$15 million in next 5 years

BETHANY -The newly released report of the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee takes a comprehensive 15-year look into the town's future needs and recommends construction and renovation projects costing an estimated $15 million over the first five

BETHANY -The newly released report of the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee takes a comprehensive 15-year look into the town's future needs and recommends construction and renovation projects costing an estimated $15 million over the first five years.

The two major construction projects include a new elementary school to meet the present capacity at an estimated $9.5 million and a public safety building at an estimated $3.5 million. State reimbursement would reduce the school cost by about 40 percent to $5.7 million. Federal and state grants would be investigated for the other project.

Named by the Board of Selectmen last November, the seven-member committee headed by Richard VanHorn, reviewed both short and long-term needs of the town in regard to present and future municipal building.

The report "lays it all our," VanHorn said this week. "The committee was trying to look at the total picture." Next it will be up to townspeople as to what action to take, he said.

The selectmen and Board of Finance members are currently reviewing the report and will seek voter approval at the May 15 Annual Town Meeting to name and fund building committees for the school and public safety projects. A public hearing on the entire report is expected to be held in June with a referendum in the fall.

The simple largest project recommended is a new elementary school for 300-350 pre-kindergarten through second grade students, to be opened by the fall of 2002. The study panel said the Community School is "essentially at capacity" and cannot be expanded on its present site because of ledge, water and core facilities constraints.

The existing school would be reconfigured for up to 500 students in grades three through six. The Board of Education has endorsed the second school.

Bethany is "a desirable community with strong potential for continued growth," the report states in explaining its educational proposal. Unless something is done now, "The town will face a critical class size and space situation in the future." Past state enrollment projections have been consistently lower than the town's actual growth for the past decade," according to the panel, adding that the town's "trend line" projection formula appears to be more reliable.

Although land issues were outside the committee's charge, it noted that 14 acres is the recommended state minimum for the proposed school size.

In another recommendation, the committee noted that the Town Hall is "overcrowded and woefully lacking in meeting room space." It said the relocation of the school administrative offices and storage from Town Hall to one of the school annexes (no longer needed with the new school) would provide more space for Town Hall expansion. Moving the offices of the resident troopers and fire marshal to an annex could save additional space. Renovation of the aging annexes for these purposes was estimated at $420,000.

Although Town Hall renovation and updating are advised and roughed in at $740,000, utilizing the relocated space would be much cheaper than a major addition to Town Hall. There is no state reimbursement for town offices, the report said.

The planning panel's public safety subcommittee report states that Center Fire Station facilities are inadequate for present and future needs of a growing town. The Volunteer Fire Department has proposed vacating the present building on Amity Road and relocating to a public safety building on the airport property. The department cites the lack of office, storage, showers, sleeping and equipment maintenance space in the present structure. Vehicle clearance and room are also cramped, with dangerous access to and from Rt. 63, it said.

The panels report states it is also "conceivable" that Center Station could be used as public safety facility with room for the resident troopers, fire marshal, constables and civil defense director, thereby eliminating 4,000 of the 20,000 square feet of new construction. Estimated renovation cost is $375,000.

It was also suggested the present firehouse could be utilized for highway and recreation departments storage and parking for the senior van. Sale of the building is not considered viable.

The long range committee also said:

* There is an immediate need for a bathhouse with restrooms at Veterans Memorial Park (formerly Bethany West), and a need for a pavilion and indoor camp activity building there.

* The airport hanger should be retained for storage and renovated.

* It supports the construction of a 40x60-foot airport pavilion.

* The judge of probate office needs added space and privacy.

* The town garage will ultimately need to be expanded with another four bays to "accommodate additional equipment associated with town growth" (in the beyond 10-year period).

* Request for expansion of the District Animal Control shelter falls outside the report's scope because it is a four-town facility.