Town leaders are in the process of planning for a number of infrastructure improvements which could be financed through bonding at a time of historically low interest rates.
The projects so far include the conversion of the old firehouse into a community center, construction of a storage facility in the back of the current firehouse; improvements to the senior center; and a refurbishment of parts of the Beecher Road School roof.
The cost — estimated so far to total $2.85 million, plus another half million in “soft costs” such as contingency, insurance, bonding costs, etc.—would be put to a referendum, which could potentially take the form of a special town meeting or a ballot vote.
Town Finance Director Anthony Genovese said the selectmen agreed “in concept” to the proposals, but at the same time asked the finance department to investigate the cost of potential other needed projects, including the demolition of the Country Club clubhouse, which is boarded up in many places and is not considered safe. In addition, the first selectman asked him to investigate pricing for adding sidewalks from Amity High School to the town center.
Old firehouse and storage shed: The main project is to turn the former firehouse into a community center, with meeting rooms and a fitness center. The building has been nearly empty since a fire occurred there in 2006, and the volunteer fire department eventually moved into the newly built firehouse in 2009. However, the new fire house was smaller than what the 2004 Building Committee had recommended, and the department used the old building to store equipment in Bays 1 and 2. In order for the town to have the use of the former firehouse, it will need to provide for adequate storage space near the fire station. An existing slab of 45×45 feet will need to be extended to build a storage facility.
Architect David Stein estimated the cost for the storage facility to be about $500,000 to which the Volunteer Fire Association has pledged to contribute $100,000. Turning the historic firehouse into a community center will cost about $1.4 million, or $1.7 million with soft costs.
Senior Center: Some 750 Woodbridge seniors over the age of 75 are currently living independently in their homes, according to First Selectman Beth Heller. The senior center, which helps create a healthy, active forum for them, is located in the basement of the Center Building, which served as the town’s elementary school from 1929 to 1977. The Senior Center was left in its original condition for over 40 years, Heller said in her remarks at the February 23 special meeting. “It has long been in need of a facelift.”
The administration is looking to replace the lighting and replace the “institutional floor tile” in what used to be the school cafeteria. In addition, they are hoping to create a proper reception area, and provide a private space for the visiting nurse to meet with people. They are also looking to install storage for sports equipment for their classes.
“It is meant to make it a warmer and more welcoming space,” said Finance Director Anthony Genovese. The town has already been awarded a STEAP grant of $128,000 toward the project, but to finish it, would need another $250,000.
Beecher School roof: The roof over the D wing, the Kindergarten wing and the Library Media Center are nearly 25 years old, and continue to have intermittent leaks. The cost for refurbishment would be $573,000, according to Genovese.
Selectmen had some discussion about whether these projects should be presented as one bonding package that townspeople can vote up or down or if they should be presented as four separate projects. Selectman Joe Dey in particular said he was in favor of separating the questions to allow townspeople a vote on each one. “We all might say it’s needed (the school roof) but maybe the rest of them may not say it’s needed,” he said. “If you don’t get all four, maybe you get none,” he said.
That approach, however, will increase the cost of the whole package, said Genovese.
Selectman Dwight Rowland said bundling the first three projects in one contract can save the town as much as 5-8% of overall cost; but the roof project would be separated from that due to the nature of the work. In the end selectmen voted unanimously to authorize Tony Genovese “to begin discussions with Bond Counsel for preparation of documents and resolutions in order to call a special town meeting. “As for Dey, his understanding of the vote was for Genovese to do additional research and get back to the board.
Genovese was hesitant as far as the timing is concerned. Not only will the selectmen need to agree on whether or not to include other potential projects; the details will pass to bond counsel and back to the boards of Selectmen and Finance before the question can be presented to the townspeople, a process that may take two months or more.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent