2014 Will See Newtown Ramping Up Numerous Capital Projects

Momentum is building, literally, as more than a half-dozen capital projects move toward completion, or begin shifting from the drawing board to their respective construction phases in 2014.

While the reconstruction of Sandy Hook School is certainly one the community, the state, and, in some respects, the entire world is waiting to see commence in the new year, Newtown residents also expect to see a groundbreaking for a new headquarters for Hook & Ladder on Church Hill Road, and solidified plans for a new recreation center being funded by a major grant from General Electric.

There will be a new headquarters for the local volunteer ambulance corps opening off Wasserman Way, as well as construction at the long-dormant Fairfield Hills duplexes when Newtown Parent Connection begins its work on a new base of operations there.

Volunteers are also planning the opening of a free range dog park adjacent to the recently opened animal control facility, a new playground at Dickinson Park, and improvements to both Edmond Town Hall and the Booth Library are also in the works.

The new year will likely herald the beginnings of sewer line extensions in Hawleyville, as well as added streetscape and sidewalk installations around town, and possibly a decision on the future of Town Hall South, which currently houses the police department, as well as offices for Parks & Recreation, Social Services, and auxiliary storage for the town’s Registrars of Voters.

The demolition of Danbury Hall, near the entrance of Fairfield Hills, is scheduled to commence in February. This will mark a return to the demolition process on the town-owned campus for the first time in several years.


Sandy Hook Elementary School

The Board of Education unanimously accepted new educational specifications for the proposed design of Sandy Hook Elementary School as presented by Jay Brotman and Julia McFadden of Svigals + Partners during a meeting on Monday, December 23.

Ms McFadden explained that some areas of the school contracted, while other areas of the school increased in size due to the changes. The building, she said, overall is larger, but the design was also “pulled in” to meet the project’s budget.

Demolition of the former facility was completed in early December, some protective fencing has been removed, and measures were being taken to reduce or eliminate dust and erosion at the now vacant site, according to minutes from the December 3 Public Building and Site Commission meeting.

Locating the new school’s driveway was still in flux just before Christmas as the Legislative Council unanimously decided to not pursue eminent domain action to take residential property at 12 Riverside Road. That property had been thought to be the optimum place to locate the new entrance.

Final negotiations on acquiring that property is expected to conclude by early January. If an agreement is not reached with property owners, plans will likely proceed utilizing the existing entrance via Dickinson Drive.


Hook & Ladder

Newtown Hook & Ladder President Rick Camejo told the Board of Finance and First Selectman Pat Llodra on November 25 that the Trinity Church congregation voted to sell a parcel of land off Church Hill Road to the volunteer fire company to be used as a site for their new headquarters.

Six months of negotiations culminated the previous weekend when congregation members voted to sell the piece of property, Mr Camejo reported. He said the parcel will permit Hook & Ladder to share a common driveway that also accesses rear parking behind the church at the corner of Main Street and Church Hill Road.

Mr Camejo also indicated that the company would like to access the first installment of a $1.5 million allocation set aside for Hook & Ladder’s project in the Capital Improvement Plan, although the full amount was originally intended exclusively for the construction phase of the project versus acquiring the land on which to build the new headquarters.

Mrs Llodra hailed the good news, saying it represented the “end of a long, long, long initiative” for the fire company, which has been housed in an unsafe and substandard facility behind Edmond Town Hall for decades.

She said officials will have to reconcile the “intent of the donor,” the town, in terms of reallocating the first $500,000 for the land purchase versus capitalizing the building itself.


Recreation Center

A $15 million, multiyear grant from General Electric has brought the Parks & Recreation Department’s desire for a new community center within reach.

The grant announcement, made in mid-November, was “a very big surprise, pleasant and exciting,” said Parks & Recreation Director Amy Mangold, noting that her department for years has envisioned a community center that would broaden its ability to meet the community’s recreation needs.

“This donation will help us meet our needs to get the project started sooner than it would have had it been done with just town funding,” Ms Mangold added.

A preliminary vision for a community center is for a new space and new construction at Fairfield Hills, and will help address one of the recreation department’s biggest issues: programming space.

“We depend on the schools and do not have our own indoor facility to provide programming. While schools have been very generous, the after school activities take priority over recreation needs. A community center will help us broaden our programming ability and offer programming during the day for small children,” Ms Mangold said.

Past design phases had identified the need for two swimming pools — a competitive lap pool and a zero-entry therapy pool — as well as classroom space, arts and crafts programs, a teen center for kids for after school programming, tutoring, or a place to gather.

