POCD update focuses on housing, schools, town facilities

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Since Chalk Hill closed as a school, Jockey Hollow Middle School has not had room to house the STEM program.

Jockey Hollow Middle School is too small for the Science Technology Engineering and Math program, which is currently taking up a wing at Masuk High School.

On the town side, a renovation to Fire Station 1 is needed to move a ladder truck out of a bay at Jockey Hollow Firehouse, before the facility could solely be used as the Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service’s headquarters.

First Selectman Ken Kellogg is working with De Carlo & Doll, Inc., on a space needs assessment for all of the town’s buildings, according to Public Works Director Chris Nowacki.

The town’s facilities were topics of discussion during a Plan of Conservation and Development Update Committee meeting Thursday. Towns must update their POCD every 10 years to be eligible for state grants.

“I was the high school principal here. I spent most of my career in this building,” Acting Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza said, at the meeting inside the Masuk High School media center. “To me, this is the closest thing we have to a community center.”

Kobza noted how the Parks and Recreation Department uses Masuk’s pool, gymnasium and other athletic facilities for town programs after hours and town boards and groups hold meetings in school buildings.

There appeared to be agreement that Monroe could use a community center for young and old. But for now, Masuk, Edith Wheeler Memorial Library and the Monroe Senior Center make up for those functions.

Edith Wheeler Memorial Library Director Lorna Rhyins said the library is a combination of a learning center and a community center.

“We have the busy and happening side to talk and meet and we have the quiet side,” she said.

The library recently had a new makerspace and cafe thanks to donations from the Friends of the Edith Wheeler Memorial Library and the Monroe Lions Club. There patrons can learn to use equipment such as an embroidery machine, a Flashforce 3-D Printer, an American Button Machine button-maker and Leo Boost Bots.

The library offers audio books that can be downloaded onto digital devices, books, periodicals, computers to use, meeting rooms and quiet study areas, as well as lively programs for children, teens and adults.

Francisco Gomes, a project manager and urban designer with Fitzgerald & Halliday, Inc., the Hartford based consultant hired by the town to assist the Planning and Zoning Commission with Monroe’s POCD update, asked about the library’s future needs.

“I think we’re set up for a few years, but I’m sure things will come up,” Rhyins said. “Our needs now are staffing issues. We have a beautiful new space. We’re going through some growing pains.”

Rhyins said the library assigns hours to staff members as best it can within the budget the town allows, but if there was more money for staffing she would like the library hours to be expanded.

Monroe Senior Center

Kim Cassia, the town’s elderly services coordinator, works out of the Monroe Senior Center at 235 Cutlers Farm Road, which offers many programs for seniors age 55 and older.

“We do charge $15 for residents and 29 for nonresidents. We’d like to offer everything for free,” she said, adding the center is a place for exercise, card games, pickle ball, yoga, quilting and chess.

Cassia said the center hosts speakers on topics of concern to senior citizens and adults caring for elderly parents.

The center also has a deal with Jennie’s Pizzeria in town for hot lunches. Dvd’s can be borrowed on an honors system and two computers are in the building for patrons to use.

“We have a little of everything,” Cassia said. “Some night programs, day trips to different locations and some overnight trips.”

As elderly services coordinator Cassia said she helps seniors to apply for Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and medical assistance and does a lot of referrals to resources they need. Some patrons need energy assistance, according to Cassia.

She said Monroe has a transportation program for town residents like a Dial-A-Ride.

‘The saddest calls’

Asked what Monroe needs, Cassia said low income housing for families, an emergency shelter and more funding for the Monroe Food Pantry to be able to offer food for special diets.

Bonnie Schneider, executive director of the Monroe Housing Authority, said the town has 30 apartments for the elderly and disabled — 20 are for single residents, seven for couples and three for people living with disabilities.

The Housing Authority’s board owns the units at Fairway Acres on Wheeler Road.

“We can’t help any families,” Schneider said. “Those are probably the saddest calls I get. A woman going through a divorce, who wants to keep their children in the school system and we have nothing for them.”

Schneider also said the Monroe Housing Authority cannot show a preference for Monroe residents. And Cassia said the town has a list of housing authorities throughout the state it uses to find openings for those who are eligible.

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