The town’s departments submitted their capital requests for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, and even if the majority of these requests is unlikely to make it through the budget vetting process, there are several big-ticket items that town leaders will have to deal with going forward.
Police station renovation: At the top of the list is the renovation of the police department, which has been in the planning for close to ten years. The department is occupying a space in the Center Building that was once the town’s elementary school. The police space needs should really be a priority for the town going forward, said Finance Board Chairman Matt Giglietti, adding that most other departments had their spaces updated over the years, namely the library, the firehouse, the Public Works garage and the schools.
“Something needs to be done,” said Police Chief Frank Cappiello when he presented his capital requests at the joint Boards of Selectmen and Finance meeting. “It’s long overdue.” The $4.8 million price tag is split between Fiscal Year 2020 and 2021. It is based on a ten-year-old report by architect Brian Humes outlining the department’s space needs. “We were running out of space back then – we ran out of space since,” the chief said. The Humes report suggested adding rooms on the main level of the Center Building, and to move all public access spaces upstairs.
Selectman Joe Dey said the report is so old, it will probably have to be updated. “We need all new planning, all new numbers,” he said. The funding for this project would be through bonding.
In addition to the renovation, the police department put in for a new computer server ($65,000); one cruiser ($38,000) and a surveillance recording system ($6,000).
School campus: The Woodbridge School District plugged in $500,000 to fix the temperature and humidity controls at Beecher Road School, but School Supt. Robert Gilbert told the joint meeting that the number would probably be considerably lower, maybe as low as $150,000. He said the district had received a report from an independent consultant, which needs to be reviewed by the ad-hoc committee dealing with the air conditioning issues that arose in the aftermath of the school’s renovation project.
Giglietti asked whether the contractor who had overseen the recent $13 million renovation at the school had been put on notice regarding the issues arising, namely a burst pipe last January, mold and mildew in the summer and the pool’s dehumidification unit, which had to be replaced most recently. First Selectman Beth Heller confirmed that the contractor is aware of the issues, but said the town needs to establish its own report on what went wrong in each scenario. Gilbert said according to the consultant’s report, the system installed is adequate for temperature control, but not for humidity control.
In addition to the HVAC problems, the district suggests a door replacement program spread out over the next six years of the capital plan. The priority are two exterior doors from the pool area, as well as exterior doors by the cafeteria. In all, 34 doors need replacing, both indoor and exterior doors. The district put in $32,000 for doors in the upcoming year, and $16,000 in each of the following years.
Another big-ticket item is asphalt replacement for the walkways around the perimeter of the school and the emergency access road leading to the North playground. The district plugged in $94,000 for the upcoming fiscal year, but $500,000 for the following year. “There are many areas of the exterior asphalt that are failing due to age or tree root damage,” Gilbert said, saying it presents a trip hazard, as well as an issue for emergency personnel.
Also, on the capital plan for Fiscal Year ’21 is $300,000 for roof replacement on the sprawling Beecher school building. Although parts of the roof were just done as part of the renovation project, it did not include the entire roof. Together with carpet replacement, painting and grounds care to alleviate erosion, and some other miscellaneous capital items, the school is looking for $1.3 million in capital expenses for the 2020-21 Fiscal Year.
Enrollment: In addition to building maintenance and groundskeeping, the superintendent, with a sense of urgency, stressed the issue of future space needs at the school. Enrollment at present stands at 847 students, 61 more than ten years ago. The newest projections foresee continued growth for the district, with 973 attending in ten years, 126 students more than in 2007-08. “That’s the equivalent of six more classrooms,” Gilbert said. In terms of the space recommendations from the state, “right now we are at full capacity.”
He said enrollment back in the 1990s may have been higher, but at that time they used portable classrooms to accommodate students. Given today’s security needs that scenario would not be feasible, he said. There is also more programming being offered compared to 30 years ago. “Programs thrive when they have their own space,” he said. Currently they have one program on a cart, and the quality of the programming may suffer if space needs continue that trend. “The challenge is at our doorstep, right now,” he said.
Fire Department: The fire department has replaced Engine 7 for which the last two lease payments are due this year and next; and it is looking to replace Engine 3 to replace a 30-year-old truck. If they were to place the order this month, as they are hoping to do, the truck would not be delivered until next December and the first payment would not be due until the following year.
