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Monday, June 25, 2012

Holy Trinity School officials seek plan to repair retaining wall

As published in the Record Journal Saturday June 23, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD - Holy Trinity School officials will go before the Town Council Tuesday, asking to work with the town to repair a wall that borders the school’s playground.

The wall was constructed in the early 1960s, when a parking lot was built behind the businesses on Simpson Court. The town leased the lot for 40 years on the condition that the town would maintain the property and that it would be kept open for municipal parking.

The council voted last summer to spend up to $500,000 to improve the parking lot, including the reconstruction of the wall, but the deal was rejected by voters at a town-wide referendum in November.

One property owner backed out of the original lease agreements after the vote, but the town still leases the remainder of the lot. Some school officials believe that the town has been negligent in its maintenance of the wall during the time of the leases.

Sister Kathleen Kelly, principal of Holy Trinity School, said the meeting was called so town officials could “see the importance of taking responsibility of the maintenance” of the wall.

“The integrity of the wall was not maintained during the time it was leased,” she said.

Kelly said that there were no safety issues “at this time,” but she wanted to safeguard against any potential issues.

Town Engineer John Thompson said that he could find no reference to maintaining the wall in the original 1961lease agreements between the town and the property owners on Simpson Court, and that repairs included in the project proposed last summer were a safeguard because of the work being done to the parking lot above.

“We were investing several hundred thousand dollars,” he said. “My recommendation was that with that kind of money, we should make certain that the investment was properly supported.”

Thompson said that engineers assessed the wall and found “visible deterioration” in a number of locations, but that the wall, as a whole, “was not structurally deficient.”

“There are no imminent safety issues,” he said.

In a letter to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., the Rev. Thomas J. Walsh, pastor at Holy Trinity Church, said the wall was inspected six years ago and determined to be “in need of some repair.”

“We note that the wall is aging,”he wrote. “There are cracks showing, and periodically, portions of the wall break off and fall in the school playground. The fence that is embedded in the top of the wall is contributing to its deterioration. Water is getting into the wall and causing damage.”

Corporation Counsel Janis Small said the wall is on church property, but since it borders the town-leased parking lot “the issue appears to be complicated.”

“We’ll start a new dialogue and see where it goes,” she said. “If it’s somebody else’s wall, I believe the owner has some responsibility. We have to sort it all out and hopefully we can be on the same page.”

Walsh wrote that the wall is not necessary for Holy Trinity, and that it only serves to support the parking lot.

“We believe that the town, the adjacent property owners and Most Holy Trinity should come to an agreement setting forth the rights and responsibilities of each in regard to the wall before there is a need for emergency repairs or before there is further damage.”

Town Council Chairman Robert Parisi, a Republican,said he placed the Holy Trinity item on the agenda after he received the same letter addressed to Dickinson.

“We don’t turn very many people away,” he said.

Dickinson said that he hadn’t yet formed an opinion as to what the town’s responsibility was in maintaining the wall.

“I’ll hear what they have to say, and if they have questions or concerns, we’ll look to obtain answers,” he said. “I don’t want to form too many opinions before I hear their concerns.”

Photos by Dave Zajac / Courtesy of the Record-Journal

Views from a distance and up close Friday of the wall in disrepair between the Simpson Court parking lot and Holy Trinity School in Wallingford.