First Selectman Beth Heller is looking forward to seeing the completion of a number of projects that got underway last year, but the first issue at hand for her personally is to obtain the Democratic nomination to run for her second term come January 17. Municipal elections are coming up May 6. “I am very proud of the things we accomplished – as a board,” Heller said as we sat down to talk about the projects planned for 2019.
Car port: A car port was being installed the first week in January in the police parking lot where cruisers had been parked in the past without any protection from the elements. The car port consists of two separate structures, one closer to the garage where officers enter the station, and the main roof over the center of the parking lot, with spaces for 12 vehicles. There will be some LED lighting under the roof, but no solar panels, said architect Brian Humes when he presented the plans to the Board of Selectmen last spring. The proposed roof offers very little southern exposure and is not conducive to solar panels, he said.
The project was paid for through a STEAP (Small Town Economic Assistance Program) grant the town received several years ago for improvements at the police station. In addition to the carport, work is progressing on the simulcast radio system, which will improve emergency calls in many areas of town that are currently considered dead spots.
Animal shelter: The Woodbridge animal shelter on Bradley Road is about to finish Phase 1 of its upgrade, Heller said. A ribbon cutting will be scheduled in the upcoming months. The upgrade includes all mechanicals, including a connection with the public water line on Bradley Road. They also installed an ADA-compliant bathroom for the two-legged friends of the shelter, a dog grooming station and redesign of the cat area. The kennel will be freshly painted. Here also a STEAP grant paid for the bigger part of it, $400,000, with an additional $100,000 donated through the One Big Dog fund raising effort.
Phase 2 calls for adding 14 dog runs and a reconfiguration of the meet-and-greet room. Heller said the town plans to apply for a grant to make this happen. In addition to Woodbridge, the facility serves as the animal control facility for Seymour and Bethany.
Audio improvements at Town Hall: After months of audience complaints, the town is getting upgrades to its meeting room audio system, thanks to a Cable Advisory Council grant. The hope is that the system will be up and running for the January Selectmen’s meeting on January 9, said grant writer Sheila McCreven.
The new system should allow for a better audio reception in the meeting room, without interfering with the cable broadcast. Board members still will have to speak into microphones, but there will be a control panel to give more sound to one or the other microphone. The cables are now snaked through the floor and ceiling, doing away with the taped-on cable on the floor, which always presented a trip hazard, McCreven said.
Skating rink to be moved: The Recreation Commission is planning to build a new outdoor ice skating rink in an area near the Pease Place playground off Pease Road. This will allow the town to use it for overflow parking in the summer, spring and fall, while the sports fields are in use, and use it for skating in the winter. “We are waiting on the Land Trust and CUPOP [the Commission on the Use of Publicly Owned Properties]” to approve the proposed location, Heller said.
The current slab area at Fitzgerald could be part of the dog park planned around the chestnut orchard at Fitzgerald, but that would require removing the asphalt, filling and seeding the area, and could cost the dog park volunteers anywhere up to $10,000, said Bonnie Blake, president of the Dog Park cooperative.
The blacktop of the existing rink has not been a good choice, said Recreation Director John Adamovich when he addressed the joint meeting of the Boards of Finance and Selectmen. The sun warms it up enough to melt the ice during the day. There are also cracks in the asphalt, which contributes to leaks. Outdoor skating is not on its schedule of activities for this winter.
Old firehouse: The change of leadership at the Amity Regional District has held up plans for the old red-brick firehouse at the intersection of Center and Newton Roads. The high school had expressed an interest in renting the upstairs rooms for its life skills program. The new superintendent was scheduled to walk the facility with Town Hall representatives this week.
In the meantime, the town has been granted an extension for the $500,000 STEAP grant until December. The building had been damaged by a fire in 2003. Insurance proceeds were used to fix the envelope, and some $200,000 is left over from that project. The fire department stores some equipment in the building, including an antique fire truck.
The available money would allow the town to install a sprinkler system and new electrical and HVAC systems. To fix it up for specific uses would cost the town $2 million. The plan is to move the fitness center into the ground floor; create a multi-purpose meeting room and keep the antique fire truck in its present location.
Town Center Beautification: Heller initiated a Town Center Beautification plan, which was worked out by Administrative Assistant Betsy Yagla and unanimously approved by the Board of Selectmen. It includes benches and plantings as well as sidewalks and expanded wifi.
First steps include Arden’s Garden – a planting project on the green in memory of Arden Clark Gordon. It also inspired the Board of Selectmen to donate a tree to be planted near it.
As part of the Center beautification, Yagla also developed a sign board policy to channel requests for event notifications. An Eagle Scout project will help construct sign boards that will accommodate three 2×3 foot signs. These boards will be installed in different locations of the town, including the “triangle” traffic island by the old firehouse and the Fitzgerald Tract, as well as the different ball field locations.
As part of town center planning, the first selectman’s office is exploring the feasibility of expanding the sidewalks in the center of town, in particular from Amity High School to the library, and possibly later to the Center ballfield. Amity students often walk from the school to the library in the afternoon, or they cross through Meetinghouse Lane to get to the center ballfields. Sidewalks would allow for a much safer crossing for them.
Heller also plans to revive the Community Council – a group of volunteers to plan and organize community events. Back in the 1990s that was her first foray into the town’s affairs. At the time the council introduced the concerts on the green, which are a popular feature of summer life in town. She said the goal is to have one town-wide event every season.
Country Club: The work to find a solution for the former Country Club of Woodbridge will demand much of the selectmen’s attention going forward. Judging from the attendance at the informational meeting in December, the issue is still a hot-button issue. Heller said she expects the board to bring a proposal to referendum in 2019. Up to this point the board has discussed the two offers for active adult housing mostly in executive session. She said the board has operated in a bi-partisan way in its discussions with the developers and with each other. “We’ll see how it all plays out,” she said.
The Town Hall meeting room audio system has been upgraded with better amplification and recording equipment. The goal is to make board conversations easier to follow for the audience.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent