Discussion during an April 7 Board of Selectmen meeting revealed that the eventual development of a community center being funded by a $15 million gift from General Electric may set up a domino effect of town department relocations.
Shortly after a motion was made and unanimously approved to officially accept the GE donation, and a separate motion was approved to appropriate $450,000 for preconstruction and design work, First Selectman Pat Llodra initiated a discussion on strategic planning for municipal facilities.
Mrs Llodra said the town has been interested in planning for municipal facilities for a couple of years, but other events and priorities have caused her office off to postpone that task.
“It’s time for us to go forward with that,” she said.
She explained to Selectmen James Gaston, Sr, and Will Rodgers that once the new community center is established, it will provide a base of operations for Parks and Recreation administrative offices. The first selectman said the new center will have additional dedicated space for senior services as well.
Mrs Llodra suggested the relocation of recreation department and senior center personnel to the new community center might allow Newtown’s Social Services department to relocate to the facility in Sandy Hook where the Senior Center is now.
“Some of the space needs they can’t meet right now could be accommodated there,” Mrs Llodra said. “That one gift from GE is a leverage point that will take us in a direction that will have a significant impact on Town Hall South.”
Mrs Llodra said with the one donation, the town will be able to address two of three long-term facility concerns — the future use of Town Hall South, a community center, and a senior center.
She said that means the town will have to begin considering whether Town Hall South could be repurposed as a modern police station, as well as whether there is long-term utility for the multipurpose center that houses the current Senior Center and a preschool.
“We need to answer some difficult questions about the status of those buildings and their long-term usefulness, whether those buildings serve the highest and best purpose, and if not, what do we do with those buildings and how to accommodate our police personnel,” Mrs Llodra said.
The first selectman said the strategic plan for municipal facilities will remain on the selectmen’s agenda for future discussion, and that the officials should count on developing a request for proposal for consultation on municipal facilities, as well as involving the public in the process.
“We need to pivot away from our current uses of buildings to some new understanding of how we can use those spaces,” she said. “It’s best to involve the time and resources to do an in-depth study.”
Mrs Llodra said the eventual study will connect to a similar facilities and enrollment studies being conducted now by the school district, so that there is a connectivity between the two efforts.
Mr Rodgers said he would like to initiate a “free thinking” session among officials to get the ball rolling, and Mrs Llodra concurred that his idea was a good one.
The selectmen also took up and approved a number of transfers, which will now go to the Board of Finance and Legislative Council for consideration. Among those transfers was $52,000 from professional services to contingency. Finance Director Robert Tait explained that the funds were originally taken from contingency to underwrite an expansive energy audit of town buildings.
But $52,000 of the original allocation will not be needed until the next fiscal year, so he requested the money revert back to contingency for other purposes within the current fiscal cycle.
The selectmen then approved the transfer of $152,000 from contingency to police overtime to cover six months of police officer staffing for local elementary school security. Mr Tait said this was the town’s portion of the overtime expense after a federal grant covered the initial six months of overtime.
Another $35,000 was transferred from contingency to cover professional and legal services tied to two land use violations that the town was enforcing. The balance for services tied to one violation involving the Pieragostini residence cost the town approximately $18,400, Mr Tait said, while the other involving the Hunter Ridge development had a balance for services of approximately $17,600.
The final transfers totaling $85,000 covered legal costs the town spent fighting freedom of information demands stemming from the incidents of 12/14, tax appeals, and labor disputes.