Over the past few months, I have been asked questions pertaining to our new Town Hall. As a means of informing the entire community, I want to share my opinion on the four most frequent statements that come my way.
New Canaan should be making an architectural statement with its new Town Hall: As first selectman and a member of the Town Hall Building Committee Three, I am very pleased in the early determination to preserve much of the original Town Hall. A true treasure of a building and an important component of the look and feel of our village, it is most important that we take nothing away from the visual impact of that building on our Main Street. The cost and effort undertaken to preserve as much of the interior and exterior character of that building is significant and should be recognized as a key component of the architectural project.
The new Town Hall should be larger and accommodate the Board of Education: The THBC3 was appointed by the Board of Selectmen to facilitate the building of a new Town Hall. A major talking point leading up to the creation of the committee centered on the need to incorporate previous studies and planning documents that our citizens had already funded. The Long Range Plan, the most recent in-depth study of community facility needs, has been referenced most heavily. All three of the LRP's findings made no mention of a combined Board of Education/ Town Hall building. Further to that point, the site at 77 Main St. is not a sprawling campus but a parcel within our village and offers limited access and flexibility for a large combined complex. In the many years of studies and plans, there has never been a recommendation to combine BOE and town services in one facility.
The new Town Hall will increase traffic on Main and Park streets: The future Town Hall will actually house fewer departments than in 2007 when the lower portions of the building were vacated to Irwin Park due to a severe flooding incident. The new Town Hall envisions bringing back land use departments and the Fire Marshal's Office but not the Parking Bureau (to Police Department) or the Probate Court (relocated to Darien in 2010).
The proposed meeting space is too small: The town of New Canaan is fortunate to have many public spaces that can be used for large town meetings. Included in this inventory are our school auditoriums, nature center, movie theater, library, etc. We also have wonderful partners in the churches and private schools that can provide us large meeting spaces if called upon to do so. The evolution of audiovisual and IT assets allowing the public to watch and engage in town dialogue from their homes or computers also indicates less of a need for large public meeting space in the building. Meeting space in the new Town Hall will provide for 100 people in a meeting center and 35 to 40 in a board room. Exactly as in the past, the board room will serve as the main meeting room for most meetings and be of equivalent size to the one it replaces.
The timetable for a new Town Hall was thrust upon the community by the determination that the building was inhospitable due to the loss of the boiler/heating system, ADA compliance, fire safety, etc. It was not our choice to vacate but it did force the inevitable. We are presently providing town services from three separate facilities and paying rent. In January 2012, after 20 years and many planning committees, the Town Council, Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen approved the project and the Town Hall Building Committee Three was appointed. The dedicated members of our community that serve on the committee, and who have participated in 20 public meetings in less than a year, stand ready to go. The focus by this group to the sound fiscal management of this project should give comfort to all of those who have seen other recent building projects balloon and escalate in scope and cost.
It is time to build our new Town Hall and bring essential public services back to the home where they belong.
Robert Mallozzi III is the first selectman of New Canaan.