The town this summer sold as many resident family passes for Waveny Pool as it did the prior year, officials say, and even saw attendance up by 400-plus visitors from 2019. Many dads were home due to COVID-19 virus-related restrictions and “they needed to get out of the home office and relax,” according to Recreation Director Steven Benko,. “I think a lot of dads were off work so they came to the pool with the kids,” Benko said during an Oct. 7 meeting of a Town Council committee, held via videoconference. “Plus it was a hot summer, and there wasn’t a lot of rainy days.”
Citing expected high demand and new restrictions that limit capacity, officials decided in June to only sell passes to the pool, at least for the start of the 2020 season, to residents of New Canaan.
The town couldn’t open Kiwanis Park to the public in the way it had planned this summer, officials say, not only because of the COVID-19 pandemic but also because a local organization that took over the Old Norwalk Road property for its own campers left it in sub-par condition. In years past, residents including Kiwanis pass-holders and Recreation Department campers, among others, have split use of the beach at the park’s swimming hole with the New Canaan YMCA. This year, citing space restrictions due to COVID-19, town officials approved a new lease that gave the Y exclusive weekday use of Kiwanis for its camp, limiting public access to 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, and open use on weekends. As a result, “the summer was a non-summer,” according to Recreation Director Steve Benko, “because we ran into the COVID situation and we ended up leasing the whole complex to the Y.”
“That really affected the attendance,” Benko told members of the Town Council Land Use, Recreation and Conservation Committee during their Oct. 7 meeting, held via videoconference.
The $36 million rebuilding of New Canaan Library will commence next spring and construction will continue for about two years, according to plans shared Tuesday with town officials.
Under a Memorandum of Understanding or ‘MOU’ with the town that’s been under negotiation for months, the town will contribute $10 million toward the project while the library bears the balance of the cost through its own fundraising and a $15 million commercial construction loan from Bankwell, the documents show. A traffic engineer hired by the library has found that an original proposal to create covered parking is problematic, according to a letter from the library’s executive director, Lisa Oldham, and its Board of Trustees.
Addressing questions that had been raised by the Board of Finance, it’s one of several documents sent to members of the Boards of Selectmen and Finance as well as the Town Council. “The library is committed to the incorporation of a Library Green which is an integral and important part of the overall project,” the letter said. “Therefore, in discussion with several officials at [the town of New Canaan], the Library has commissioned further studies from its engineers and are in full agreement with a plan to accelerate and resolve a plan for parking.”
Taken together, the documents—they include five-year operations budget projections, project schedule and a narrative reviewing new revenues and costs that will come with the rebuilt facility—present a new layer of detail on the widely anticipated project. The town’s funding bodies in preparing to vote on a bond resolution have called in recent meetings for additional information from the library, and the documents address their questions.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan on Thursday questioned whether a videoconferencing service purchased by the town to bolster communications during the COVID-19 public health emergency is being employed appropriately by one elected official behind its regular use. The town in March began reserving Zoom accounts with participant limits ranging from 100 to 500, and they’re used not only to run and broadcast public meetings but also for a daily afternoon video call moderated by Town Council Chair John Engel, Moynihan said during a press briefing attended by NewCanaanite.com and Hearst Connecticut. Engel, a Realtor, on Tuesday used the town account to host a real estate-focused panel during the regular 4 p.m. time slot—an event teased and promoted in email blasts through his Halstead account. “We aren’t clear on how he is using it,” Moynihan said in reference to the town Zoom account when asked about it during the briefing, itself held via videoconference. The daily call started out “as a community service,” Moynihan said.
Saying they need to improve recruitment and retention, leaders from New Canaan Fire Co. No. 1 and New Canaan Emergency Medical Services are asking the town to offer members incentives such as tax abatement, Waveny Pool membership and use of the Transfer Station. Surrounding towns already offer plusses such as property tax relief, pool passes and fuel reimbursement to volunteer emergency responders, according to New Canaan Fire Co. Assistant Chief Russ Kimes and New Canaan EMS Capt. Phil Sheibley.
The volunteer ranks of their organizations have declined, as they have elsewhere, and now stand at record or near-record lows, Kimes and Sheibley told members of the Town Council at their March 24 meeting.