The total in capital expenses for the 2019-20 Fiscal Year is $507,873, and covers the lease payment for Engine 7 ($158,000) and for Engine 3 ($166,000), air packs ($71,000); a Lucas chest compression device ($18,000); technology ($39,000); a vehicle for the fire marshal ($35,000 this year and next); and an air compressor ($21,000).
As of early December, the department had logged 735 calls this year, up from 522 the prior year. Staff hours increased by 50%, said Fire Chief Sean Rowland. They have had more structure fires than during any year past, he said, but also more car accidents, flooding and CO2 calls, just generally more calls across the board, he said.
Beautification plan: First Selectman Beth Heller and her staff have been working on a Town Center Beautification plan in order to make the “Town Center Campus a more beautiful, inviting and pedestrian-friendly space,” she said. It includes sidewalks and creating places to linger, including expanded wifi capabilities to allow people to sit and work outdoors.
The dog park, bocce and shuffleboard courts are part of the ideas. Some of these items are done by private donations, some will require funding through the town. The dog park at the Fitzgerald Tract, for instance, is a private initiative. But the sidewalks and wifi are not.
Part of the plan is a re-shuffling of town buildings, which has been talked about for many years. Once the fire department can move the equipment that it currently stores in the old firehouse, the Old Firehouse can be renovated and the Rec Department can move the fitness equipment into the Old Firehouse. That in turn makes room for the Police Department expansion at the Center Building.
To kick-start this process, the first selectman included $90,000 for a storage shed behind the new firehouse. The pad is already poured. In Fiscal Year 21, the town would expand the sidewalk network from Amity High School to the library ($70,000). The following year, the town would extend a crosswalk to the Fitzgerald Tract ($50,000); in 2023, the town would expand wifi coverage to the whole center campus to improve service for residents and staff.
Senior Center plans: This winter the Senior Center will be getting an ADA accessible bathroom in the lower level of the Center Building. The construction is well under way, with most programming taking place in other areas around town. Senior lunches are being served at First Church; lectures and card groups meet at the library, the large group of bridge aficionados meet in the Center Building gym, as are yoga and tai chi. Arts and crafts classes, mahjong and pinochle groups meet in Room 11 of the Center Building.
“I’m getting my steps in,” joked Senior Center Director Jeanette Glicksman. She expects the bathroom project to be completed by mid-January, which will allow activities to return to their normal locations at the lower level of the Center Building.
Construction of a ramp however, has been postponed to the spring, given the early onset of below-freezing temperatures this year.
Human Services Director Mary Ellen LaRocca also presented a preliminary draft of a renovation plan for the Senior Center. “This project will modernize the center and make it a welcoming and inviting place” for the seniors in town, said committee member Susan Davidson, who presented the project along with LaRocca. She said her children are now in their 50s, but the Center Building looks exactly as it did when they went to school there. The project involves some re-assigning of spaces, adding storage and new furniture. LaRocca said it was split into two phases, with $195,000 for Fiscal Year 2020, and $170,000 for the following year. “We are needy, but not greedy,” said Susan Davidson about the project. She said the town should not regard it as a “senior” project but a s a Woodbridge project, which will benefit the town as a whole.
Miscellaneous: In addition to the building upgrade, the Human Services Department is looking to purchase a lift-equipped passenger van ($67,000).
The Parks Department is looking for irrigation at Center field ($10,000); irrigation at West River complex ($30,000); tennis court maintenance at the Center Road courts ($16,000) and concrete dugouts at Center field.
Public Works is looking for truck and equipment replacement ($246,000 and $83,000 respectively); Bridge and Waterways reserve ($50,000) and $1 million for road construction ($65,000 of that would come from a LOCIP fund); also a compactor container replacement ($30,000) and equipment replacement and repair at the transfer station ($10,000).
Recreation is looking to purchase a PVC boundary for the outdoor volleyball court ($8,000). The Recreation Department added construction of a 90-foot baseball diamond to its list of future projects. It plugged in $250,000 for Fiscal Year 2024.
In total, requests add up to $5.5 million, $3.3 million of which would be funded through local taxes. Town Finance Director Anthony Genovese said typically it is recommended for capital expenditures not to exceed 3% of the total budget. For Woodbridge, that would mean to cap capital projects at 1.5 million. During this current year, capital expenditures are at $1.6 million; the year before they were at $1 million. “We try to smooth out the funding of capital obligations,” he said. He also said the capital plan is just a planning tool to keep needed projects on the horizon. Projects may be delayed, or moved up when funding becomes available. Funding for the proposed projects is not approved until the voters had a say.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent