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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

WALLINGFORD - Panel: Fitzgerald Field needs complete overhaul

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday November 14, 2012

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD — A committee formed to assess the Lyman Hall High School track informed the Board of Education Operations Committee Tuesday night that the entire athletic facility at Fitzgerald Field needs to be overhauled.

The update would include the immediate installation of a new turf football field, six-lane track, handicap accessible bathrooms and lights, with a new concessions building and another building that would include a weight room and training room scheduled for construction further down the road.

Board of Education member Kathy Castelli, who served on the committee, said initially it was all about getting the track redone.

“We can get by this year, but that’s pushing it,” she said.

After a presentation by Lyman Hall Athletic Director Amy Labas on Tuesday night, the Operations Committee — consisting of five board members, with only four present Tuesday night — unanimously decided the project would move forward to the regular Board of Education for action during their Friday meeting.

“We’re at a point where it’s necessary to switch to all-season turf,” Labas said.

Labas said the initial project — including the turf field, track, bathroom and lights — is estimated to cost $1.2 million. With the addition of a concession stand, the project is estimated at $1.5 million. The school district already has $300,000 secured for the project for track funds.

School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo asked that the board allow the project to move forward so the school district could pursue time-sensitive grant opportunities, specifically the Whorrel Grant. Fred Balsimo, a member of the committee asked to look at the track, said the grant could pay for a certain percentage of the project that was put at just over $100,000 with current estimates.

The committee decided to hire an independent consultant for the project, and the district must go out to bid for the consultant before it can apply for the competitive national grant. Balsimo said only two of eight schools in the state have been approved for the grant.

Balsimo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors, said “I’m here to help because I live in Wallingford.”

Mary Fritz, who represents the 90th General Assembly district, said that she and Balsimo both helped find grant money for the Sheehan High School turf field, but didn’t remain active in the process. This time, they both said they are in for the long haul.

Fritz said she has tentatively secured $525,000 for the project that was previously allocated through bonding for a project in Wallingford about 10 years ago that she refused to name. She said that she called the state Office of Fiscal Analysis on Tuesday and found that the bond funds were still leftover.

“All I have to do is change the title of the bond to Lyman Hall, and we have $525,000,” Fritz said.
This was news to Menzo, who asked “who are you taking it from?”

“It’s not your concern,” Fritz replied. “It’s not new money. It was already approved.”

With funding tentatively in place, the project only needs about $275,000. Along with the Whorrel Grant and the money Fritz found, the school district plans to look into a Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant, which can provide up to $500,000. Fritz said that Cheshire has received money for several projects through STEAP money. The caveat, said Fritz, is that the grant can only be applied for by Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.

Menzo asked Fritz if the money could be split, so the school district received $275,000 and the town could receive the rest.

“You’re going down the wrong track,” Fritz said. “(Dickinson) is not going to do that.”

Menzo replied, “I’d give it a shot.”

If the project moves forward on Friday, Labas said ground will be broken on July 1, 2013, with hopes the field and track will be done by the time school starts. Labas has lined up several fundraisers for the project; including an April 1 5K at Lyman Hall that will become an annual event. In a survey of about 70 parents of athletes at the school performed by Labas, 59 percent said they don’t think Lyman Hall athletic facilities measure up to competition.

The project, she said, “is something that will enhance the program.”

FROM WALLINGFORD - Proposed pet projects

This "FROM WALLINGFORD" column was written by Mike Brodinsky, former town councilor, chairman of the School Roof Building Committee and host of public access show “Citizen Mike.” It is re-posted here as published in the Record Journal Sunday November 18, 2012

On July 1, 2005, General Motors announced that it had its best month in 19 years. What was good news for General Motors back then maybe was good news for America. Also on July 1, 2005, when money was more plentiful in Connecticut, the General Assembly approved Special Act 05-01. That should have been good news for Wallingford, too because it was a first step in getting a grant.

Special Act 05-01 approved up to $228,614,110 in bonding for various nonprofits, state agencies, and towns in Connecticut. The act lists all the potential recipients of possible grants funded by bonding and it’s a very long list. Included in this lengthy legislation was an “earmark” entitled “Grant-in-aid to the town of Wallingford, for renovations to the baseball field at Sheehan High School, not exceeding $525,000.”

This amount, however, remains unspent to this day and still appears to be available, even though the work at Mark T. Sheehan High School was never done and will not be done. Even more curious, however, is the fact that the authorization has gone unnoticed in Wallingford for more than 7 years. What happened and why?

Although a clarification would be welcome, the story is not as strange as it seemed when I first read about it. Let’s start with the basics. The legislation in 2005 is better understood as a wish list, rather than real money in the bank. Special Act 05-01 is after all merely a compilation of projects submitted by legislators from all around the state. The legislators approve each other’s pet projects — every one of which is important to somebody in their jurisdiction. The legislation authorizes the state bond commission to fundthe projects but it cannot require it. Wallingford’s wish, $525,000 for work at Sheehan High School, was included in the list, which did pass an important procedural hurdle when the General Assembly approved Special Act 05-01. But the legislation was still just a wish with a price tag attached. It was not real money available to be spent.

An obvious question is why the state still designates the baseball field at Sheehan as an approved project. The answer is that the Sheehan project will not be on the wish list forever as the state does have eyes looking for old projects to take down. It’s just a matter of time, and that is why Councilor John Sullivan said that the money would be lost if it wasn’t used soon.

Before a project is funded, it must go through additional procedures which cull the low priority projects from the wish list. A full description of that process is beyond the scope of this column. In thatprocess, however, top government leaders and their staff pare down the broad wish list based upon what the state can afford now and the importance of the project. Proposed projects, like high school tracks, that might have been funded in 2005 might not be funded in a year like 2012. The biggest hurdle for a local project, therefore, is to clear administrative and political review so that it gets on the bonding commission agenda. In these tough times, that will be a trick, and beyond the power of any single legislator or group of them.

The final spigot that determines how much of the wish list gets funded, therefore, is the state bonding commission. It is under no obligation to fund everything that the general assembly wants. Given the state of the budget and the economy, many if not most of the projects on the wish list will never make it on the bonding commission’s agenda. In view of the fiscal stresses the state is experiencing today, no one should be encouraged to believe that the state will fund a new track for Lyman Hall High School.

Nevertheless, our representatives will try their hardest to save the $525,000, but we can’t expect miracles.