Crowd clamors building committee for more input, surveys

The current Trumbull Senior Center has become a point of controversy with a local building committee tasked with formulating a plan for a new, shared center that will house both senior and community activities.
The current Trumbull Senior Center has become a point of controversy with a local building committee tasked with formulating a plan for a new, shared center that will house both senior and community activities.

Twenty-three Trumbull residents turned out at the Nichols Room in Town Hall Wednesday, March 23, hoping to resolve some of the current issues facing board members of the Senior/Community Center and Library Building Committee.

A little more than two weeks removed from a Town Council meeting that attracted hundreds of concerned citizens and plenty of backlash for their proposed choice of Island Brook Park, the board members discussed the task of making this project feasible for the whole community.

With a substantial turnout, there were plenty of questions and recommendations that came from the public, including one comment about the lack of public surveying that citizens felt inhibited their full understanding of what the project entailed as well as not having enough input in the project.

“Is some portion of the money from the project going to be allocated to finding out what the citizens of Trumbull want? Now that the idea is out there and everybody knows about it, are you going to do the right thing and send out more material to get more input?” asked Melanie Flavin of Lewis Street.

Her remarks were met with facts and an explanation from co-chair Dan Marconi, who broke down exactly how the committee’s previous three surveys were dealt with and the cost effectiveness of each study.

Using their resources, the board felt that the most strategic plan of action was to use Survey Monkey and that the possibility of surveying again is unlikely.

“We were appointed by the Town Council and given this task,” co-Chairman Joe Pifko said. “Our job is to come up with a couple plans and submit them to the Town Council.

“We were given the task and we are going to fulfill that task,” he added. “We are looking to do something good for this town and give them some options...

“I will work as hard as I can to do the job that I was given.”

Comfort with size, not in location

Having asked for two acres of the 43-acre park, the committee faced fierce public opposition at the council meeting on March 7. Ultimately, the site was rejected because it sits in a 100-year floodplain.

“We’re comfortable with what the size of the building should be. We need somebody to help us develop what the footprint should be and then working with the town engineers and whoever else needs to be involved,” said Marconi. “We need to say OK, where is the best place to put this, and I think that is where we are.”

Top priority

While community input was a recurring theme from public speakers at the March 23 meeting, the overwhelming stance of those who spoke at the council meeting earlier in the month was that the town’s priorities were misplaced — a sense of confusion of why such a large investment to build a senior/community center was being put forth when there are roads that need to be repaired and a pool that is dire need of upkeep, as well as many school facilities that need renovation.

The board members said that it felt like the public who spoke at that meeting were trying to pit the senior citizen population against the population with school-aged children, which sparked a bit of controversy.

Herbst’s model

The board, still mulling over these comments last week, received a visit from First Selectman Tim Herbst, who wanted to respond to these concerns.

“Governing is representing every constituency equally,” said Herbst.

Herbst went on to address arguments from both sides, as well as give insights as to why the senior/community center would greatly benefit Trumbull.

Herbst explained that the building would benefit not only seniors during the day, but would cater to the rest of the community by night.

The center would allow for recreation such as yoga or computer classes and serve as a meeting area for the community to use, he said. It will also serve as an emergency shelter when needed.

“Quite frankly, not only do our seniors need a facility, our community needs a facility where boards and commissions can meet, where civic organizations such as the Lions Club can meet, where student groups can meet for off-site study groups,” Herbst told The Times Tuesday. “So while our schools aren't open on weekends as students, perhaps study for finals or SAT prep together, there will now be community space to do that.”

He also noted that with all of the public outcry, he only received one telephone call from a concerned citizen.

As for the roads argument, the first selectman offered a rebuttal.

“I can tell you that the five-year capital plan that I have developed with [Public Works Director] John Marsilio has probably one of the most robust road repaving programs the town has ever seen,” he said. “Since I took office, we have repaved close to 20% of the town’s roads.

“We have worked very hard with regional planning to secure state and federal grant money to repave Moose Hill Road, Strobel Road and Chestnut Hill Road,” he added.

Plenty of surveys

Building on the vision of former First Selectman Ken Halaby since 2012, Herbst said he has continuously worked to ensure that this important community issue has followed the proper steps to becoming a reality.

“In 2012, we completed at my request an update to the Plan of Conservation and Development," Herbst told The Times. "The planning and zoning commission conducted 16 months of workshops, community forums, interviews, public hearings and one of the key recommendations in the plan of conservation and development is the construction of a community center.”

With much of the community still on the fence due to the notion that they had not been surveyed enough, Herbst brought in the numbers.  

“This past year, 1,100 responses have been received as to the senior center and when people say they were not properly surveyed, with all due respect, they were surveyed 17 years ago and it was favorable. They were surveyed during the Plan of Conservation and Development, it was a key recommendation and they have now been surveyed again.”

A key fact  Herbst acknowledged was that there were more survey responses submitted on the community center than there were on the $73-million dollar renovation of the high school.

“People have been surveyed and re-surveyed again over a 17-year period, so the time for talk and dithering is over,” said Herbst. “We have to take action.”