New Milford officials get building use overview
NEW MILFORD — The town has so much unused government space, it could fill two town halls.
About 45,600 square feet, or 18 percent, of town-owned buildings are vacant.
This is just one of several key findings from a study of all town-owned properties that was presented to the Town Council recently by the Facilities Utilization Committee. The ad-hoc group was established earlier this year to examine building use and needs.
“It was definitely eye-opening,” Mayor Pete Bass said.
He said a study hadn’t been done before to look at usage.
“I’m glad we now know what our vacancy rates are,” he said. “I believe that’s high, but now there’s an opportunity to reduce the vacancies and look at departments that are squeezed.”
Committee members visited all of the town’s properties and interviewed employees to offer suggestions on how to better use the space and highlight areas the town needs to address as they take on renovation projects or relocate offices.
“We wanted to get a qualitative and quantitative sense of what was working,” said committee chairman Nick Pouder.
He said a critical issue is getting more garage space for public works so the snow equipment and vehicles can be kept inside and expedite snow removal. He also suggested relocating it off the riverfront as that starts to be developed for recreation.
More storage space to accommodate the growing archival needs for records was the most common need, Pouder said.
“It’s something we saw from department to department to department,” Pouder said. “It takes up a lot of space and it takes up key space in a lot of buildings, especially (Town Hall).”
He suggested officials create a centralized place for the records or to electronically store the records.
Several town offices are also cramped and the female locker room at the police station is crowded.
Pouder suggested the town place offices with overlapping functions or tasks in the same buildings to make it easier for the employees to work together, such as parks and recreation and public works.
He also suggested consolidating workshops and maintenance areas because there are several different ones throughout town.
Pouder said it would also be helpful to have a central group looking at the usage throughout the town, instead of several committees carrying on the same work. He also suggested a way to track and show usage of these public spaces online.
The committee also recommended a long-term strategic plan on the use and direction for town space and any possible building projects.
Pouder recognized the need to keep town offices in downtown. A section of the East Street building, which is a former school and currently houses the schools’ central offices, is empty and could be repopulated. Renovations would be needed though. He also recommended the town hold on to 25 Church St. because it’s in downtown and across the street from Town Hall, though it’s not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
New Milford owns 48 buildings spread out over 28 properties, totaling more than 252,500 square feet of space. The buildings range in size from a 6-by-8 foot plastic shed to former schools. These structures total about $17.8 million in assessed building value.
John Pettibone Community Center accounts for about 54 percent of the unused space, with the back hallway unused and the cafeteria, kitchen, library and gym lightly used. Pouder said finding a use for the vacant space should be one of the town’s priorities.
Councilman Michael Gold suggested moving the town departments to East Street to keep government downtown and then sell Pettibone to get rid of the vacant space.
The gym is unused at another school turned community center as well. The top floor of the Richmond Center, which houses the senior center and used to have Social Services, is mostly untouched, largely because an elevator doesn’t go up there. This does not include the second floor, which is used by the seniors.
Councilman Michael Gold said the committee’s work will help Town Council make decisions.
“The committee did a wonderful job to streamline this so we can use the space to the best use,” he said.