The recreation commission had identified a need for kitchen space and culinary needs associated with community programming and classes, as well as gymnasium space. The new facility could also meet staff needs for administrative space.

Past estimates for meeting just recreation department needs were around $18 million, which would have relied on town Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) funding.


Parent Connection Duplex

In early November the Fairfield Hills Authority approved a draft lease between the town and Newtown Parent Connection, a nonprofit grassroots organization addressing the problem of substance use and abuse among young people in the community.

The Parent Connection plans to renovate and occupy space in the duplex buildings at Fairfield Hills, with part of the project being underwritten by a $500,000 grant.

According to town officials, the first floor of the facility will be opened up and used for meeting space. Utilities must go in, and the facility may require a new roof.

Second floor upgrades are also part of plans. The approved terms of the lease state that the town would be the landlord for the premises known as duplex 63R and 64L, 2 and 4 Washington Square in Fairfield Hills for the purpose of conducting nonprofit activities.

The lease will be for ten years at $1 per year rent; thereafter, the agreement allows the option of two renewals for an additional ten years each, for terms to be decided upon/negotiated at that time.

The lease calls for the tenant shall pay common area charges of $1,900 a year, payable semiannually. The Newtown Parent Connecticut may use common area parking.

The Parent Connection will pay the cost of bringing utilities (sewer, water, electric, gas, telecommunications) to the premises.


Dog Park

By early November, Newtown’s much anticipated dog park, located on Old Farm Road just past the Brian J. Silverlieb Animal Care and Control Center, was inching closer to completion.

Parks and Recreation Assistant Director RoseAnn Reggiano, who has spearheaded the dog park efforts along with a Park & Bark volunteer committee, was anticipating the installation of agility equipment. Once the installations are completed, she said organizers may hold a soft opening so people can start using it, with a grand opening in the spring.

Park features will include a splash pad, agility course with weave poles, jumps, ramps, and tunnels, benches, water fountains, and a pet shower to rinse paws and feet, and the overhanging shade structure on the concrete.

The total project cost is roughly $200,000. The original park budget was just $50,000 for a fence, but the scope increased thanks to donation and beneficiary funds. Ms Reggiano is also planning a purchase-a-brick campaign to continue raising funds for ongoing costs, supplies, and plantings.


Dickinson Park Playground

A small gathering of officials and playground supporters held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new playground at Dickinson Memorial Park on Tuesday, October 22.

By that date, recreation crews had already begun disassembling the former Funspace. That playground, built in 1989 through community and volunteer efforts, was determined to be past its useful lifespan and was experiencing breakdowns that significantly limited its use and compromised public safety.

Parks & Recreation Director Amy Mangold said the new $800,000 venture was made possible through the town’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) funding and private donations.

Earlier last summer, Ms Mangold said the final project would be spread over roughly 1.5 acres with natural elements, climbing stones, built-in musical instruments, a zip line, and ADA accessibility, while retaining the familiar feel of the wooden play features with new play value and elements and a water area with sand.

She said the new play area will offer “an environment that provides a great way to help restore our familiar feel of Dickinson Funspace but reconnect children with nature and imaginative play.”

Original playground planning prior to 12/14 was much broader than the roughly $430,000 the town’s CIP could support. Ms Mangold’s department reduced its scope, and when benefactors came forward and learned of the full vision, they supplemented funding to complete a significantly larger project.


Police Headquarters

While the town’s Capital Improvement Plan does not show any planned activity regarding a new police headquarters until the 2017 fiscal year, First Selectman Pat Llodra has been mentioning a rapidly escalating need to finalize decisions regarding the department’s continued use of Town Hall South.

At the same time, a group of about ten people, whose members want anonymity, have started a private fundraising drive with the goal of building a new police station for the town police department to replace the existing station at 3 Main Street. The fundraising group, known as the Newtown Police Building Fund, is seeking to raise money from corporations, foundations, and individuals interested in providing new facilities for police.

Over the past decade, Police Commission members have occasionally described the inadequacies of the existing police station and resolved to pursue new quarters for the 45-member police department, but to date that resolve has not translated into concrete results.

In 2009, Police Commission members discussed the prospects of building an almost 30,000-square-foot police station that would meet the police department’s space needs for more than 20 years.

Douglas Fuchs, a Newtown resident and Redding’s chief of police, has been named the spokesman for the private fundraising group. The group’s goal is raising $18 million.

 “This is not a short-term drive,” Mr Fuchs said November 20, adding that the fundraising project will continue as long as necessary to get a new police station for the police department.

Although the existing station is considered to be in a good location for the police, the site’s expansion potential is limited. Police officials have mentioned a Fairfield Hills location as the likely site for new police station.

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