Months after ridding a town-owned home in Kiwanis Park of its tenants, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan disclosed Tuesday that the structure could be used for New Canaan YMCA summer camp operations under a new public-private partnership.
The Y has “a very vibrant activity there, and we are in discussions with them about having them take over the house which is now vacated,” Moynihan said during the Board of Selectmen’s regular meeting, held at Town Hall.
“Also, the YMCA could perhaps accommodate some of these smaller activities to supervise that [with] lifeguards of theirs, so it could become more of a public-private partnership to use the park,” he continued.
Addressing parks officials during a presentation of the Recreation Department’s budget, Moynihan added, “We really don’t need to maintain a facility [at Kiwanis]. We are accommodating out-of-towners at the [Waveny] pool, basically to supplement the budget. And we probably don’t need to do that any more because the pool has really become very active. So the discussion is, do we really want to maintain what in my view is an outdated facility or do we want to try to resuscitate it?”
In order to meet a Board of Finance operating budget guideline for municipal departments of -2%, “you have to figure out which activities we cease doing and cut back, and everything can’t be done in one year,” he said.
“Public safety is very hard to cut back, the registrars and Town Clerk’s office have elections this year, their expenses rise—we cannot do anything about that,” Moynihan said. “So when you start looking at things, it may be you [Recreation] this year. It will be someone else next year who will contribute, but first of all, you cannot do it all in one year. You have to look at the things that are expendable, and I view this as an expendable area. And next year it will be something else.”
The comments come at the start of a budget season that’s already seeing a significant reduction in taxpayer spending on Kiwanis Park, according to documents released this week.
In the current fiscal year, the town is spending about $89,000 out of the general fund for the pool at Kiwanis. The placeholder figure for that line item in the selectmen’s proposed budget stands at $10,000. Also, or the current fiscal year, the town budgeted about $7,000 in chemical supplies for the same pool—that funding has been removed from general fund expenditures in the selectmen’s budget.
A seasonal swimming facility open early-June to late-August, Kiwanis Park features a fresh water pond, sand beach, picnic pavilion, snack bar and large playground. It’s used by multiple daycare facilities and summer camps, including the Recreation Department’s and the New Canaan YMCA’s, and officials are discussing the introduction of an open-air ice skating rink in winter.
The town currently spends about $57,000 on lifeguards and attendants to staff the park for its summer season. The Y pays rent for the camp use, though it’s unclear how much revenue is generated by Kiwanis—in part because those who purchase Waveny Pool passes also get access to the Old Norwalk Road park, officials have said.
Recreation Director Steve Benko said that by reducing Kiwanis’s hours of operation he could reduce that staffing figure to $34,000, and that he could further reduce by $2,000 the cost of repairs at the property and reduce the cost of supplies by $2,250 by buying 100 tons of sand instead of 150. In all, the total cost to operate the park would be reduced by 36% under a revised proposed budget, Benko said.
“We trying to reinvent it,” Benko said. “There are some things we need to do at Kiwanis.”
Parks & Rec Chair Rona Siegel said the Commission is putting together a proposal for next month on how New Canaan may make better use of Kiwanis, and that the appointed body respects the Board of Finance’s guideline of a 2% reduction to operating expenses.
“And what Steve is presenting it’s pretty incredible—it’s a 36% drop with reduced hours, and at the same time tasking us with come up with those good programs,” she said.
Assistant Recreation Director Bill Kapp said one idea is to attract young teens to Kiwanis by installing a type of “flotation playground” with slides on the water’s surface.
“I just want to be given some time to react to this, rather than the sudden announcement that it would be cut,” Kapp said. “You can put it all on my shoulders. I promise to do a better job and I will. And when I get behind this project, I can work with the selectmen and the Commission and I think we can do some good with that park. I grew up in New Canaan, of course, and that is where I did my swim lessons and I hate to see it go. But again, it is a park and I would like to continue to manage that.”
Moynihan said the “water park” idea “sounds like a dangerous and ill-advised plan.”
“I think the idea of attracting teenagers is probably something I would be skeptical about and probably not desirable,” he said.
Selectman Nick Williams told the Recreation officials, “I’d like to give you a shot to see how you could turn it around, but I do not want to spend a lot of money buying equipment.”
“If it doesn’t work, we are going to pull the plug,” Williams said.
Moynihan and Williams both said that “closing the park” is not on the table, though it wasn’t clear from the meeting how New Canaan residents’ use of and access to Kiwanis would change under a future partnership with the Y.
It also isn’t clear just when the town’s plans for offloading Kiwanis got underway or how far municipal officials are in their talks with the Y.
Last fall, after the town ousted a family that had been renting the house at Kiwanis, a legal bill issued Sept. 9 by Berchem Moses PC, the town’s counsel, noted multiple phone calls and “interoffice conferences” with Public Works and Human Resources officials, as well as the first selectman, regarding the “Kiwanis Park Residence,” as well as “legal research and analysis” and a review of “questions regarding tenants rights and asbestos.” In response to NewCanaanite.com‘s public records request for associated documentation, town officials provided a copy of the lease and said only that “interoffice conferences are meetings that took place between attorneys at Berchem Moses” and that “legal research, review and analysis are done internally at Berchem Moses and the email correspondence requested is exempted by attorney-client privilege.”
Then in November, the selectmen deleted the park from the lease held by its food concession operator.
As the proposed selectmen’s budget and fluid Five-Year Capital Plan now stand, funds earmarked for Kiwanis Park have been pared down to cover minimally required expenses—a $25,000 line item for next fiscal year for playground fencing (it’s damaged beyond repair, parks officials say, and hasn’t been replaced since its installation in 1997) and $9,000 in fiscal year 2023 for the pavilion.
