Funding For Playground Equipment, Hawley HVAC Approved By Council
The Legislative Council approved $8 million for the planning, design, engineering, and installation of a ventilation system and HVAC renovations at Hawley School, appropriations of $90,000 for adaptive playground equipment at Dickinson Park, as well as $500,000 for the reconstruction and construction of town roads at its Thursday, August 26, meeting. Those measures are now slated for voter consideration on the November 2 ballot.
It also approved of beginning the process of listing the Town Hall South at 3 Main Street for sale.
Unlike the spirited debate about bonding $8 million for air ventilation and HVAC work at Hawley School at the Board of Finance, the Legislative Council remained relatively quiet on the subject.
Saying that the council has already debated the subject “at length” and has vetted it thoroughly, council member Andrew Clure said this was why no one was clamoring to speak on the subject when Council Chairman Paul Lundquist asked for comments.
“We’re not asking questions because we’ve discussed this thoroughly,” said Clure.
Lundquist agreed, stating it was important to note that the council’s approval simply meant that the matter went to the voters for the final decision.
Council member Ryan Knapp said that he had “concerns with the project all along” and had “doubts and disagreements” about it.
“This has been a point of frustration,” said Knapp. “At this point we can just send this to the voters. Sometimes people misinterpret that as a whole-hearted approval, but this is just sending it to the voters for them to decide.”
The appropriation for Hawley School was authorized in the capital improvement plan (2021-22 to 2025-26). The town will issue $8 million in bonds to borrow the amount. Voters will be asked to approve or reject the appropriation on Election Day, Tuesday, November 2.
Rosenthal said that the cost estimates are assuming a level of inflation, and additionally, even though the estimated cost is $7.8 million, the town is seeking a full $8 million to help absorb any unexpected fluctuations in cost.
“If we’re under budget, we won’t spend the extra money,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal also stated that there will be further talk in September about using American Rescue Plan funding toward the work.
“We may apply some of that to this project,” said Rosenthal. “We’ll get the numbers to voters so they can make an informed decision about how much to bond.”
Rosenthal said that the appropriation still has to go to the Connecticut Secretary of State to apply to be on the ballot on Election Day.
Adaptive Playground Details
The council unanimously approved a transfer of $90,000 to assist the Newtown Lions Club’s purchase of adaptive playground equipment for children with disabilities. The equipment will be installed at Dickinson Park. The transfer is awaiting approval by the Legislative Council, and is expected to be administered by mid-September.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal told The Newtown Bee that while the town’s playgrounds currently meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, they are not “truly adaptive.”
“Children with different disabilities can get to the playground and be at the playground, so we meet the letter of the law,” said Rosenthal, who noted that there is not much for some children with disabilities, such as those in a wheelchair, to do at the playground. He said that the Lions Club is raising funds for three pieces of adaptive playground equipment.
Rosenthal said that he imagined everyone could relate to being a child and not being tall enough to ride on a ride.
“Then you think about children with disabilities who may never get to that imaginary height,” said Rosenthal. “This equipment will make Newtown not only a nicer place but more inclusive.”
So far, the Lions have raised $42,750 and are expecting a $2,000 price break from playground equipment distributor M.E. O’Brien. With $90,000 from the town, and the Parks & Recreation Department offering to do the groundwork and installation, an estimated value of $35,000, that puts the club at $167,750 of its $172,310 goal, with $4,550 left to raise. The town designated its $90,000 contribution from a $915,000 budget surplus.
Most of the rest of the money from the surplus will go into the town’s fund balance.
“This is a positive for an inclusive community,” Rosenthal said. “This creates a nice inclusive area that all children can enjoy. I was happy to propose [the $90,000], and I’m glad the selectmen support it. We had a good budget year, so we saw what we could do to help. I’m glad that we could do what we did. It’s a worthy project.”
According to Lions Club representative Neil Randle, the three items of playground equipment the Lions plan to purchase are the Sway Fun, purchase price $27,670; the We-Go-Swing, $32,745; and the We-Go-Round, $31,170.
“These items best capture the sentiment of fully inclusive play as well as the opportunity for several children and parents to play on the equipment together at one time, with easy access and transfer to and from a wheelchair,” said Randle.
The money will not be moved from the town to the Lions and back again, especially since, according to Rosenthal, the town’s municipal discount means it can purchase the playground equipment for less than the Lions could. Instead, the club will give the town the funds it has raised and the town will make the purchases.
Road Work Appropriation
The council also unanimously approved a $500,000 appropriation in bonding for road work. Like the money for the playground equipment and Hawley School, the appropriation has already been approved by the Board of Selectmen and needed the approval of the Legislative Council.
Rosenthal said the town, when he began as first selectman, was doing $1.5 million in road work out of its regular operating budget and bonding $1 million more for road work. During his tenure, the town has been moving to paying for more of the roadwork out of annual operating budgets and borrowing less — at a rate of approximately $250,000 each year.
This year, the town will pay $2.5 million for roads out of its operating budget and borrow $500,000. Next year, Rosenthal hopes to use $2.75 million from the operating budget and only borrow $250,000; and in 2023-24, the goal is to spend $3 million from the operating budget on roads and eliminate bonding any funds for roads and bridges.
After that, the town will keep $3 million in the budget for roads, with the only additions to account for inflation.
Town Hall South
The council unanimously approved putting 3 Main Street up for sale and beginning to marketing the property. The first selectman said he has been approached confidentially by potential buyers for 3 Main Street, but the town isn’t going to sit and wait for those offers to become formalized.
When formalizing the listing, Rosenthal said, his board will likely consider imposing a deed restriction on the property limiting its future use. Rosenthal hopes that a future occupant or owner will use the building’s current footprint, though the building “needs a facelift.”
“Some sort of commercial reuse would be best, ideally offices, retail, or a combination of those,” Rosenthal said.
If the building does not sell with those deed restrictions, then “anything goes.”
Rosenthal said that the sale will be a “long process,” as a sign announcing the sale will have to go on the property, and the sale must be advertised. Even though the building has been appraised recently, it will need to be appraised again. The Planning & Zoning Commission will have to approve of the disposition. Ultimately any sale will circle back to the Legislative Council for approval.
The best price will not be the only consideration, according to Rosenthal. He said the town will be looking for “the best combination of price and use.”
The building is zoned business professional. The council talked about whether the building was located in the Borough of Newtown and whether there were limitations on its use since it was in the historic district.
While the building is in the historic district, Rosenthal preferred deed restrictions since he didn’t want something similar to “what almost happened with the inn property” to occur at 3 Main Street. In late 2019, a developer planned to build 40 apartment dwellings within three buildings at the Inn At Newtown, 19 Main Street, and drew stiff opposition from the public. Opponents have charged that such a project would not be architecturally compatible within the historic district where the site lies, among other complaints. The application was withdrawn in early 2020, and eventually Marygold’s opened in the location.
“We don’t want to get in a situation where we blink and then asked how it happened,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal noted that the 3 Main Street building was historic, and was a “1950s-era tractor dealership converted into a police station.”
Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.