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An apparent need for some type of coordinated system under which residents and others can review, select, and reserve activity space surfaced during a special meeting of the Legislative Council, January 10.
The group gathered at Town Hall South along with a number of local officials and department heads to continue the process of moving a five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to completion before a Charter-mandated deadline. The council expects to complete deliberation and action to that end during its next regular meeting on January 17.
The issue of space coordination was introduced during questioning of representatives from the C.H. Booth Library, which included library board Chairman Robert Geckle and Acting Library Director Beryl Harrison. Council Chairman Paul Lundquist said part of what he needed to understand in order to make the best decisions about the CIP was gaining an understanding of what the library “wants to be” to the community versus neighboring Edmond Town Hall and the soon-to-be-built community center.
Councilman Ryan Knapp expressed concern that potential users shopping for activity space could initiate a “bidding war” among the three entities to access the lowest possible rental rate for needed space. Town Hall Operations Manager Sheila Torres agreed, saying the prospect of “cannibalization concerns me.”
“If the community center rents space lower than Edmond Town Hall, groups will go there,” Ms Torres said.
Mr Geckle said that library officials have tried to work in collaboration with the ETH management to ensure that anyone looking for activity space is aware of options at both locations, and that he was interested in finding out “how we can partner with the community center” as well.
“We don’t think there’s going to be a lot of competition,” Mr Geckle assured.
It seemed that Ms Torres’s concerns were not assuaged, however, because the subject came up again later in the meeting when she was reviewing capital needs and the reprioritization of capital project funding for the town hall.
“I’m concerned about new space coming in,” she said, reminding the council that “we are required to rent space; we can’t give it away.”
While the library generates some modest revenue from renting its community room for select purposes, conversation indicated that Booth staff members had the option of providing space to residents for other qualified uses at no charge.
With that in mind, Ms Torres said she and the Town Hall Board of Managers were focusing on “what we and only we can do,” ticking off a number of unique features and rental opportunities including the building’s proscenium theater, tenant spaces, a basement gym that could be utilized for other event uses, as well as the upper Alexandria Room with its commercial kitchen, banquet space, and performance stage.
Ms Torres said that her top two priorities for funding — either from allocations already approved in the current year CIP or projects identified in the next fiscal cycle — would be to replace the air conditioning system in the Alexandria Room, and extend its range into its relatively new commercial kitchen. Next would be to address maintenance and safety issues in the building’s main theater, including replacement of a fire suppression curtain, lines, and rigging for staging and other curtains that mask the wing space.
She also mentioned near-future plans to address an unusable exterior staircase that needed stabilizing, securing some loose bricks on the exterior facade, and replacing exterior doors throughout the building. Following meetings with the Board of Selectmen and First Selectmen Dan Rosenthal, Ms Torres said she would temporarily shelve former priority plans to extend air conditioning into the basement gym.
During CIP meetings, she said providing air conditioning would expand the viability to rent the gym during hot summer months for sports and other functions, including parties and weddings. During the council’s special meeting, Ms Torres also mentioned that the gym needs some cosmetic “sprucing up” to make it a bit more attractive for nonsports users.
Among other officials presenting to the council were Parks & Recreation officials who talked about a range of capital plans, including a bath house and changing rooms facility at Eichler’s Cove, requests to expand access to pickleball courts, and the replacement and possible slight relocation of the Dickinson Park pavilion.
Acting School Superintendent Dr Lorrie Rodrigue and Facilities Director Gino Faiella were also on hand, and reviewed several projects, including energy saving upgrades planned for the Hawley School, and the increasing need to complete a full roof replacement at Middle Gate School, which has reached its 20-year life expectancy.
When asked if that project could be delayed another two to three years, Mr Faiella said that he already developed evidence that the existing roof was developing leaks or permitting some water invasion in several places, and that he would not advise waiting any longer than the next fiscal cycle.
Council Vice Chairman Dan Wiedemann asked whether the roof project could qualify for any state reimbursement, and Mr Faiella said that he was hearing the state was “picking and choosing” specific projects, versus providing corresponding reimbursement for all qualified school capital projects.
Nonetheless, the Newtown district would have to complete any projects before applying for possible reimbursements without knowing they would be forthcoming from Hartford.
The council, First Selectman Rosenthal, and Director of Planning George Benson held a lengthy discussion over the land use office’s request to utilize a $200,000 place holder in the CIP, in the event any desirable open space parcels became available. Mr Benson reiterated details from previous presentations saying potential grantors want to see evidence that the town is committed to financial open space underwriting, in the event Newtown could qualify for grants to acquire particular open space parcels.
However that earmark in the CIP would also serve to fund any environmental cleanup activities that might be required at two Glen Road parcels that are currently owned by the town following foreclosure actions.
Finance Director Robert Tait, who could not make the January 10 special meeting, is expected to be at the January 17 meeting to respond to any unanswered questions about the bonding of various capital projects, and their impact on a self-imposed borrowing cap the town maintains.
That meeting is scheduled at the Municipal Center Wednesday, January 17, at 7:30 pm.