Clockwise from top right: Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Anna Marie Bilella; Facilities Director Chris Burney; Environmental Affairs Director Mike Conklin; and First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice.

As noted by First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice in her February update to residents, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) has begun hearing requests from various Town departments for a share of funds the Town has received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) as well the BOS’ Infrastructure Fund.

With roughly $5.4 million in ARPA grant money and $1.5 million in the Town’s Infrastructure Fund, there are significant projects that could be funded beyond those the BOS has already identified — and the BOS will have to decide which projects will be prioritized.

A summary of all the potential projects can be found on the town website.

Top Priorities

The BOS has already determined what the top spending priorities will be:

  • Most of the ARPA funds have already been earmarked for upgrading the Town’s emergency communication system, which has been estimated at $3-$4 million.
  • A storm mitigation plan and drainage upgrades at the Wilton High School sports complex is also being prioritized for the ARPA funds, though the cost has not yet been finalized. (DPW Director and Town Engineer Frank Smeriglio is expected to present recommendations for the plan at the March 22 BOS meeting.)
  • Some ARPA funds will also be used for consulting fees for determining how to use two, town-owned properties in Georgetown.
  • $134,000 from the Infrastructure Fund will go toward the Schenck’s Island parking lot improvements (design cost) and certain fire headquarters projects, already in progress.

Vanderslice has emphasized that the $1.5 million in the Infrastructure Fund (previously referred to as the Real Estate Fund) has grown because of the foresight and prudent savings achieved by the BOS.

“What that fund is made up of is about two years of Board of Selectmen budget savings that we said we’ll put into this fund because we knew we had so much investment that we needed to do in infrastructure,” Vanderslice said in a recent BOS meeting.

Environmental Affairs

At the Feb. 22 BOS meeting, Environmental Affairs Director Mike Conklin presented his request for funding various projects on Wilton trails and open spaces. (His presentation can be seen in the video recording of the Zoom meeting on the Town website.)

Conklin’s request comes with the full support of Wilton’s Conservation Commission, which reviewed his request at the commission’s Feb. 17 meeting. The request includes the following:

  • Entrance and parking lot improvements at Schenck’s Island, with construction costs estimated at $137,000-$170,000
  • A “nature-themed, free-play area” at Schenck’s Island with materials envisioned to include boulders, wood chips, sticks, and ropes through trees, for example (not rubberized materials or traditional playground equipment), with costs estimated at $150,000
  • Re-paving the Quarry Head Park access road, estimated at $57,000 (note: the park is owned by the state but management of the park falls under the Town’s purview)
  • Downed tree removal in the Town Forestestimated at $6,000
  • Various improvements on Wilton trails (boardwalks, trail stabilization, parking improvements), estimated at $44,000
  • Invasive species removal and restoration, estimated at $50,000

Parks and Recreation

Last night, Tuesday, March 1, the Parks and Recreation Commission met to discuss its strategy for making funding requests on behalf of the Parks and Recreation Department. The request will be made to the BOS on March 7.

Commission Chair Anna Marie Bilella led the discussion.

“No department is going to get all of their requests funded,” Bilella cautioned the commissioners, as she challenged them to consider the merits of going “all in” on a single request to fund a top Parks and Rec priority in its entirety, or whether to seek a portion of funding for multiple projects to get them all going.

Ultimately, the commissioners agreed on the latter approach, even if it meant having to seek funding to complete the projects down the road.

“It’s important to get legs on our projects and get them moving, so if we can get funding to start [them], we’re better for it,” Bilella said.

The commission voted unanimously to request funding for the following three priorities:

  • Improved drainage and irrigation at the multiple Middlebrook sports fields and the adjacent Madaras soccer field, with a total cost estimated at $705,000. This work is seen as the commission’s top priority, given the frequent field closures at the site.
  • A new turf field with lights, most recently estimated at a whopping $2.2 million, even on a flat site that would not require significant site work. The commission intends to request $700,000 from the infrastructure funds — enough to cover the $200,000 for the initial design and other related work, and $500,000 toward the $2 million in construction costs.
  • Merwin Meadows playground area and fencing upgrades, estimated at $250,000. (Note: the commission also debated whether $395,000 in renovations to the bathhouse and lifeguard shack — which Parks and Recreation Department Director Steve Pierce mentioned had not been meaningfully improved in decades — should be requested. They opted to prioritize the playground, which gets more year-round use than the seasonal beach facility.)

Commissioners lamented what commissioner Joe Guglielmo called a “Band-Aid approach” to many Parks and Rec facilities as they urged Bilella and Pierce to “be aggressive” in making their requests to the BOS.

Commissioner Jennifer Kendra pointed out that even a portion of funding for a major project can be pivotal, particularly a project like a new turf field.

“Some town investment [means] we can then have that confidence to go to private donors and finish it out,” Kendra said. “That’s always been a weakness. By doing that [investment], the Town puts some skin in the game and that shows good faith that this can move forward.”

Bilella called the commission’s agreed-upon strategy a “solid approach” for the funding request.

“It gets three of our [top priorities] moving; it has real impact across the community, not just from a pure sports [perspective] but also incorporates the recreational piece; and [it] looks to advance our facilities and assets to where we’re trying to go,” Bilella said.

Municipal Buildings

Facilities Director Chris Burney is also lining up for a slice of the infrastructure funding pie.

Burney is scheduled to appear at the March 22 BOS meeting to make his pitch for projects at Town-owned properties that would include replacing the columns and steps that have fallen into disrepair at Town Hall, insulating areas of the complex that are currently uninsulated, and other potential projects in municipal buildings.

The costs for those projects have not been announced yet, but Burney has quantified $150,000-$200,000 in work needed at the Ambler Farm “yellow house,” including some abatement work along with other interior and exterior upgrades.

The house was built circa 1800. Wilton’s Historic District Commission, which also met on March 1, plans to offer strong support for Burney’s funding request.

UPDATE, 11:30 A.M. — The Historic District Commission forwarded its statement of support, which is included at the end of the article, below.

Making Choices

At the Feb. 22 BOS discussion, Vanderslice acknowledged the board will likely have to make some choices among the competing departmental requests.

“We know there are things we need to prioritize, and we don’t know how much money is available,” Vanderslice said. “But at least we want to get each of the projects down on a schedule… After March 22, the hope is we take the whole list, have costs assigned to everything, and then we can prioritize the money.”

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