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FFH Authority Enters A New Phase, Chairman Says

What will the Fairfield Hills Authority’s role be in the future? This and other topics including building upkeep and prospective tenants to occupy the nearly 80-year-old former state hospital buildings topped the list for conversation at the first authority meeting this year.

New to the chairman’s seat, Thomas Connors addressed members on Monday, January 27, saying that he was honored that members put their faith in him and that he hopes to “keep up the excellent stewardship of prior chair” James Bernardi, who headed the authority until December 18, passing the baton to Mr Connors that evening.

Considering the town-owned parklike property, playing fields, and buildings, Mr Connors said, “I feel we have reached a new chapter of existence of the campus and our authority.” The amount of activity at Fairfield Hills is “evidence that [the work] of past years is bearing fruit.”

Town offices including the Board of Education, tax assessor, Land Use Agency, Health Department, town clerk’s office, among others, have all been relocated to the Newtown Municipal Center, which occupies a building renovated for reuse. New construction includes NYA Sports & Fitness Center, and the Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Association Inc, which is currently building a new headquarters on the campus.

Other possible tenants include the EverWonder Children’s Museum, Newtown Parent Connection, and Newtown Cultural Arts Commission — all of which would renovate existing buildings — frequently used sports fields and walking trails, community gardens, and more. Also on the horizon is a community center, thanks to a grant provided by GE, and additional potential tenants such as a bakery and a nursing school.

Mr Connors is also pleased that progress is “happening in a way that meets the master plan [for campus reuse],” he said. The authority is entering the “latter phase” of its existence, he said.

“One of the primary things I think we’ll begin to see,” he said, is an authority that is “self-sustaining.” While other town departments have assumed responsibilities including security and grounds maintenance, which are no longer in the authority budget, fees and rents, for example, should begin to cover the authority’s remaining funding needs. A reserve fund will cover other expenses. The authority’s overall proposed budget for 2014-15 is $22,044, a 61 percent decrease from last year’s number.

First Selectman Pat Llodra and Mr Connors both spent time discussing the Fairfield Hills budget, and rather than draw resources from tax dollars, they would begin to use the special reserve fund, with a current balance of $170,000. The new chair believes they will begin to gain revenue from various projects, he said. Mrs Llodra also reminded members that campus projects are “very present” in the town’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan.

Mr Connors also raised the issue of a revised master plan of 2013 for the campus reuse, which allows housing to “at least be part of the conversation,” regarding proposals for redevelopment (see related story). As a group, he feels the authority, “remarkably,” is now “in place to meet master plan guidelines,” he said. He hopes their efforts achieve what the master plan “sets out for us to do,” he said.

In a motion to get a request for proposal for a feasibility study for Plymouth Hall — the proposed site EverWonder Museum members are hoping to renovate — members voted unanimously to support the study. The building has water in it, which member Ross Carley speculates may be ground water coming in.

Mrs Llodra said the study could “answer some big questions” about the building’s worth, and what it might cost to mothball the structure.

Also sitting in on Monday’s meeting was Director of Economic and Community Development Elizabeth Stocker. She recalled that the EverWonder members may have done a feasibility study on Plymouth Hall that they might be willing to share with the authority.

Before any studies take place, Mr Carley suggested that they contact Public Works or Land Use to have the cellar drained.

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