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 So the discussion is, do we really want to maintain what in my view is an outdated facility or do we want to try to resuscitate it?”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.