Public Works: Plan To Widen Sidewalks on Elm Street Will Result in a ‘Net Zero’ Change to Parking

Public works officials next week will will bring forward a proposal to widen several sections of sidewalks on Elm Street, chiefly on the north side of the road between South Avenue and The Playhouse. Mentioned during last month’s Police Commission meeting, the new configuration will make permanent some of the pandemic-related changes now in place with temporary barricades, as well as bolster pedestrian safety in a major shopping and dining area of downtown New Canaan, according to Public Works Director Tiger Mann. “We are looking at bumping out the sidewalks from the intersection with South Avenue up to and through The Playhouse on the northern side and then on the southern side, the crosswalk at The Playhouse itself and then the intersection of South Avenue and Elm Street,” Mann told members of the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee on Buildings and Infrastructure during their regular meeting Monday. “What that will do is that should help us on reducing the pedestrian crossing length of the crosswalks and then protecting the areas adjacent to the crosswalk, whereby right now it’s 25 feet on either side, if you have a hard bump-out you can actually reduce that requirement in certain locations,” he said during the meeting, held via videoconference. “And what it turns out to be is, we would lose five spaces on the northern side and gain five spaces on the southern side so it would be a ‘net zero’ change.”

Mann said he’s bringing the proposal to the Police Commission for approval at the appointed body’s April 21 meeting.

Town Awaits Bids on Waveny House ADA Project as Major Funding Decision Looms

Municipal officials say they’re eagerly awaiting contractors’ bids this week for a major multi-part project at Waveny House, as the town decides whether and how quickly to redress the historic structure’s noncompliance with ADA standards. Originally believed to be a project of narrow scope costing about $1 million, a multi-year project now expected to cost $2.8 million would include creation of ADA-compliant bathrooms and installation of an elevator so that disabled people could access Waveny’s second floor—where the Parks & Recreation Department is located—as well as required upgrades to a fire escape and entrances to the brick mansion from its west porch and rear balcony. 

While some municipal leaders have said they support the project, including First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, others—including some members of New Canaan’s legislative body—have voiced concerns about spending the money while much of the large structure itself still has no clearly defined long-term use or identified revenue stream beyond the roughly $100,000 to $140,000 generated annually through renting it out for events such as weddings. “We have got to make some decisions about this project, because if we have no project, we probably don’t have a Waveny House,” Moynihan said Monday during a meeting of the Selectmen’s Committee on Facilities and Infrastructure, held via videoconference. 

The Board of Finance and Town Council are expected to vote next month on whether to authorize the funds (the issuance of bonds to pay for the project, and attendant public hearings, would still need to follow). Bid packages expected to arrive Thursday could make a major difference in the town’s decision, officials say, especially given the prospect of cost-savings with contractors finding less work now amid the COVID-19 public health emergency. “The numbers will help us decide,” Moynihan said.

‘I Am Being Put in a Very Difficult Position’: Board of Ed Divided on Proposed School Start Times Scenario

Board of Education members are divided as to whether they have enough feedback and information on a revised school start times schedule to recommend this month that hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending for additional buses be included in a proposed budget for next fiscal year. No one disagrees that starting grades seven through 12 at 8:30 a.m. as opposed to 7:30 a.m. would benefit students in important ways—established medical research recommends later start times for adolescents. 

Under a favored scenario that district officials have developed, New Canaan’s elementary schools would start at 7:45 a.m., though because morning buses could start their routes from the geographically distributed neighborhood schools rather than New Canaan High School, the first student wouldn’t need to be picked up until 7:06 a.m. (currently 6:27 a.m.) when it’s sufficiently light outside that flashlights aren’t needed. 

Yet that proposed new schedule also forces a bus usage system that’s far less efficient than the one New Canaan Public Schools now employs, and it would require about six or seven additional buses—at a clip of $100,000 in additional annual spending, per bus—to make the favored start times scenario work. Board of Ed member Dionna Carlson at the elected body’s Dec. 16 meeting called it “a very expensive option that will go up 3% every year, in perpetuity.”

A similar start times scenario garnered low levels of support in surveys conducted earlier this year, she said, and there are unanswered questions about just how it will affect students seeking extra help from teachers, among other concerns. To include funding for the busing system as part of the school board’s Jan.