BERLIN - The Town Council moved to apply for the $750,000 awarded to the town by the State Bond Commission for planning and design plans for a new community/senior center, with the mayor being the lone vote against it.
“I just think the public input is so important,” said Mayor Mark Kaczynski in opposition to the other six councilors, wanting to table the matter until more public input could be gained.
The funds were awarded by the State Bond Commission in July after state Rep. Joe Aresimwoicz, D-Berlin, made the request for them. They can be used for any part of constructing a new center up until the actual point of construction on it, including studies to determine where to locate the center, any environmental studies, public forums and more.
“The community center is something that is long overdue in this town,” Aresimwoicz said at the meeting last week. He brought up memories of an old “KGS” center in town that he frequented. “I want to be a partner, if the town of Berlin wasn’t getting it, it was going somewhere else.”
As part of the public comment portion, Barbara Gombotz, chairwoman of the Commission for the Aging, said the project had been discussed for years, and the current center that was renovated in 1985 lacks safe parking for a growing senior population in town
Director of the current senior center, Tina Doyle, said the current center cannot be upgraded as the Berlin Housing Authority owns it and has said no renovations can be made. The hill the parking lot for the center rests on is a very big issue, she added.
Resident and Chairman of the Economic Development Commission Dave Cyr spoke about wanting to wait until the idea of a new center could be investigated more.
He also raised concern over the amount of bonding the project could take, saying the issue of the police station has to come first. In 2016, the council shot down a $16 million proposal to construct a police station due to budget concerns, after residents shot down a $21 million version at referendum in 2014, and has begun discussion of possibly renovating the current station built in 1974 at the bottom of Town Hall.
When the state funds were first announced, Kaczynski told The Herald that a partnership with the YMCA could be explored to help pay for the construction of the project, as well as the upkeep.
Chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission Donna Bovee said she would like to be part of whichever committee is formed for oversight of the new center, as did co-chairman Don Dellaquila.
Anyone, from the council to interested board and commission members to town residents, could be a part of the committee to oversee the whole project, Town Manager Jack Healy said.
With the approval, Kaczynski said he would like to have a public hearing within the next two to three weeks so everyone can voice their opinion.
Per changes to the charter in 2016, any project that would require more than $5 million in bonding will automatically be sent to referendum.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.