A Town-Wide, Well-Considered Plan – What A Capital Idea!
Capital budget planning is a critical part of every town’s long-term strategy. It requires evaluation of all infrastructure “needs and wants” from every constituency, prioritizing necessary projects before popular ones, and the discipline to schedule projects over time to make the costs manageable for taxpayers. In Woodbridge, unfortunately, capital planning has been haphazard at best for several years. We can and must do better by electing people who understand and can execute a comprehensive, practical and fiscally sound capital plan.
Examples of where we’ve gone wrong are numerous. A few years ago, the current Democrat leadership proposed to bundle a few projects together into a single capital bonding request for taxpayer consideration. Much-needed roof repairs at Beecher Road School would be bundled with a new storage building for the Fire Department and the demolition of the old Country Club clubhouse. When Republican Selectmen insisted that each project should be voted on separately, the Democrats balked, knowing that voters would approve the roof work but might reject the other projects. So where are we now? Somehow this administration made it a priority to identify funding for the storage building – now to be funded mostly by a state grant – but simply dropped any plan to address the Beecher roof. The result? There are literally buckets being placed in classrooms and halls to catch the water when we get a serious rain. This is inexcusable.
While the Beecher roof remained in budgeting limbo, the Democrats created a Community and Cultural Center Building Committee to renovate the old firehouse. The town obtained a two-million-dollar grant to renovate the old firehouse, though the question remains why the town’s capital planning focus was on the old firehouse rather than the Beecher roof. So, what does this committee propose? Renovate not only the old firehouse but the adjacent outdoor space. Estimated cost: five million dollars. You read that right – a five-million-dollar proposal for a project that was given a two-million-dollar budget. The Board of Selectmen has received the five-million-dollar proposal and has yet to tell the committee to pare it back. But must we say again – what about the Beecher roof?! Where are our priorities? The whole situation defies logic.
There are questions about the old firehouse planning, by the way. One example, in the early 2000s the town planned to move the weight room/gym equipment into the old firehouse once the new firehouse was built. We were told at the time that the use of weights on the second floor of the Center Building potentially degraded the integrity of the Center Building, which was intended for classroom use not a gym. In contrast, the former garage space in the old firehouse would easily bear the weight of the equipment. So why wasn’t the committee instructed to move the two rooms of gym equipment into the old firehouse as part of its plan?
Now let’s consider the other building committees that have been appointed in town. The Democrat leadership created a Center Building Renovation Committee several months ago. Their charge includes yet another look at the Police Department’s perennial desire for improved quarters. Meanwhile, after much effort by the bipartisan Woodbridge Board of Education, the First Selectman has finally formed a committee to address Beecher’s leaking roof and other immediate capital needs. But that committee, led by Selectman Sheila McCreven, has yet to take the first step (advertise for an architect/engineering firm) in a many-months process that must be followed before repairs can begin. And with Beecher’s potential need for more space, should we put planning for the Center Building on hold until yet another BOS-created committee figures out whether Beecher might need some of the Center School’s space? Maybe it’s a good time to look at moving kindergarten and first grade back to Center School – after all, it was a school! That might take some stress off Beecher now and impact what a new Beecher looks like in the future. Unfortunately, we lack leadership from the top to end the siloed, blinkered approach to capital planning.
It’s sadly obvious that our town is operating without a comprehensive vision or long-term strategy for capital projects. Several committees are looking at different aspects of the town, but there is no leadership, no direction. This is not good for our town and voters will have a chance to improve the situation in November.
<span class="fineprint">This is an opinion not necessarily endorsed by the Woodbridge Town News.</span>
This is an opinion not necessarily endorsed by the Woodbridge Town News.