Capital projects aired at Woodbridge forum

Woodbridge officials presented six-year capital budget proposals at a sparsely attended public hearing last week. First Selectman Amey Marrella said she held the hearing to invite public input on the budget before the town makes any decisions on the requests.

$14,393,567 in capital projects have already been requested by town boards and commissions, and according to officials, the Conservation Commission and Land Trust, Beecher Road School Building Committee, and Firehouse Building Committee changes presented at the meeting would increase that amount. Dr. Helene Skrzyniarz, Amity School District Superintendent, was also invited to address capital needs of the Amity District since they impact Woodbridge taxes.

Peter Cooper of the Woodbridge Land Trust spoke to the need for additional monies to purchase disappearing open space. He said the Trust is concerned that the town is not consistently purchasing open space and would like to regain the ground lost during the last three years by bonding 2.5 to 3 million dollars now. He also proposed establishing an annual million-dollar fund.

Fire Commissioner Peter Hershman said the Firehouse Building Committee is requesting funding for a new building to be located on a portion of the Fitzgerald property across the street from the current firehouse. According to Hershman, that building was erected in the 1930's and is a "patchwork quilt" of additions, does not meet OSHA standards and, " we don't know how long it is going to stand."

Estimates to replace it have increased from $2.5 million several years ago to $3 million dollars now, plus $.5 million for engineer plans and $150,000 for an engineered septic system.

$800,000 has already been budgeted as a capital request to replace the four portables at Beecher School in the town capital plan, but the school's building committee asked to increase it to approximately $2 million to address other urgent space needs. The Beecher School has a current enrollment of 911 children and the lunch schedule runs from 10:40-1:15 p.m. to accommodate all of them. The Building Committee is seeking an expansion of 8,500 square feet to improve the cafeteria as well as add a science laboratory and expand the language arts center.

Former First Selectman Nan Birdwhistell requested the costs of the portables which have been used over the last four years ($30-32,000 each per year) and asked whether additional space might save some of the costs of sending special education students out of town (an average of $35,000 plus transportation).

Both Beecher School and the Amity District can receive maximum state funding if their building projects are approved by June 30, 2003. Skrzyniarz said she does not know whether or not the state will give Amity an extension to 2004.

In addition to speaking on the need for an Amity Building Project, the Superintendent discussed a laundry list of repairs the District needs to address, such as the boiler in Orange, the roof in Bethany, and site work around the auditorium at the high school, which she said is "18 inches below the water table nine months a year and six inches below the other three."

As for plans to expand the campuses, she said. "Three to four years ago, this was a $70 million project, but the costs may have increased. Building is $250 a square foot now."

The Superintendent has sent draft plans back to the Board of Education and is committed to working with the three towns and their boards of finance to make sure the project is done in a reasonable and timely manner.

"I do not want to make it impossible for citizens to live in their towns," she told the residents.