We commend the City Council on a well-rounded debate Tuesday as it tackled the $29.7 million bond for the renovation of the former Silvio O. Conte Middle School, and we were pleased to see the borrowing order passed to a second reading by a 7 to 2 vote.
Councilors made compelling arguments both for and against funding the project to turn Conte into a kindergarten through grade 7 elementary school, a transformation that would cost the city $6.5 million with the state School Building Authority paying 80 percent of the overall price tag.
Councilor Nancy Bullett allayed safety concerns over traffic patterns and speeds near Conte when she mentioned there was a time when the building as a high school meant hundreds more students in the area than proposed now, not to mention the students from nearby St. Joseph's and Notre Dame schools.
However, we would like to lend our voice as well to Councilor Lisa Blackmer's sentiment that if school children are to be located at Conte, the sidewalks in the area need to be cleared of snow for the children.
Also, Councilor Keith Bona detailed some unsettling math by detailing $2 million in work to be done for Sullivan Elementary should the Conte project be abandoned. What concerns us there is what the future could hold. Construction costs are likely to go up. Regulations from the state on space requirements for the education of children are likely to demand more in the future, driving up the cost of a future school building project. Add that future cost of a building project to Mr. Bona's "Band-Aids" estimate and you'll likely have a much higher number than the city faces presently.
We hope to see the council vote in a similar fashion on this borrowing order when it comes back before them. And if it passes the council and voters take matters into their own hands to get it put on a ballot as Councilor John Barrett III insists they will? Well then, that's fine. We've always been fans of a plebiscite, but we do wonder if in this case such a decision isn't best left to the people the voters have already put in place to make such determinations.
Overall, our opinion remains unchanged: This is the right project for the city, right now.