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Committee assesses town facilities and space needs

A Facilities Committee tasked with taking a preliminary look at the town’s buildings with an eye towards making better use of some of the space reported to the selectmen last week that many areas are in various phases of disrepair.

Former First Selectman Hal Shupack, a member of the committee, said the town has much to be proud of, but “looking at the schools and looking at the town [buildings] is like night and day. The schools gleam like a hospital.”

The town buildings? Not so much.

Mr. Shupack and Joe Fitzpatrick, another member of the Facilities Committee (along with former Selectman Glenn Major), told the Board of Selectmen on June 7 that the town facilities most in need of attention seem to be the Police Department and the Communications Center.

“That thing is really in sad shape,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said of the Communications Center, which is located on the lower level of town hall. The police department is “crammed” and is trying to make use of “every square inch,” including having offices in what are essentially corridors, he said.

First Selectman Gayle Weinstein agreed, saying it’s a “huge concern” whether the two locations are up to code.

Another problem the committee discovered is the building department, currently housed in portables known as the Town Hall Annex on School Road, is inconveniently located for the people who visit it most often — contractors and builders.

It would make more sense, they said, to move it to the current upper police department area, which has a separate entrance from town hall, and so could be open earlier in the morning, when most builders want access to the department. Yet, it would also be at town hall and so would have better access to other town departments if necessary.

That would mean having to relocate the police, however. Mr. Fitzpatrick said there is the potential to “capture some space” at the Norfield Firehouse. Mr. Shupack said there are likely “better ways to make use” of some of the police department space on the lower level of town hall, as well.

In addition to the town hall building, the annex and the Norfield Firehouse, the Facilities Committee looked at the south and east houses at Hurlbutt Elementary School, the bus garage, central office, the library, and Jarvis House on the corner of Norfield and Weston roads.

The committee was not invited to examine the Lyons Plain Firehouse, which is not a town-owned building.

Mr. Shupack said the annex — a portable building next to the central office — was purchased about 10 years ago, when he was in office. He said the expected life span is about 20 years, and the building is still in pretty good shape.

There seems to be some “extra capacity” at the annex, Mr. Shupack said, as well as at Jarvis House. However, he said he was surprised at the extent to which some parts of Jarvis have been neglected.

There also seems to be space at Hurlbutt, although some of it would need extensive remodeling if it were to be converted from classrooms (many of which have child-sized bathrooms in them) to office space for adults.

Perspective

Ms. Weinstein said she appreciates the historical perspective the committee members bring to the examination of the town facilities. The work done by the committee is a good starting point, she said, for a new Global Strategic Facilities Committee, which needs to take a “global” approach to facilities planning, with the town and schools working in tandem.

A working group, consisting of Ms. Weinstein, Board of Finance members Mike O’Brien and Jerry Sargent, Town Administrator Tom Landry, Colleen Palmer, superintendent of schools, Jo-Ann Keating, schools finance director, and Dan Clarke, schools facilities manager, has already met a few times, the first selectman said.

Moving forward, it will be important to look at the big picture, Ms. Weinstein said. First and foremost, the schools will need to take a close look at their changing enrollment and resulting space needs, she added.

“Any decisions we make will be impacted by decisions they make,” she said.

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