The Board of Finance (BOF) approved $ 90,000 for adaptive playground equipment at Dickinson Park, $ 8 million for the design, construction, construction and installation of a ventilation system and HVAC renovation at Hawley School, and $ 500,000 US dollars for the reconstruction and construction of city streets at its meeting on Thursday, August 26th.
The board unanimously approved a transfer of $ 90,000 to support the Newtown Lions Club’s purchase of adaptive play equipment for children with disabilities. The equipment will be installed in Dickinson Park. The transfer has yet to be approved by the Legislative Council and should be completed by mid-September.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal told The Newtown Bee that while the city’s playgrounds currently meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, they are not “truly adaptable.”
“Children with different disabilities can come and be in the playground, so we comply with the letter of the law,” said Rosenthal, who noted that for some children with disabilities, such as wheelchair users, there isn’t much to do in the playground . He said the Lions club is raising funds for three adaptive play devices.
Rosenthal said he could imagine anyone can handle being a kid and not being tall enough to ride.
“Then you think of children with disabilities who may never reach this imaginary height,” said Rosenthal. “These facilities will not only make Newtown a nicer place, but also a more inclusive place.”
To date, the Lions have raised $ 42,750 and are expecting a $ 2,000 drop in price from gaming equipment retailer ME O’Brien. With $ 90,000 from the city and Parks & Recreation Department offered for prep and installation, an estimated $ 35,000 value, the club is at $ 167,750 of its target of $ 172,310, being $ 4,550 left. The city announced its contribution of $ 90,000 out of a budget surplus of $ 915,000.
Most of the remaining money from the surplus goes to the city’s fund budget.
“That is positive for an inclusive community,” said Rosenthal. “This creates a beautiful, inclusive area that all children can enjoy. I was happy to make the suggestion [the $90,000], and I am glad that the chosen ones support this. We’ve had a good budget year so we’ve seen what we can do to help. I’m glad we could do what we did. It is a worthy project. “
According to Lions Club Representative Neil Randle, the three pieces of play equipment Lions would like to purchase are Sway Fun, $ 27,670; the We-Go Swing, $ 32,745; and the We-Go-Round, $ 31,170.
“These articles best reflect the feel of a fully inclusive game, as well as the ability for multiple children and parents to play on the devices at the same time, with easy access and transfer to and from a wheelchair,” said Randle.
The money is not transferred from the city to the Lions and back again, especially since, according to Rosenthal, the municipal discount of the city means that playground equipment can be bought more cheaply than the Lions could. Instead, the club will provide the city with the funds raised and the city will make the purchases.
The board unanimously approved the $ 8 million pledge for ventilation and HVAC work at the Hawley School.
Funding for the Hawley School was approved in the Capital Improvement Plan (2021-22-2025-26). The city will issue $ 8 million in bonds to borrow the amount. Voters will be asked to approve or decline the funds on election day, Tuesday November 2nd.
Sandy Roussas, vice chairman of the BOF, said that while she was aware of the needs for ventilation and HVAC at Hawley, it was “regrettable” that a “more cost-effective solution” was not found.
“We’ve gone through enough reviews at our level,” said Roussas. “The voters should just have their say.”
Board member Ned Simpson said he believed the money spent on these upgrades would be “better spent on a new school.”
“From my professional experience in hospitals, there were many 40- to 60-year-old buildings that were loved, but they ended up being demolished,” Simpson said. “Don’t put money in an old building.”
He believed that all schools should be air-conditioned and acknowledged the school’s air quality problems, but considered the choice between closing the school or investing $ 8 million in renovation “the wrong question”.
“The real question is what it takes to give the city a 21st century school,” said Simpson.
Simpson also questioned a “million dollar swing” over refrigerant costs. He acknowledged that the city had no time to change course because of the question that had to be asked at the November vote, but asked if the public could be given a detailed breakdown of the cost of the project.
Rosenthal said the city “would not be exposed to chance” as to whether or not it passed the referendum.
“As with previous projects, there will be a certain amount of public engagement,” said Rosenthal. “Its a lot to do. It’s a matter of time.”
He also touched on the refrigerant issue, saying that the lower cost option in the original cost estimate was “phasing out” and that in the long run the city would spend more money either tracking down the refrigerant or converting the system.
Roussas said that on the police station project, the information released to the public was “not as detailed” and that the Public Works and Works Commission “did a good job” to handle the project.
“I wouldn’t expect less,” said Roussas. “The public should know what is going on, but giving too many details is debatable.”
She also stated that building a new one rather than renovating is “not a viable option” as there are other schools that require HVAC work. She also thought that building a new school would be considerably larger and more costly than renovating Hawley.
Board member John Madzula agreed, saying the problem “will not go away”. He said that a new school will likely be ten to 15 years later and the “last question is whether this is good enough for the moment”.
“The voters, parents, staff, the education committee, that’s what they need and want,” Madzula said. “That’s what they ask for and they deserve it.”
Rosenthal said the cost estimates are based on inflationary levels, and while the estimated cost is $ 7.8 million, the city is aiming for a full $ 8 million to absorb unexpected fluctuations in costs.
“If our budget falls short, we will not spend the extra money,” said Rosenthal.
Rosenthal also stated that further discussions will be held in September about how to use American Rescue Plan funds for the work.
“We can apply some of it to this project,” said Rosenthal. “We’ll be giving the numbers to voters so they can make an informed decision about how much to borrow.”
Rosenthal said the funds must be presented to the Legislative Council before September 1 and then go to the Connecticut Secretary of State to run for election on election day.
Funds for road works
The BOF also unanimously approved a $ 500,000 allocation to bond road works. Like the money for the playground equipment and the Hawley School, the grant has already been approved by the Board of Selectmen and requires the approval of the Legislative Council.
Rosenthal said that when he first started Selectman, the city gave $ 1.5 million on road works from its regular operating budget and $ 1 million more on road works. During his tenure, the city has moved on to paying for more road works from its annual operating budget and borrowing less – at the rate of about $ 250,000 per year.
This year the city will pay $ 2.5 million for roads from its operating budget and borrow $ 500,000. Rosenthal hopes to use $ 2.75 million from operating budget next year and borrow only $ 250,000; and in 2023-24, the goal is to spend $ 3 million from operating budget on roads and remove funds tied up on roads and bridges.
After that, the city will keep $ 3 million in the street budget, with the only additions to account for inflation.
Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at [email protected].
Board member Ned Simpson, far left, and First Selectman Dan Rosenthal listen as the city’s financial director Robert Tait makes a point during the board meeting on Aug. 26.