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Community Center, Mental Health Facility Enter FFH Discussions



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Plans for a community center and a proposed mental health facility filled conversation during the Fairfield Hills Authority’s meeting on Monday, November 24.

In November 2013, that will be used toward the development of a community center. The facility, to be located at Fairfield Hills next to NYA Sports & Fitness Center, would also serve the senior community. The center and the “broad spectrum of needs” it meets for the town would be constructed in phases, for which funding requests are also in the town’s Capital Improvement Plan, First Selectman Pat Llodra told authority members.Newtown received a $15 million gift from General Electric

Phases include senior center construction, a connector to the NYA building, the possible future purchase of NYA by the town, and relocating Parks and Recreation offices from Town Hall South at 3 South Main Street to Fairfield Hills.

The senior and community center “are all part of the same project,” Mrs Llodra said. “It’s not either/or.” She is also aware that the senior population, which has its current center located in a shared building on Riverside Road, “is underserved by the facility they are in now.”

In the town’s Capital Improvement Plan proposal for the year 2015/16 is $9.5 million of funds for Phase One of community center construction. The following year makes a request of $10 million for Phase Two. Phase Three would be the NYA purchase.

The GE money “lets us move forward,” Mrs Llodra said. She believes, she said, “It’s the right way to go,” and with funding in place, the project will not fall apart, such as plans roughly six years ago when senior citizens and the Parks & Recreation Department “could not agree on a design,” she said.

As part of the Commission on Aging six years ago, authority member Ross Carley reminded Mrs Llodra that, “Seniors wanted nothing to do with Parks and Recreation.” He stressed that he did not see how the facility would serve the community as a whole.

Mrs Llodra stressed, “Please think in three phases.” She said construction phases would address seniors, and eventually connect to NYA.

Authority Chair Thomas Connors noted that “right now,” the NYA “is a kind of community center,” and asked Mrs Llodra if its purchase would “get us to where we can use money wisely to purchase what already exists.”

“There have been discussions for a couple of years,” Mrs Llodra said, and NYA “would fulfill interests for a community center with seniors as a part of that.”

A Mental Health Hospital

Investors from US HealthVest, a behavioral health care firm, in past months have expressed interest in building a roughly 100-bed facility on the site of Norwalk Hall, and most recently hopes to do an abatement study. HealthVest CEO Richard Kresch, MD, has met with the authority and visited the Fairfield Hills site several times in past months.

FHA member Terry Sagedy said the proposal is “not a use of land [that] I love, but viable.”

Member Renata Adler said the proposal, “Doesn’t look suitable to me.”

A long talk ensued regarding the process for which a proposal comes before officials and the public, and the authority’s role in hearing those proposals. While HealthVest has come to the town with concepts and had discussions, it still has to present a specific proposal, Mrs Llodra said. Any specific proposals then go through various boards or commissions such as Land Use and Planning & Zoning.

Resident Michael Chocholak was curious about the HealthVest proposal. Mr Connors said, “It’s our charge to be sure that what’s presented to us fits the master plan [for permitted campus reuses].” Ms Adler then questioned welcoming a mental health facility. Mr Connors replied that there is an “objective element” to the authority to answer the question of whether something fits the master plan and move it along through the process, which includes public participation, of going before other boards and commissions. Nothing can be “rammed through,” he said.

Mr Chocholak asked if there would be an open forum for proposals.

“Yes,” Mr Connors answered. The public would also have a chance to speak regarding any proposals, Mr Connors said. “Nothing about” the authority would “let something happen without people of Newtown,” he said.

Member James Bernardi said, “As far as [Mr Chocholak] wanted to know, there will be many times to express opinion.” Mr Chocholak then asked, “Can the people of Newtown vote?”

“No,” Mrs Llodra said.

“We have able elected officials and a Democracy interested in listening to people,” Mr Bernardi added. Mr Connors said, “I don’t think we’ll want to do something unpopular with people.” To Mr Chocholak, he said, “You will have every opportunity to say if you like or don’t like it. We have a good process.”

Mrs Llodra later encouraged the authority to understand its responsibility, and answer whether something fits approved uses. “That’s yes or no, and does it fit the vision,” she said.

“If we have a choice, that’s fine,” Ms Adler said. 

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