To the editor:

I pass through Ridgefield often. For the past several months, every time I drive down the main street, I admire the new 40,000-sq. ft. library and 3-screen cinema the town is building. When I’m driving north on the Merritt, I can’t help but notice the 102,000-sq. ft. Westport YMCA that is going up. And just this week, I spotted the beautiful new Levitt Pavilion being constructed on their riverfront.

The towns surrounding Wilton realize the benefit of making investments that improve the quality of life for their citizens. And as I look around our town, I fail to see where we have made similar investments. Merwin Meadows has no concessions, old bathrooms, which are often not even open, and a few benches. The Y has not made significant improvements to their facilities in years. Our playing fields are dusty, with nowhere to sit, unpaved parking lots, no food or restrooms. Where is our town pool, ice skating rink, concert venue, modern playground?

This week we will have the opportunity to vote on a bond authorization in the amount of $9,900,000 for renovations to Comstock. The plans call for making the almost 60-year- old building up to code, ie. sprinklers, handicap accessible bathrooms, removal of hazardous materials including lead and asbestos, new windows, an energy-efficient HVAC system, among other things.

I question whether spending $10 million on improving this building is a sound decision. The building itself is underutilized with many empty rooms. A preschool that was there has closed and there has been no discussion of bringing it back. It is not clear how the improvements to the building will increase its use. How many Wilton residents will benefit from the changes? Will it bring more programs and events to the building? Will there be more reasons to go there? A fitness center, classes, performances?

I worry that as surrounding towns are growing and improving, Wilton is lagging behind. Our quality of life, town pride and property values are suffering. Do we need a renovated Comstock, or would we be better off spending $10 million on something else?

Carrie Tobias

10 replies on “Letter: Where is Our Town Pool, Ice Rink, Concert Venue, Playground?”

  1. Wow! Fantastic letter and I couldn’t agree more! This is something my husband & I discuss on a regular basis. Thank you for saying it out loud!

  2. Great letter. I agree! Our officials are wasting our money! We seem to bandaid everything. We just spent money renovating the “senior center”, replacing the roof and changing the facade – why wasn’t that part of this $10 m plan?? We are already spending $40m to renovate a school, just bought more open space and now are considering spending $10m on renovating Comstock. Where is all this $$ coming from?? Guess what – another mill rate increase – 2.03%. Consider that we just had a 3.6% increase last year, that’s over 5% in one year! What are the long term plans for the town? When will the high school be renovated?? What are the replacement plans for our disgusting turf fields?? (What are the maintenance plans even, because clearly they are not maintained). I am voting against this renovation plan for Comstock. I am also voting against the budget increases even though I have 3 kids in school – the BOF and BOE need to learn to do more with less money just like a business. And until this whole special Ed payout is investigated, I don’t trust what is happening with our money. It’s time for residents to let our officials know that we can’t sustain the continued increases in taxes!!

  3. Carrie, We have the same discussion in our house, almost daily, as different sitings around surrounding towns remind us of how archaic our town is in its planning. Clearly, changes need to be made at the top!
    I applaud you for raising this issue publicly.
    Let’s make sure we gather our friends and vote “NO” to supporting this Comstock renovation.

