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A ceremonial groundbreaking attended by most of Newtown’s legislative delegation was held May 8 in anticipation of a new gateway image for the Fairfield Hills campus.
Arranged and hosted by Newtown’s Deputy Director of Economic & Community Development Christal Preszler and her assistant Kimberly Chiappetta, the new streetscape features will be primarily underwritten by a state Department of Economic and Community Development grant from an application that Ms Preszler authored on behalf of the town when she was a part-time staffer and grant writer for the Fairfield Hills Authority.
She was joined at the brief event by First Selectman Pat Llodra, Fairfield Hills Authority Chairman Ross Carley, State Senator Tony Hwang, Representatives Mitch Bolinsky and Will Duff, along with Robert Newton, an associate and senior project manager with Alfred Benesch & Company.
“Benesch is the design firm for the project and will be continuing involvement during construction,” Ms Preszler told The Newtown Bee.
In early 2016, officials here were notified that Newtown was among 15 communities qualifying for a state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant. The $500,000 Newtown received was targeted for the campus, and will underwrite procurement and construction of additional sidewalks and lighting primarily around the gateway entrance to the campus off Wasserman Way.
Besides creating a more attractive main entrance for residents, those driving by, or interested developers visiting Newtown, streetscape improvements would also enhance accessibility and safety for those crossing between Reed Intermediate School and Fairfield Hills.
“The sidewalks will improve pedestrian access to the facility by connecting to a pedestrian signaled crosswalk from the school across the street, as well as improve safety, as lighting will be installed along the sidewalks in currently unlit and dark areas,” the application as scripted by Ms Preszler states. “The lighting will create a new look to the entrance which is now dark, except for one lit sign.
“Planned landscape elements at intersections will create visually appealing areas, helping to make the property attractive to prospective developers and investors wishing to locate here,” the document continues. “The new sidewalks will tie into a second phase of the walking trail system on campus. Many walkers, runners, and leashed dogs use the campus each day and this will allow them to walk on sidewalks in areas where there are none currently.”
Additionally, fencing will be installed to improve safety between a soccer field and street and in a newly opened green space area at the entrance where Danbury Hall once stood, the document states. This area, near Wasserman Way, is sometimes used for special events including a farmers market, and the fence will ensure the safety of participants.
In her remarks, Mrs Llodra pointed to the adjacent Plymouth Hall, nudging the political leaders about how it would make an ideal cultural arts center for the campus.
“We’re still hoping, but we need another $10 million,” the first selectman said.
Ms Preszler said neighboring Newtown Hall would also be a prime location for a food service enterprise, and she was happy to report renewed interest from at least one commercial developer for that property.
Ms Preszler said Newtown Public Works crews will be involved to some extent in the excavation and installations to help maximize usage of grant funds wherever possible.
Sen Hwang said he was thrilled to learn that a food service operation might be in the offing for the campus. He recalled many days spent with his children who were playing games on the adjoining soccer fields, when he went looking unsuccessfully to find food or a warm cup of coffee onsite.
Rep Bolinsky said public use of the campus has grown so much that “any time of day and in any weather,” he encounters individuals and entire families utilizing the campus for passive recreation.
The state had previously awarded Newtown $825,000 in STEAP grants for Fairfield Hills improvements.