Rosenthal Reviving Municipal Building Strategic Plan Committee
In late 2014, then First Selectman Pat Llodra appointed seven members to a newly formed Municipal Building Strategic Plan Committee. Even as it fine-tuned its ultimate mission, the group commenced its work by year’s end, mounting a two-phase plan that would eventually advise selectmen about possible future uses for municipal-owned facilities.
Among those facilities at the time were the former Hook & Ladder fire headquarters behind Edmond Town Hall, the Riverside Road multipurpose facility that was home to Newtown’s Senior Center, and Town Hall South, which housed police headquarters, the emergency communications department, and the offices for Newtown Parks & Rec and Social Services.
Now, just a little over six years later, the Senior Center has a new permanent home, and the multipurpose building has been enlarged and repurposed as the Children’s Adventure Center, more than doubling its former footprint and capacity.
In 2017, the former fire station was rented on a month-to-month basis by Frank J. Reda, a retired Norwalk police officer who operates Superior Tactics & K9 in New Milford. Since then, the K9 academy has conducted law enforcement training at the site, although the building is now being targeted for demolition to make room for expanded Edmond Town Hall parking.
Newtown’s Parks & Rec Department, as well as its Social Services offices, has relocated to the new Community Center facility at Fairfield Hills.
And last fall, Newtown’s police operations left Town Hall South to occupy newly renovated headquarters at 191 South Main Street. The emergency communications department is scheduled to flip the “on” switch at the new police HQ in mid-March, leaving 3 Main Street virtually vacant.
So, to First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, it is an opportune time to seat a new panel to pick up where predecessors left off.
Planning For Improvements
“The last working group that was appointed by Mrs Llodra had done quite a bit of inventorying systems, things like the age of roofs — there’s a pretty extensive spreadsheet that can probably still be used,” Rosenthal said, adding that new facilities like the police headquarters and community and senior center would be added.
“More importantly, I think we have a very qualified Public Building & Site Commission and Sustainable Energy Commission, but building inventory and systems doesn’t fall naturally in either group’s lap,” the first selectman said.
Considering all these facilities utilize taxpayer dollars in annual operating budgets, and debt service on capital improvements to these town buildings can be costly, Rosenthal believes this panel could help can mitigate unplanned or emergency capital repairs by using the capital nonrecurring fund to make smaller fixes strategically, using a pay-as-you-go approach.
“That way we can plan for [improvements] over successive budgets,” he said, “so we’re suddenly not faced with a $200,000 increase in our operating budget to replace rooftop units or whatever else, only because we weren’t keeping enough focus on [pending maintenance and repairs].”
The difference now is that Rosenthal hopes to make the committee a sustainable entity. So he sought the consensus of Selectmen Jeff Capeci and Maureen Crick Owen to move forward soliciting volunteers who would coordinate with Public Works Director Fred Hurley, school district Facilities Director Bob Gerbert, and Finance Director Robert Tait.
Since school facilities are among municipal-owned facilities, they would be included under the committee’s purview. Once seated and operational, the committee would report to and be advised by the Public Building & Site Commission, as well as selectmen and the Board of Education.
Coincidentally, current school board Chair Michelle Embree Ku and board of education member Rebekah Harriman-Stites were on Llodra’s former facilities panel.
According to documentation provided to selectmen, the new panel would be renamed the Building Inventory & Planning Work Group. It would be charged with establishing a simple information system to inventory town buildings and their major components, the expected useful life of components, and the use(s) of this information for planning including the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).
Its specific activities would be:
1. Identify current methods for keeping building and building component inventory as well as warranty periods, maintenance requirements, and useful life;
2. Determine building components to track, such as roofs, boilers, air handling and conditioning, parking lots, solar, plumbing, and emergency systems;
3. Investigate how other towns monitor and manage their buildings;
4. Design a spreadsheet or other simple digital system to capture, store, and report building data. Alternatively, investigate the availability of commercial systems to meet these needs;
5. Design an annual Town Building Dashboard to be presented to the Board of Selectmen and Board of Education as input to their CIP preparations. The Dashboard would also be available to the Board of Finance;
6. Establish the Newtown building inventory system and oversee the initial population of building data;
7. Recommend responsibilities and basic process for maintaining timely and accurate building data;
8. Recommend other uses or extensions to the building inventory; and
9. Periodically report progress, findings, and system design to the Board of Selectmen.
The nonpartisan, apolitical work group will guide the establishment of an information system to unburden the boards of education and selectmen of the need to identify what building maintenance related Capital Asset Projects need to be included in the CIP.
Among the appointees are Board of Finance member Ned Simpson, presumed Chair; Public Building & Site and Sustainable Energy Committee member Allen Adriani, PE; C.H. Booth Library Trustee David Schill, PE; and Hurley, Tait, and Gerbert. Additional members with IT and spreadsheet management skills, along with a school board liaison, are still being recruited.
Other town staff, commission/committee members, and elected officials will be consulted as needed. The group would be expected to complete its activities by recommending an established inventory and maintenance tracking system by this fall, Rosenthal said.
“While appointing this as an ad-hoc group makes the most sense, I think hopefully we get this to a point through the use of volunteers that it will just be a matter of generating an annual report,” Rosenthal said. “Ideally, we’ll get this to where [the tracking system] is regularly updated by town staff and reports are issued to the various bodies charged with making sure we’re keeping up with maintenance obligations.”