Ag-STEM passes Education Committee

March 27, 2017

WASHINGTON — The school construction bill that includes Region 12’s proposed Agriscience-STEM academy passed unscathed through a key legislative committee late Friday evening.

Next the bill will face a vote in the Appropriations Committee.

Although the Education Committee voted unanimously for the school construction bill and declined to amend it, it still isn’t certain that funding for the academy at Shepaug Valley School will stay in the bill.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration had urged the committee on school construction to drop Ag-STEM from a funding priority list, but the committee kept it in the bill.

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, who sits on the construction committee and co-chairs the Education Committee, has said that legislators decided to keep the project in play because school officials did everything they were asked to do in revamping an earlier, larger and more expensive proposal.

The project, which would offer training in agricultural sciences and other technical fields, is an effort to bolster student enrollment in a district whose three rural towns — Washington, Roxbury and Bridgewater — project steep population declines in coming years.

The original $39 million proposal, approved overwhelmingly by Region 12 voters in November 2015, envisioned enrolling as many as 226 students from Region 12 and surrounding districts in new and renovated space at Shepaug. The state was expected to pay about $29 million of that total.

Owing to budget difficulties, the required bond issue for the academy was delayed last spring. Since that delay, the state Department of Administrative Services has pressured school officials to refine their proposal.

The district spent $370,000 on architecture firm Kaestle Boos Associates, and builders O&G Industries to prepare a revised proposal.

The latest proposal calls for a $29 million cost, with $23 million in state contributions, and envisions an enrollment of 139 students.

In February school board members voted 9-0 to approve spending $532,000 to get the project “shovel-ready” to improve the chances of winning state funding.

As board member Greg Cava said at the time, “We’ve got to put our money on the line.”