New Canaan should appoint a task force of town and school district representatives to evaluate what are the best options for a future Board of Education home, according to a primary recommendation committee that’s writing a soon-to-be-released report on the state, uses, capital needs and future of municipally owned buildings.
Referring to the former Outback Teen Center as the ‘Town Hall annex,’ the committee also is to recommend that the long-vacant structure be used to house an alternative high school program.
The Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee also will recommend that New Canaan “provide funds for architectural engineering designs to address long-delayed, necessary capital improvements at the police station,” co-chairman Amy Murphy Carroll said at the group’s most recent meeting, held Nov. 29 at Town Hall.
She read from the Executive Summary of a draft report that’s expected to be presented this month to the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and Town Council. Formed in February and meeting throughout the spring and summer, the committee already has made major findings in its consequential work, such as that 20 percent of space in the 56 town-owned buildings it’s studying (all of them, minus the district’s) now is unused.
The foundation of its work is grounded in data fed into and processed by a software program called ‘FacilityDude,’ a product of Cary, N.C.-based Dude Solutions. That software takes in basic information about buildings—for example, its age, square footage and HVAC systems—and feeds back a live, continuously updated analysis of its capital needs and attendant costs.
Committee member Christa Kenin said during the meeting that at some point, the town “will have to reconcile this [FacilityDdude analysis] with our 5-year capital plan, for capital planning for budget purposes.”
Carroll noted during the meeting that the software’s projections of costs over time analyze each building “as it currently is and with no change of use.”
“For instance, Irwin House is a house,” Carroll said. “That is what it is, and if we are going to maintain it and use it as a house, this is what we need.”
Yet it may be that Irwin House, in the final analysis, is best used as “swing space” for some town departments while other unused areas in municipal buildings are converted for office use. Or—depending on the work of the future task force—it may be that Irwin House, rather than Waveny House, is converted into the future home of the Board of Ed.
Penny Young, the committee’s co-chairman, said the committee’s report, backed by the FacilityDude analysis, will be “immeasurably important to all the [town] bodies.”
“As we have been saying, ‘Are we taking care of our buildings?’ And we have that information now. So what do we do about what we see?”
That’s a question that ultimately will be decided by taxpayers attending public hearings and the elected and appointed officials that represent them.
As Carroll noted at the meeting, the committee’s work hopefully “will give people a better understanding of how the buildings are used, who is using them or not using them, and hopefully that can help direct decisions on capital.”
From what could be gleaned at the meeting—though the draft report was discussed at a public meeting and therefore a public document, it was furnished neither to media or guests—the committee’s other major recommendations include: developing a “deassession policy” whereby New Canaan can find a consolidated space for paper documents that must be preserved; razing what the committee called ‘the Richmond Hill Garage at Mead Park’ or else allowing a private individual or group to fund its rehabilitation and lifetime maintenance; withhold funds for Vine Cottage until its future use is clear; and clean out the “garage” that’s connected by a portico to Irwin House.
Committee members agreed that much depends on just what the future task force decides with respect to the future home of the Board of Ed. The superintendent of schools has said the board is open to the idea, and the most likely candidates appear to be Waveny House or Irwin House.
“It’s like dominos,” committee member Neil Budnick said. “Everything after the Board of Education is decided.”
Committee member Ben Bilus said: “I think it makes sense to minimize expenditures related to Vine Cottage for a year while we vet the process of trying to determine what to do with the Board of Ed moving forward.”
Young said during the discussion about the future home of the Board of Ed: “You realize this was done, probably 15 years ago. A Board of Education building and it was on the corner of South Avenue and Farm Road, it was a 9,000-square-foot building, it was all designed and the ‘hands off Waveny’ people killed it.”
The committee decided ultimately to stay away from a formal recommendation with respect to the Playhouse, whose future use recently was studied by an ad hoc committee. The town owns the building and though an estimated $2 million-plus is needed to bring it up to code and make it safe (the major cost being an elevator), Bow Tie Cinema’s lease extends through 2022 with an option to continue through 2027.
Committee member Martin Skrelunas urged that supporting documentation for the group’s recommendations be included in an appendix when possible.
[Note: This article has been updated to clarify that the former Outback Teen Center is being recommended to house an alternative high school program, not LAUNCH.]