Town Hall Leaps Referendum Hurdle
NEWINGTON - The town will push forward with a $28.8 million Town Hall reconstruction scheme that rebuilds the Mortensen Community Center around a double gymnasium space and generates $104,000 per year in energy savings.

       The project-which has gone through multiple building committees over the past several years-rode a wave of bipartisan support to a 4,539 to 1,999 margin of approval on Election Night, giving the town the green light to utilize already built-in Capital Improvement Program (CIP) funding to pay for the cost of bonding.

       “I’ve relieved and very proud of the process,” said Town Hall Project Building Committee Chair Joe Harpie over the phone last Wednesday. “I think it’s a win for all of Newington. Now for the easy task: build it.”

       Contractors for Downes Construction will get shovels in the ground by this coming August, with an 18 to 24 month schedule for the work, but the pre-construction phase begins this December, according to Harpie.

       The plan is to shrink the footprint of the Town Hall building-set to be around 28,000 square feet at completion-while creating more “usable space”. The configuration of the hallways of the former school building created a lot of excess space that didn’t serve the building’s purpose, Facilities Director David Langdon said during discussions with the Committee.

       The projected energy savings will be driven by addressing numerous heating and electrical issues that have plagued the building, project proponents have said.

       During a public hearing to move the project to referendum, Town Manager Tanya Lane stated that-due to the CIP budgeting for debt service-the reconstruction costs would not further increase to the town’s Mill Rate.

       The CIP budget-a debt service and pay-as-you-go formula that, combined, never exceeds a $6.2 million cap set in 2006-enables the town to make its bond payments over a 20 year period without further impact to taxpayers, Lane said.

       Debt service for the 2018 fiscal year will make up $1.1 million for the formula. By 2020, that number will climb to $3.2 million, she said.

       Under the town’s agreement with Downes, the $28.8 million price tag is a maximum cost, Harpie said last week.

       One concern in the weeks leading up to the November 7 referendum was the impact of the state budget-just passed in late October. In the event of a total loss in state aid-under a Governor Malloy executive order-Lane warned that the town would need to take a slew of emergency measures that included taking funding from its reserve fund to the detriment of bonding.

       But under the enacted budget, the town-to receive a far smaller cut than the $15 million under executive order-should be able to avoid that scenario, Lane said.

       “I think had they not figured out the budget to the extent that they figured it out, it could have affected us at referendum,” said Councilor and Building Committee Member Jim Marocchini last Tuesday night.

       Minutes before the vote tallies were set to come in, both Marocchini and former Committee Chair Chris Miner were optimistic, pointing to the bipartisan support the project had received from both sides of the Council, as well as members of the public during prior hearings and meetings.

       “The stars are aligned for everything to be positive,” Miner said. “You have Democrats and Republicans supporting it-what else can you ask for?”