New Milford considers community centers
NEW MILFORD — Most residents want a community center, but the Town Council has again delayed hiring a company to look into what shape the center would take, and where it would be located.
Community centers have been a controversial issue in town. Turning the former John Pettibone School into a community center last year is one example.
The community center committee has spent weeks looking into the history of centers in town, as well as the outreach needed to determine if programs and spaces are meeting the community's needs.
But the committee needs professional help before making final recommendations to the council.
The need for a company to survey residents first came up in July, but the request was delayed until the committee could give a report on its work, which happened last week. The council again delayed the request until the next meeting, when it will have more information.
A request for $18,500 will then be made to hire the company, Great Blue, to survey residents and compile a report. The whole process takes about six weeks.
The committee sent links to an online survey this summer asking residents if they want a community center, and what types of services they expect. It received more than 600 written comments.
Survey Monkey says
Some council members questioned the methodology, however.
Most of the contention over the Pettibone school issue focused on how former Mayor David Gronbach moved Social Services, Parks and Recreation and the Youth Agency there without residents’ input.
Critics also said it’s too expensive to fix up the building without a set budget, while supporters said it’s a need in town, especially because departments and nonprofits have outgrown their spaces.
This time, Councilwoman Katy Francis said not everyone received the survey, and she speculated that people could have answered multiple times.
“I’m surprised that they’re all individual responses because some of the responses were extremely similar, typos included,” she said.
Committee members said the survey was sent to email accounts through town agencies and that while people could complete the survey multiple times, Survey Monkey filtered out responses so there would only be one for each IP address.
Survey Monkey is an online survey service.
Jeff Winter, vice-chairman of the community center committee, said the survey results are similar to the demand for a community center included in the 2010 Plan of Conservation and Development. He said most responses asked for a community center with classes and recreation opportunities, much like what was offered in the first community center in the 1960s and 1970s.
“These desires haven’t changed,” he said. “Our town has just dropped the ball. Now it’s time to take the ball and run with it.”
Some council members said these services are still offered, but were just taken on by various town departments or the library since the community center closed.
Francis also encouraged the committee look at other spaces in town and said members shouldn’t just focus on Pettibone. She said they shouldn’t just use the building because the town has it.
“If Pettibone was still a school, all the nonprofits we’re talking about busting at the seams would have had to find alternatives,” she said.
A popular sentiment among committee members was being able to house similar town services and programs in one place, which is starting to be done at Pettibone.
“We had a hodgepodge,” said committee member Laura Gill. “As (departments) grew, people located in available space. There was never a coordinated effort.”
Council members also asked why they did not receive all of the information from the committee’s four subcommittees. Pieces of a subcommittee’s draft report were included, but costs to renovate and run Pettibone and the East Street buildings were not.
The report lists the capital requirements for Pettibone as totaling nearly $1.75 million and long-term capital needs at more than $5 million.
The East Street building, which houses the schools’ central offices, is expected to have $170,000 in short-term repair costs, and another $1.5 million to have the building meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
About $5 million in upgrades have been identified for long-term work, but none of it is required except for a sprinkler system at a new public meeting space, which is valued at about $100,000.