The town’s plans for public use of Kiwanis Park may include movies and water-related programs at the swimming hole there, officials say.
As it is, the Old Norwalk Road park is well-designed to serve younger children, and recreation officials are working to develop new programming that could help draw older kids, too, according to interim Parks & Recreation Director John Howe.
“We’re changing some of our programs,” Howe told members of the Board of Selectmen at their April 19 meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference. “We are going to try to do more things down there, get some life back into Kiwanis.”
He added, “Kiwanis works great for little kids, because they can walk in and out of the sand and they have all that sensory stuff they can do with sand. And then they kind of gravitate toward the pool as they get older.”
Kiwanis Park, like the Steve Benko Pool at Waveny, opens Memorial Day weekend.
Howe spoke in response to a question from Selectman Nick Williams regarding the town’s plans for the park, prior to the Board voting unanimously in favor of a two-year “Facility Lease Agreement” with the New Canaan YMCA, which runs summer camps there. (Set at $10,000 for the first year and $15,000 the next, the agreement was approved 2-0 by Williams and Selectman Kathleen Corbet, and approved unanimously by the Town Council the following night.)
The future of Kiwanis Park emerged as a topic of wide discussion in town in the months leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, with New Canaan’s highest-elected official leading efforts starting in 2019 to prepare the 13.8-acre property for a change in use.
In January 2020, after ridding a town-owned, two-bedroom apartment in Kiwanis Park of its tenants, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said the structure could be used for YMCA summer camp operations under a new public-private partnership.
Moynihan declared Kiwanis “an expendable area” of town spending. He tried to eliminate nearly all funding for Kiwanis, and after fellow members of the Board of Selectmen restored it so that recreation officials have a chance to reinvigorate the park under a reduced-hours schedule, Moynihan suggested the playground at Kiwanis be moved to Waveny Pool (it wasn’t).
That summer, as the pandemic set in and state officials issued guidance for the restricted use of public facilities, the Town Council narrowly approved a new lease agreement with the Y (Moynihan broke a 6-6 tie within the legislative body). Residents during public hearings at the time challenged plans to grant the Y exclusive access to the park, citing the property’s deed as well as the lease amount.
During the April 19 selectmen meeting, Howe said the town’s lease with the Y had been $10,000 since 2017.
Corbet questioned a reference in the lease agreement to “the Kiwanis Park house.”
Under the agreement, the Y can use the house for year-round storage at no additional charge, Corbet noted, “and it says ‘provided that the YMCA at their expense corrects any health and building Code violations and obtains a CO from the town’s building official prior to commencing any demolition or construction work.’ Is that contemplated?”
Howe responded that the language was carried over from the prior year’s lease.
Corbet asked whether the town is giving the Y the right to conduct demolition of the structure.
Howe responded, “There was some ceiling work that had to come down so it was considered demolition.”
Corbet said, “But not demolition of the structure?”
Howe responded, “No, definitely not.”
Pressured by the town, recreation officials first raised the prospect of new water-related activities at Kiwanis during the budget season in 2020. Moynihan pushed back on the idea at the time, though it wasn’t clear how New Canaan residents’ use of and access to Kiwanis could change under what he was describing then as a new partnership with the Y.
The Y itself is not planning any changes to its own programming, Howe told the selectmen in response to a question from Williams.
“They still run all their own programs,” he said. “This is for their Y camp so we’re not involved in any of their programs.”
When Williams asked about the types of changes that the town is contemplating, Howe said Recreation Supervisor Steve Dayton “has been doing some work trying to figure out some different things.”
“Mainly anything from having a movie there to more possibly doing more water-type programs,” Howe said.
Williams asked about long-term infrastructure needs at Kiwanis.
Howe said, “One of sheds needs to be rebuilt or re-roofed. Overall the place is not in horrendous shape. We’re not doing it this spring, but I’d like to re-stain the main building as you come in. And it’s minor repairs like that. Truly haven’t walked through the whole place to say ‘OK, we need to do this to this building, this to the gazebo,’ that type of stuff. There’s some definite upkeep, but nothing major.”