Plans for the reuse of the former Bridge St. School building started with committees and studies in 2005. Careful deliberations, community forums, and ongoing public updates have occurred continuously in the intervening 12 years. Delays on this project are par for the course.
I was a member of the 2008-2009 study group. I’ve followed the progress carefully since then. This building is an asset of the Town. It is structurally sound. It sits on approximately 3.5 acres of land in the town center and has ample space for off-street parking. Two years ago the town residents decided it should be used for the benefit of the community.
A review of important actions and decisions reveals the following:
• The project and bonding were approved by a referendum in October, 2015.
• Abatement was not done although it was supposed to proceed immediately.
• Continuous reassessments and expenses have cost the Town approximately $100K.
• Requests for proposals (RFP) to architects and construction managers were sent out after laborious work to write them.
• Four proposals were returned – three were within the approved amount of $8.4 million.
• In October, 2016 the Tri-board voted to proceed with the project and bonding.
• In June, 2017 the First Selectman asked the Board of Finance how preliminary work could be paid for and was told it would be done through authorized and approved bonding.
• On the afternoon of September 13, 2017 the First Selectman sent a letter to the Board of Selectman stating that she would not sign the contract. She did not ask for their opinion.
• She planned to give the letter to the Board of Finance that evening. She did that.
• Strong community feedback occurred at the October 4, 2017 Selectmen’s meeting. The majority of speakers supported the Community Center project although a few did not.
• The First Selectman was asked directly what she thinks should happen to the project. She gave no clear answer
The electorate has spoken here – they voted in 2015. The electorate, Permanent Building Commission, Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen all had expected the project to move forward. The fact that the First Selectman has unilaterally stopped the project in its tracks is incomprehensible. The collective will of the people is being ignored. We don’t expect this from our elected officials.
The whole Board of Selectmen should vote on such a decision immediately. The fact that they were not consulted prior to the First Selectman taking such action and making it public constitutes a serious and highly questionable exercise in judgment. It is a breach of public trust and erodes confidence in elected officials. Will this set a precedent for future non-action on projects? How can anyone who is asked to bid have assurance that their work is worth the effort?
When constituents’ votes are ignored, we need to know why. Action to overturn the results of a binding vote should not be pushed through by one person’s decision. The entire Board of Selectmen should discuss and share with the voters.