Town Hall Committee Leans North-South, as Chair Exits
NEWINGTON - The Town Hall Building Committee is moving closer to deciding on an alignment scheme for a new Town Hall/Community Center, but they will continue shaping the blueprint that will go to referendum without Chris Miner, who announced his resignation as Chair at the last meeting.

       Former Vice Chair Joe Harpie will take over the role.

       Miner cited the time commitment he said was necessary to see the project through, stating that he simply would not be able to meet it-particularly as it moves into construction phase and the demand increases more. The Committee has been holding weekly meetings with architects and construction managers, and that’s not even including the time members spend with Town Hall staff to work on additional details, Miner said.

       “I just don’t have anything left to give,” Miner said after the meeting. “I’d rather hand it off to Joe. He’s more than competent to take it the rest of the way.”

       During comments made toward the end of the meeting, Councilor and Committee member Jim Marocchini-who had high praise for Miner-implied that the resignation may have been driven in part by “behind the scenes” disagreements. But Miner himself strongly denied the suggestion, reiterating that his decision was made solely due to how much he felt he could commit.

       “This is probably one of the most disappointing things I’ve had to deal with [while serving on the Committee],” Marocchini said. “That gentleman worked as hard as he possibly could-I think we’ll be at a loss without him.”

       Miner-who received praise from around the table-expressed an optimistic outlook regarding the project, as he has in prior meetings.

       “We still have a dedicated group,” he said. “They keep their eye on the ball, they’ll get there.”

       Right now, the Committee is leaning toward a North/South alignment-the more expensive of two layouts presented, but considered more conducive to the town’s program goals. The setup would place the building closer to Mill Pond Park, but with a Downes Construction-estimated $26.5 million price tag.

       An East/West alignment would come in around $24.9 million-before soft costs-by allowing the demolition and reconstruction to be done without moving staff offsite. The work would start with taking down the portion of Town Hall closest to the police station and housing town employees in what remains.

       Staff would then shift to the newly construction portion in time to rebuild the remainder of the building.

       But the Committee is still wrestling with the cost of swing space-should they go with an option that requires a full relocation. It was a question mark the previous meeting, with Facilities Director Dave Langdon stating that the cost of trailer space alone-before even leasing property on which to place them-would cost more than $700,000.

       A Board of Education/Town Council budget negotiation discussion entertained the purchase of the St. Mary's School property-to be funded by Board surplus money-for the purpose of providing swing space and a potential $5.6 million cost offset.

       The Board had proposed to cover the purchase using $515,000 retained in a non lapsing surplus account, as well as $1.2 million in health benefit savings.

       As of Thursday night, the Council had issued a statement opting to hold off on going through with that plan, with Mayor Roy Zartarian citing questions regarding the costs of environmental remediation and converting the space for office use.

       But the Board could have possibly made the building its permanent residence, offsetting costs further, Superintendent Bill Collins has said.