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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Council wants more info on liability for school’s wall

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday June 27, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff

(203) 317-2235

WALLINGFORD - Town staff will prepare an in-depth report on ownership of a retaining wall on Holy Trinity school property that supports a town-leased parking lot and get a legal opinion before deciding what to do concerning repairs.

The Town Council tabled the issue at its meeting Tuesday night and will await the results of the report.

“It’s so important that now we do some research and we find out once and for all what is the town liable for on the retaining wall for your school,” said Town Councilor John Sullivan,a Democrat. The issue revolves around who is responsible for a retaining wall that divides the school’s playground from a parking lot behind building son Simpson Court and North Main Street that is used for public parking through a lease with the town. Church and school officials say the structure is deteriorating, with cracks and chunks of it falling onto the playground, and it needs to be reconstructed.

Church officials say the wall was built by the town on their property in the early 1960s, either with or without the agreement of the church, and believe the town should be part of its maintenance. But no documentation has yet been found regarding its construction.

Parish priest the Rev. Thomas Walsh and school Principal Kathleen Kelly presented the issue to the council at the meeting.

Walsh read a prepared statement saying that the parish did not know that the wall was considered Holy Trinity’s property until a survey prepared a few years ago declared it to be.

“It was news to us that this wall, by a matter of inches, was on school property,” Walsh said. “Try to understand that this issue is more complex than who owns the wall … who does the wall benefit and who should be involved in its maintenance.”

He said he believed the wall was likely built by the town, as it was constructed during a time when the town had a parking authority that was involved in creating lots. He also said that agreements found for other projects during the time did not include maps, leading him to believe that the wall was built on their property in error.

Walsh also said that he believed work done on storm drains by the town that routed water to the wall was aiding in its destruction.

Sullivan asked to address the “elephant in the room.”

“You’re here hoping to get some money from the town or service from the town,” he said, and referenced a referendum last November in which Wallingford voters rejected a proposed $500,000 in improvements to the parking lot in question. The improvements would have included construction on the wall.

“A lot of people had issues with the town putting money into privately-owned property,” Sullivan said. “So we’re in a different place, but we’re in the same argument that was made when the referendum was defeated.”

Town Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat who was elected for the first time last November, said he voted against the project as a resident, because only the town was spending the money, but would reconsider if there was funding from the church as well as the businesses that abut the lot.

“If we had equal skin in the game from everybody that would benefit,” Zandri said.

Several of those involved with the school spoke in favor of repairs during the public comment period.

“Another winter is coming upon us in a few months — another winter of storm drains,water runoff. The risks that are posed to that playground, while not imminently dangerous, pose some concern,” said Christine Mansfield, a member of the Board of Education who has three children in the school. “No numbers will matter if one deplorable accident happens.”

Marybeth Applegate, addressing a statement by Councilor Nick Economopoulos — a Democrat — that whomever owns the wall should be ashamed by its condition, said the church had attempted to patch the wall for years. Applegate is a staff member at the school.

“As soon as you get rains and things, those patches come popping right out of that wall,” she said.

Councilors closed the meeting on Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.‘s assurance that the issue of ownership would be looked into.

“I’d like to see something happen sooner or later based on some of these factors,” Zandri said.

As for the school, Kelly said it would await the results.

“Our first dialogue with the town occurred in 2006, so we are patient people,” Kelly said.

In other business, the council:

- approved a new position for the school district, a technology/ administrative application technologist;

- accepted several education grants regarding electronics and agricultural education;

- routed to the school district $113,626 in additional state funds for tuitions for out-of district students who attend the district’s vocational-agriculture program.

A wall in disrepair between the Simpson Court parking lot and Holy Trinity School in Wallingford as seen on Friday.

File photo – Courtesy of the Record-Journal