  4. I agree with the vision here of a Wilton with the sorts of services and amenities that some of our neighboring towns have. I think getting there is a long, challenging road, full of tough decisions and tradeoffs. I also think there are plenty of people who may not agree that the town “needs” these things. Most of the things on the wish list – which again, I share – are only paid for with taxes, bonds and/or very generous donations. And while I don’t have the numbers handy, I would also guess that comparing us to Westport and Ridgefield is probably not a great comparison because both towns likely have much larger tax bases, both from business and residential sources. I would also point out, if we want to compare to our neighbors, that we also “need” a new high school complex, a more retail-friendly downtown – a la New Canaan, Westport and Ridgefield, a dog park, and more.
    Let’s assume for a moment that there are enough people willing to vote for the expenditures to make some of this happen. I see two initial possibilities, working with existing facilities and land:
    1) Upgrade Merwin Meadows. I happen to be one of the gents who was out there 20-odd years ago building the now-current – and now-old – playground. It was pretty cool when it was built. Now it’s dated and could be rebuilt. The facilities need to be upgraded. A small-ish outdoor pavilion could be built. Maybe the pond could even be converted to an awesome pool / water park. I’m conflicted on that because I think of the Y as the town pool. In any case, Merwin is an underdeveloped asset for the town. It’s easy to envision what it *could* be. I would also point out that Merwin is on the Norwalk River Valley Trail which will eventually run from Calf Pasture Beach up to Danbury. So a great new facility would be accessible to bikers and walkers as well, and it’s spitting distance from town center on an existing trail.
    2) Upgrade Comstock, but don’t stop with the basic structural renovations, but rather create a genuine community center with a real preschool facility, modern meeting spaces, and perhaps *this* is the place to put a pool facility and wowsers playground. Again, conflicted because I think of the Y as the pool, and Merwin as the playground. Also, the NRVT runs right by Comstock, and given its proximity to the schools, it’s a great location and its use should be maximized.
    Some other thoughts:
    – In my opinion, a skating rink should be a commercial endeavor, not a town-funded facility. If there’s truly a need, I would hope the market would fill it.
    – Ridgefield is building a new library, yes. But we just did a major re-do on our library a few years ago and I think it’s an awesome space. Not sure we should have any library envy.
    – Where the heck is the nice pedestrian bridge from the train station into town center? Unlike any neighboring down except New Canaan, our station stops right next to the town center, but there’s no good way to get from one to the other. This should have been built 40 years ago…
    – Assuming it’s important for real estate values and attracting new residents, seems like we need a new high school. To visit any of the neighboring towns, the contrast is stark. I would submit that we don’t need it for educational purposes – we seem to continue to be pretty top notch at the moment. But I get why many people want us to keep up with the joneses here. It’s something I would vote to pay for, even with kids who will be out of the schools before it could possibly be built.
    – For as many things as we have not, I think we shouldn’t lose sight of the awesome things we have: real community, rural character, open spaces, two working farms, a great educational system, low crime, direct trains to NYC, astounding volunteerism, relative wealth, and the *potential* to make our town even better.
    Some things are definitely worth paying for. I think what we might be lacking more than anything is the communication of “vision” as to where we’re going with projects like Comstock, for example. Yeah, maybe it’s been written down somewhere, but it’s not being “sold” the way it needs to.
    Blah, blah. Enough writing. I’m supposed to be working…

    1. “I think of the Y as the pool…”

      But the Y is not a town facility with a $60 family pass. A family membership at the Y is $1200 annually ($700 summer-only).

  5. One way to make Wilton a better town is to help build the NRVT Wilton Loop Trail. Donate and help build an 8 mile mixed use trail that connects many different parts of our town in one big loop. The project is entirely privately funded, so there are no issues with political agenda.

    1. Spending money on the NRVT in Wilton is a complete waste. We have too much existing underutilized public space, and too many priorities ahead of this(all mentioned above) to divert public resources/donations to NRVT. At best its a ‘nice to have’. At worst it is decimating what is already a nice peaceful natural enviroment. Amongst other issues with this trail is there is no budget to maintain it, no plan or manpower for police patrol and its a ‘build it and they shall come’ path to nowhere as there is no agreement how it will all connect, especially in North Wilton.

      1. The funding needed for the Wilton Loop of the NRVT is a tiny fraction of the tens of millions spent each year in Wilton, and as I mentioned, it is an entirely privately funded project which means no public money will be used to maintain the trail. Additionally you can access the routing study to see that the entire project has been planned, and is in no way a “path to nowhere.” In fact 8 miles of it are a loop connecting what you call “underutilized public space[s]”. I assure you that although you may not use any of the 28 open space parks in Wilton, a very large and active number of residents do take advantage of these open spaces and consider them part of what makes Wilton a great town.

        1. I prefer my land in a natural state, not manufactured. For clarity, what I was suggesting is any monies or donations diverted to this, versus other specifc needs or fundraising efforts in Wilton, is a waste of resources as this trail is not a priority compared to many other projects mentioned above. I use many of the parks and they are a vital and necessary part of the town but we dont need more space. Finally there is currently no specific, documented, viable plan (without eminent domain on taxpayers land) to get the trail through the Thunder Lake area and Weir Farm into Ridgefield. Until that gets solved, the path will not connect.

          1. The decision to donate private funds to any cause is the privilege of the donor, this may not be a cause that you support, but the NRVT is happening, and people are choosing to be a part of something that is adding value to our town. I’m glad that you now agree that our open spaces are not “underutilized,” and that you too are an avid user of the many parks in town. I completely respect your opinion to keep your land in a “natural state,” just as I hope that you can see the benefit of having a large multi-use pathway that joins many of the great public spaces in town. We’ve already seen that the short “demo” section of the trail has been very well received by residents, and we hope that someday we may have your support as the project moves forward. Please also realize that funding this trail will in no way affect the other projects being discussed in this letter. I mentioned this project only because it is a way to help make our town a better place. Every $10 donation helps.

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