MONROE, CT — Residents at a town meeting Monday overwhelmingly approved using $3 million from the general fund to purchase the former St. Jude School and complete the first two phases of its renovation.
About 71 residents turned out at the meeting to vote on the resolution, as well as three others to bond money for school upgrades, Public Works purchases and the continuation of the town’s road paving project, with all easily passing. Only three people voted against the Public Works spending, one each voting against the school improvements and paving, and 11 voting against the community center project.
The Board of Selectmen approved the resolutions at its Oct. 10 meeting, which is when they set the date for the town meeting to get input and vote on the proposals.
There was no comments from the public on the three bonding issues, but the community center proposal did prompt some to voice opposition to spending $1,75 million on the building and the rest on the first two phases of the renovation. The money would come out of the fund balance, also knows as the “rainy day fund” which is akin to the town’s saving account. Right now that fund tops $23, million, First Selectman Ken Kellogg said, which is the highest in recent memory and exceeds the amount recommended by the Board of Finance to have on hand,
But that doesn’t mean it should be spent on a community center, several residents said.
“Why should a taxpayer have to pay for a service like this, to have people play pickleball?” resident Kathy Alderman asked. A woman told her she supports the community center because it would be a place for children to have birthday parties in the wintertime, she said. “What happened to Burger King? Why should my tax dollars go toward this? It’s ridiculous,” she said
“I don’t see why we’re overgrowing, unless you’re expecting to overgrow this town to the point where you have a homeowner who is about to take a home and knock it down and sell their eight acres to build a subdivision,” she said. “Are we growing this town to look like Fairfield, Connecticut or are we trying to look like Monroe? Which is it?
“We have had tremendous interest from this community and a tremendous desire over the years for a community center so you would have a place to go, so we could expand our Parks and Recreation programs, so we could provide greater services,” First Selectman Ken Kellogg said,” so that we can free up some of the space here at Town Hall that is needed for conference rooms and/or municipal offices that are very, very crowded.
“The DeCarlo and Doll study showed this would be an opportunity 1, to accomplish the community center project while also adding space for municipal offices in the future so that people would have one-stop shopping and at the same time opening up space next door,” he said.
“I’ve been in the town for about 55 years and I’ve seen this town grow,” said Lee Hossler. “I think you’ve done a good job putting this program together, but I look at the dollars that are coming out of my pocket.”
But not all of those who spoke were against it.
“I don’t like to spend money if it’s not necessary,” said Philip White, “but looking at this, it’s a very good deal.”‘
“Thank you for this,” said Jennifer Aguilar. “We worked on a community center years back at Chalk Hill (School) and it is needed. It wasn’t birthday parties, it’s keeping teenagers busy, Teenagers hate this town because there’s nothing to do. Going to McDonalds or Dairy Queen is not a fun thing.”
Last year the town issues a memorandum of understanding stating its intent to purchase the building for not more than $2.5 million, but after taking into consideration the deferred maintenance that needed to be done, such as a new roof and heating system, the two sides agreed on a sale price of $1.7 million. The town was anxious to get the sale approved because it is an opportunity to expand the Town Hall campus, with the school located next door to the town offices.
The shuttered Chalk Hill School also was considered, but it was estimated that it would cost twice as much to renovate that building into a community center because it is three times the size of St. Jude’s. The Board of Education also has requested that school be part of its facilities study to evaluate its future needs in the face of increasing enrollment.