Probate Court faces possible move to Monroe
Follow the bouncing ball — where it goes, well, nobody knows.
That old sing-along technique could be applied to the situation facing the town’s Probate Court, which, after originally being targeted for relocation from Trumbull Town Hall to the town’s senior center located at 23 Priscilla Place, could be moving to Monroe.
Amid resistance against the new senior-community center on social media this week, First Selectman Tim Herbst told The Times that the move to the current senior center has not happened yet — and might not happen if he gets his preference.
Herbst revealed that he’s waiting on Monroe First Selectman Steve Vavrek to determine if space at the soon-to-be-vacant Jockey Hollow Middle School located at Fan Hill Road will be available to host the probate district that serves Easton, Monroe and Trumbull.
“Because it’s a vacant building and we won’t be disturbing anyone or anything, my very strong preference would be to go to Monroe, rather than disrupt the Trumbull senior center,” Herbst told The Times Monday.
He added that Vavrek was already planning to move Monroe’s Parks and Recreation department, as well as a bevy of other municipal services, into the school, which is set to become vacant on July 1 when students from the former Sandy Hook Elementary school leave Monroe to return home to a new elementary school that has been built in Newtown.
“Questions about security and safety are covered, and court can be held in the auditorium,” said Herbst, looking at the upside of the move to Monroe.
“In addition, the assistant superintendent in Monroe has said that they can probably make three to four class rooms available for the court’s offices, which is key.”
Up in the air
Back in April when plans to relocate the Probate Court to Priscilla Place were announced, Herbst said the move was “pretty much finalized.”
Now, less than two months later, the plans have changed.
Judge of Probate T.R. Rowe told The Times Wednesday that the potential move has its benefits and disadvantages.
“The big benefit of Monroe is they have sufficient space,” he said. “The senior center in Trumbull is very tight.
“If you’re looking for a downside, the big one is geographic location,” he added. “The school is located in the northern top of the district and isn’t the most conveniently located place for the court.”
Rowe, who met with the first selectmen in all three towns earlier this year to determine a possible new location, said he hasn’t done a site visit to Jockey Hollow Middle School.
“It’s still in the super early stages,” he said. “I just found out about the possibility last week.
“It might be a fit,” he added. “And if it, we’ll move forward from there.”
Both Rowe and Herbst agreed that the move comes down to space.
Since the initial meetings this winter, space has opened up in Monroe as it dwindles away in Trumbull — one of two major reasons the town might lose the court it has hosted for the last half century.
“We have a serious space constraint issue in our municipal buildings,” Herbst told The Times Monday, echoing a message he delivered in April. “Unfortunately, we don’t have much a choice without disturbing our existing facilities here; we don’t have vacant space like Monroe or Easton because, frankly, we don’t even have enough space to allow the community points to meet — to gather.”
Not listening to the seniors
Since the move has been publicized, opposition to the idea has grown at public meetings and social media.
On April 11, more than 100 residents, mostly active senior center members attended a meeting with Herbst to express their disapproval to the probate court move.
Again, a few weeks later, another meeting of about 50 seniors spoke loudly to their opposition to this move.
One notable critic is Roy Molgard, a Republican Board of Finance member.
As an active member of the senior center he feels he has his hand on the pulse of his fellow seniors and his thoughts are representative to the group.
"Up until now, [Herbst] is not listening to the seniors, and so we hope sooner or later he will start to listen to those seniors who are using the senior center."
"It will take half the rooms at the center and will cause a lot of disruptions with everything, I mean, as seniors, we pay a lot of money in taxes and we really don't have a lot and one of the things we do have is the senior center and I don't want to see what we have destroyed by the probate court."
Some rooms scheduled to be removed are the library, knitting room, craft room, movie room, weight watchers room, computer lab room, as well as several others to make room for the mandatory needs of the probate court.
"The seniors are stressed out over this and there is a lot of anxiety at the center." Molgard said.
Republican Town Councilwoman (D- 4) Ann Marie Evangelista said, "money to move the court ... has to come before BOF [Board of Finance] and Town Council to approve. No money has been requested yet. I haven't heard anything ... I do know that many of us don't agree with this move — and if it costs a lot of money it may not have the votes to pass."
Molgard said that nothing has been sent to the finance board about money needed.
“Sooner or later, he would have to come before us asking for money, but on the other hand, he might have money floating around in the budget somewhere that he can use," Molgard said.
Herbst deflected that opinion.
"Roy has slipped into the trap of reading social media as truth," he said.
While space is a major reason for the room, Trumbull is looking to give the Probate Court the boot because of money.
If the senior center is chosen as the official new home, then Judge Rowe is seeking $156,000 worth of renovations to fit the building to the court’s needs.
“We have to determine the moving costs associated with Monroe, if we do in fact select it as a location,” Rowe said Wednesday.
For his part, Herbst balked at the idea of pumping money into the senior center.
“We’re not spending $156,000 at Priscilla Place, I can tell you that much,” Herbst said.
“If we’re going to spend that type of money, those two towns are going to kick in,” he added. “We’re not an ATM machine.”
Nonetheless, he wouldn’t rule out the senior center in Trumbull as a possible final destination — even with Monroe interested.
“First Selectman Vavrek said he would love to host the probate court,” Herbst said. “Hopefully it works out but there are several options we’re looking at and we have to keep it open in case it doesn’t work in Monroe.”
Herbst reiterated that his preference is to not disturb existing facilities in Trumbull — something he deems will prove difficult due to the space constraint.
“This is exactly why we need a new community center,” he said. “This space constraint inhibits our town’s ability to offer meeting space to the community.”
Attempting to look at the move from the court’s perspective, he labeled the location change to Monroe as a no-brainer.
“How could anyone argue with a vacant building with plenty of space?” he asked, rhetorically, before realizing that the decision was out of his hands for the time being.
“We’re waiting to hear from him and Monroe,” he added. “The sooner we hear back, the better…
“Then the ball will be in Judge Rowe’s court.”
To read more about the petition that questions the process being followed to build a new community center, and to find out more about Thursday’s Senior/Community Center & Library Study and Building Committee meeting, please check trumbulltimes.com later this week and look for more coverage in next week’s paper.