With some rumblings among residents regarding long-standing Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance issues at Mallory Town Hall, the Sherman Board of Selectman discussed how best to address the problem areas at their regular monthly meeting on Thursday, May 28. Though the issues have been identified as areas in need of improvement for years, the initiative to move forward on fixes has risen in importance only recently.
“Why our board is being pressured harder than any previous boards, I’m not sure,” said First Selectman, Mr. Don Lowe, at the meeting. The recipient of recent letters calling for action on improvements to the building’s two entry points, plus bathroom accessibility issues, Lowe asserted that the BOS “will take a proactive approach to this.” The issues surfaced after other renovations to the building and the availability of grant monies to fund the improvements were recently discussed. Hoping to funnel grant money for all Mallory Town Hall renovations, Lowe, with Sherman’s Social Services Director, Ms. Beth Trott, will develop a list of specifications for the BOS to review at their June monthly meeting. With any revisions in place, they plan to hold a formal bid process in July.
There was some discussion about whether to piecemeal the improvements or address them all at once. When asked whether renovating the front door alone would satisfy the ADA compliance issues with entry, Trott explained that, instead to do due diligence and be in full compliance, two accessible entry points would meet the code in the possibility of fire. Plus, she pointed out that the issue of previously agreed upon renovations to Mallory Town Hall would compel the need to bring the building up to code. In the end, the board members agreed to pursue looking into both renovating the entry points and the bathroom simultaneously, in addition to staggering the improvements. Selectman, Mr. Bob Ostrosky, said “I would prefer to do an all-inclusive bid,” with an understanding that there are economies of scale to batch renovation. They all agree that there are uncertainties in the potential snowball costs in electrical, plumbing, hazardous materials, and more. Considering the renovations, Lowe said that he believes the bathroom won’t be “as difficult as you might think” while he thinks “the doors are going to be harder.”
Signage was a topic of conversation as Lowe and Park and Recreation Director, Mr. John Wrenn, confirmed that new signs have been ordered and will be prominently placed at the town’s parks and beach area; additional signs may be ordered. Wrenn acknowledged that the signs are a beginning, but they are “not a panacea…people have to read it and obey it.” In addition to signs at the town’s boat launch, Lowe said that attendants are now in place from 8am to 7pm “guarding against us being a boat launch for the whole world.” The town’s beach opening date is still in question given that following social distancing guidelines would be tough.
On summer camp, the town has not made a final decision. The BOS agreed that waiting a couple of weeks to decide made the most sense. Wrenn explained that many towns in the area are not having summer camp and indicated that the counselor application rate has been lukewarm; one camp director is immunocompromised and cannot commit to run the camp. Wading into the territory of liability and the need for guidance from the town’s insurance company regarding staff and camper waivers, it was clear that legal issues are a big concern. “Both times we’ve had this discussion I feel like we are answering this,” Lowe said, regarding the wisdom of opening the summer camp. Wrenn offered an alternative possibility of offering programs throughout the summer, in lieu of a traditional day camp.
In an update on Happy Acres Farm, Lowe was pleased to announce that he is receiving “all kinds of good news and compliments” regarding the farm, “in my opinion, the place looks terrific” he said. There was discussion regarding how much money to appropriate for the farm’s operating expenses. Ultimately, the BOS, in discussion with Town Treasurer, Mr. Eric Holub, and Business Administrator, Ms. Liz LaVia, agreed that $55K, including both $35K for Mr. David Jellen’s stipend and $20K for expenses is a conservative, but likely fairly accurate estimate for what is needed from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2021. Though expenses were higher in the recent past, especially due to startup costs, the group agreed that this next year shouldn’t be as high.
In other financial news, the BOS agreed to transfer $25K that remained in the winter maintenance budget, following a lighter than average snow season, to the road maintenance budget to be used for chip sealing on a handful of roads. Lowe explained that the recent well work at the fire station and theater is awaiting final paperwork from the state to be fully complete. He also reported that conversation is still stalled with T-Mobile on the silo, though AT&T “has been very communicative.” At this point, funds are continuing to come in from T-Mobile and Lowe questioned whether their merger with Sprint has slowed communications.
In an update on Covid-19, Lowe explained that the town staff will begin working in the office in the coming weeks, though Mallory Town Hall will not yet be fully open to the public. To commemorate Flag Day, Lowe is organizing a car parade that will be held on June 14, with social distancing guidelines in place; more information will be forthcoming regarding the parade.
Sherman Volunteer Fire Department Chief, Mr. Bob Accosta, thanked the town for their donations. He noted that their new boat is in service on Candlewood Lake. Accosta also praised the plan to offer Visa gift cards for members to sign up for ambulance shifts. He explained that the department is “slowly, but surely” acquiring personal protective equipment from the state, “in case we need it for the fall.” He went on to say that he is proud to be the chief, to which Lowe responded by saying “you guys are doing a marvelous job over there in particularly trying times.”
Lowe read a letter from the Naromi Land Trust, stating its desire to merge with Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust to form the new Northwest Connecticut Land Conservancy. The merger will mean teaming up to protect over 12,000 acres of land, including preserves, public trails, and working farms. Naromi Land Trust members–anyone who has contributed in the past year–are welcome to vote on the merger at their June 13 virtual meeting; more details regarding the meeting information can be found at http://naromi.org/merger.
The next regular monthly BOS meeting will be held on Thursday, June 25, 7pm.
By Sarah Opdahl