Chairman’s View: Town Council faces buildings, Board of Education (MARCH 21, 2018)
Town Council faces buildings, Board of Education
BY JOHN ENGEL, CHAIRMAN, NEW CANAAN TOWN COUNCIL
The Town Council choked over a $1 million “placeholder” in the budget to build a “bird-cage” elevator and improve bathrooms at Waveny House. Why was this request shut down so quickly when $500,000 for the Police Department has met no resistance? There are lessons to be learned.
First, everything to do with Waveny takes more time. The Council wants to see the design documents, the Request for Proposal, host a public hearing, and collect the opinions from the Recreation Department, Historical Society and the Preservation Alliance before we consider any major change to the building. We won’t authorize budget only to kill the project later. The first public hearing to discuss our buildings is scheduled for April 25 or 26 and we’ve asked that these plans and alternatives be published and circulated immediately.
Second, the Town Council does not like to put placeholders in the budget that tip our hand to contractors how much to bid. Placeholders killed the Outback and Vine Cottage projects. Third, if our real objective is to make every building ADA-compliant then there must be less intrusive and less expensive ways to do it. Waveny has an elevator that accesses every floor. Show us why that less-intrusive upgrade isn’t a better plan.
Half a million dollars to start the (planning) of the Police Station renovation is an easy decision. It is expected that a $5 million to $7 million renovation will solve our Police Department needs while providing a new home for the New Canaan Public Schools administration, saving them $300,000 per year in rent.
This is another opportunity to find cost savings by working together and getting more out of our buildings. I believe an Alternative High School at the Outback will save us money and I hope to see a tighter plan.
The Bliss Laundry House at the Nature Center is another example. It would be a win-win if the Land Trust would move their offices to this building on the Nature Center campus for the benefit of both non-profits.
$90 million education
The $90 million elephant in the room is the Board of Education budget. The Town Council should get out of the habit of making a token cut. Last year we cut $100,000 on the last day without knowing the effect. It’s a broken process that starts with an October guidance letter written without input from the Board of Ed. We are broken because we work one year at a time and the only conversation is televised on Channel 79.
I believe the Board of Ed leadership has committed to meet with representatives of Finance and Council to work on a long-term plan that will meet expense limitations between 2.0%-2.5% without harming our schools. We all want this.