I want to thank people throughout the Granby community who have reached out to me and others, and attended public hearings, to share questions about the three projects being presented for voter approval on June 4. As the chair of the Board of Education Finance Committee, and a representative to the town’s Capital Program Priority Action Committee (CPPAC), I have been involved in assessing and digesting these issues for several years. I and the town’s other volunteer elected officials have worked hard to put forward what we believe to be in the best interest of Granby citizens, short and long term. Still, through the public input since February, and additional work done by the town and school administrations, I believe the referendum process and the projects you are being asked to approve are now that much better. The process works. Let me offer some examples.
The Three Questions
After over a year of meetings, revisions, and prioritization, CPPAC unanimously recommended a package of three projects to go forward for referendum at this time. All the evaluation of need and financial modeling of taxpayer impact point to these as the right investments, and this as the right time. However, we heard loud and clear that people wanted to be able to express their opinions separately on the three projects. As a result, the Board of Selectmen voted to put forward three separate questions—one to repair or replace bridges, one to fund the construction of a solar array for the schools, and one with school infrastructure improvements. So when you vote on June 4, you will have three separate opportunities to say “yes” or “no.”
While we have studied the opportunity to reduce cost and earn revenue through solar energy for several years, 18 months ago our efforts were stymied. Then, just last October, Eversource called to say that we could proceed, but that we had to move fast, or we would lose our opportunity. A huge amount of work has happened since then. Here are three important issues the public raised.
Not all the permitting and regulatory details have been resolved.
This is true; the permitting and approval process continues even as we ask for voter approval to borrow the money IF everything falls into place; if not, we won’t borrow the money. This feels far from ideal, but the payoff—estimated at a net taxpayer benefit of $4 million over the next 25 years—is compelling, and it is in Granby’s best interest to make our best effort. With voter approval, we at least have a chance for success. Even with a “yes” vote, no money will be borrowed if we ultimately hit a roadblock.
What about the wetlands?
Granby’s Plan of Conservation and Development clearly favors wetland protections, and the public raised concerns about the solar array disrupting wetlands habitat. The project now addresses this in two ways. First, the total area needed has been reduced to avoid the wetlands without reducing energy generation. Second, we are actively engaged with the State Siting Council that has rigorous environmental impact requirements. If we get its approval, people can be assured that the installation is not going to harm our environment. If we don’t get its approval, we won’t proceed.
What about the neighbors?
We chose the site for the solar array based on several factors, and the intent is to minimize neighbor disruption. However, good intent is not good enough. In addition to a special public hearing, we reached out to the entire neighborhood, and have worked directly with three residents to address their questions and concerns. We are and will continue to minimize tree removal, and plan for landscaping and planting that will minimize any adverse impact.
The Board of Education continuously reviews all of its assets in an effort to optimize maintenance costs that hit the annual budget, manage repairs and replacements that get handled in the “small capital” part of the annual budget, and to plan smart renovations and replacement when required. “Large capital” investments that are best financed through bonding. While the variety of issues addressed in this project might appear haphazard—for example, a long-overdue kitchen in the high school, roofing and HVAC replacements, and media center renovations to reflect how learning happens today—it is in fact a strategic grouping of things that, if not addressed over the next several years, will ultimately cost more, impair learning, and potentially impact our attractiveness to others in an era of regionalization. Still, the public spoke, and we listened.
Parking Lot and Paving:
In further assessment of the costs and timing, we determined that these problems could be repaired in-house, for the foreseeable future, and so were removed from consideration.
Several items that were originally intended to be a part of the highly successful athletic complex were originally included in this project. But we heard from the public that a Press Box for the stadium was a nice to have, not a need to have. We removed it.
This just scratches the surface of all there is to know about these projects, how they have evolved through the work of the boards and through public input. More information is available on the district website at www.granby.k12.ct.us
I’ll close by thanking the many engaged citizens that have helped make these projects the right projects, at the right time, and at the right price, for Granby. Please join me in voting YES, YES, and YES on June 4.