Parks & Rec in reviewing activity at Kiwanis during the Commission’s Jan. 8 meeting noted that visits had gone up by about 50% year-over-year. Benko attributed the rise to a discovery of Kiwanis by local families who had been using Mead Park, which wasn’t usable during construction of the new playground there.
It isn’t clear how receptive Moynihan will be to efforts from Benko and Parks & Rec to reinvigorate Kiwanis Park. At one point in the meeting, Benko noted that the town spent $16,500 for large shade umbrellas for the beach at Kiwanis. Later, Benko described plans for the colonnade area at Mead Park, including installation of a trellis atop the columns themselves to provide shade for tennis players relaxing there.
“Could we move the Kiwanis Park umbrellas to the colonnade?” Moynihan said, drawing laughter from Williams.
Benko said the umbrellas aren’t designed for such a use and are too large for the area.
When my kids were really small, Kiwanis was a place we went for splashing around, digging in the sand, hitting the playground. Very old-school swimming hole. We went there rarely, but when we did go it was a nice break from the pool, a slower pace, easier for me to keep my not-yet-strong swimmers occupied and active.
While I perfectly understand the need for town-wide budget cuts, the idea of letting one of the few green spaces available in this area of town go to rack and ruin for the sake of what is a drop in the ocean in terms of the wider budget fills me with horror.
What the park IS very good for is a providing a natural outdoor space and wildlife habitat – as proven by the very popular YMCA summer camp. I do hope the severe budget cuts do not lead the park to fall so far into disrepair that it loses these attractions too.
I would hate to lose Kiwanis Park. I think it has a lot of untapped potential and would be a brilliant spot for a town ice rink (among other potential things). Already has concessions + bathroom facilities, ample parking…would be a great wintertime outdoor destination for N.C. families (and the Town could sell use permits for it like they do for the town pool at Waveny).
Kiwanis park is a gem in this town, it just needs dedicated people to give it some attention (food purveyor, scheduled activities (sand castle competition? yoga on the beach?)). The playground and beach are perfect for smaller kids and can be more manageable for parents than the Waveny pool. If we can get the ice rink to come to fruition (private/public partnership?), it would be a wonderful winter spot for residents to gather for hot cocoa and conversation after they buy their Christmas trees.
Is it possible to make this a pay per visit park open to non-members as a means of increasing revenue?
Can we attract activities that can be drop-in like Mommy and Me Yoga or music or storytimes? These can have a nominal fee to participate and the upside is increased foot traffic at the food concession stand.
Can Parks and Rec sponsor competitions like a sandcastle sculpture contest? Or a motorized sailboat race?
I think the play structures are in sound condition and wouldn’t change much.
Attracting a food purveyor is key. Sad to see Apple Cart step away. But we need to make it profitable for them by promoting the park to increase volume.
Agree that the teenage crowd is better suited elsewhere. Keeps this geared toward the young children and parents and caretakers.
And making this a year-round space is ideal. Surely we can find a way for Christmas tree sales to take place along side ice skating and hot cocoa.
Happy to get behind a fundraising effort here. How can I help?
You have been discussing affordable housing in New Canaan so that some of our Municipal employees can reside in town. Since that is probably zoned in quarter acre lots, why not subdivide and create homes so that this may happen.
This would solve two issues,an additional tax base versus an expense and the availability for our Municipal employees to own a home which would be constructed in size to meet the towns needs and that of the employee.
Kiwanis Park was a gift to the town and is deed-restricted for recreational purposes only according to the Attorney General’s Office who reviewed the deed. It was not gifted for senior housing, affordable housing or municipal housing.
Our family loves and uses Kiwanis Park every summer. Its such a unique and fun place for especially the 6 and under age group to freely play in a safe beach setting where they can easily go in and out of the shallow water and actually have access to sand that isn’t 90% broken shells and rocks like our local beaches. I’ve always wondered why more people don’t go bc it’s always such a pleasure for me and my kids. I would love to see it continue to improve.
There seems to be a lot of interest in social media for an ice rink there in winter! It would compliment the tree sale operation and allow for Kiwanis to be a new an exciting amenity in town. If you build it they will come! Private public partnership is the perfect way to make this happen if there is interest. Skating appeals to all ages and since our pond rarely freeze this would give all an opportunity to enjoy skating outside. Several on fb have already offered to help….again, need to determine if there is interest and I am sensing there is…a lot!
Re: The “expendable” part of town we have lived in for 20 years. We do hope the town plans on reaching out to the abutting neighbors for a special meeting when starting to contemplate changes such as the noted less caretaking, less upkeep or proposed nighttime activities which could impact home values as well as quality of life/noise/lights. Furthermore, we’d like to see the key missing data in the article such as how much revenue Kiwanis brings in from the YMCA, Scouts, private party, etc rental fees, from its portion of the lucrative pool passes, the concession kitchen fees, as well as from renting that house from which the nice young Public Works/NCPS Nurse family seems to have been “Outted/Ridded.” Note Town policeman lived there in previous years. Having your area of the town deemed “Expendable” is not encouraging when your taxes just went up dramatically.”
As noted, Kiwanis park had dramatically more use this year by young families with children, which started when Mead Park was shut down right during peak park season and which has only abated slightly. Furthermore the Kiwanis paths on the curve of Old Norwalk Road are critical to maintain at the current level to save lives as lives have been lost on that dangerous curve.
Thank you for submitting your comment. To be clear, I think First Selectman Kevin Moynihan in using the word ‘expendable’ was referring to a segment of spending in the municipal budget, not a geographical area of the town. The context has to do with meeting a spending guideline set by the Board of Finance. I don’t know whether the distinction changes anything else you are saying in your comment, but I wanted to be clear on what the first selectman was referring to, as I’m the one who reported it. Thanks again.