenance on state buildings and a $2.5 million exhibit at the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport for Andean bears.

Malloy did not apologize for the spending on a bear exhibit in a difficult economy.

“We’re assisting a zoo that has provien itself an attactive draw in one of our distressed municipalities. We want to work with that institution to improve it,” Malloy said. “We thought that was a good investment.”

Malloy said cultural and tourism institutions are important to the economy.

The panel approved $2 million for the Bushnell, $2 million for the Shubert, $4 million for the New Britain Museum of American Art, $1.5 million for the Globe Theater in Norwalk, $3 million for the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford and $1.5 million for the Hall Neighborhood House in Bridgeport for space for its performing arts program.

It approved loans to assist the exansion of two businesses: $3 million for Cycling Sports Group in Wilton and $1.7 million for Z-Medica in Wallingford.

The agenda Friday also reflected a priority of the Malloy administration: expanding the state’s stock of affordable housing and encouraging the development of downtown housing in the state’s urban centers. It included nearly $13 million in loans for housing in downtown Hartford.

  • $2 million for 5 Constitution Plaza, the conversion of a vacant hotel into 193 apartments, including 32 affordable units.
  • $6.5 million for the conversion of 179 Allyn St., where 63 one-bedroom, market-rate aparments are planned.
  • $3.8 million for 22 one-bedroom, market-rate apartments at 201 Ann Uccello St.
  • $575,000 for 16 market rate apartments of various sizes 283-291 Asylum St.

The panel also approved $15 million for emergency mortgage assistance to prevent foreclosures.

 

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