State funding finalized for Region 12’s Ag-STEM academy
WASHINGTON — State funding for Region 12’s Agriscience-STEM academy finally came through this week with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature on a state budget.
The 1,000-page document finalized Wednesday includes nearly $24 million for the project, about 80 percent of its $29.9 million total cost. The district can now pursue a plan to offset shrinking enrollment by attracting students from outside its three constituent towns: Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington.
The academy, to be housed in an expanded Shepaug Valley School, will focus on the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — and on agriculture-related fields such as as plant sciences where job growth is expected to be strong. Without the academy to attract students from outside the region, district enrollment was projected to decline for years to come, putting its schools in jeopardy of eventual closure, school board members have said.
The project has long been controversial, with some critics saying it was too expensive and would not attract the projected number of students. The plan was eventually scaled back to meet similar objections from the Malloy administration. At one point, the administration was ready to reject the project entirely, but area legislators managed to keep it alive.
“We managed to tough our way through,” said Greg Cava, a Region 12 board member who chairs its Building Committee. “I think this is a great step forward for Region 12, and now we’re focused on getting it built.”
State Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, who represents all three Region 12 towns, agreed, and praised school officials for seeing the project through.
“They have earned it with their hard work,” he said.
Superintendent Pat Cosentino said in a prepared statement school officials are “thankful to all the stakeholders who stood by us as we awaited state funding to make this dream a reality.”
“We are very excited for the opportunities this school will bring for students in Region 12 and across the area,” she added.
Cava said the next step is for the district to complete schematic work and put construction plans out to bid in the spring. Construction will likely start next summer, and the academy is slated to open in September 2019.
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