On Tuesday, the Ellington Board of Finance voted to make an additional appropriation of $400,000 to the Senior Center project.
The Permanent Building Committee had recommended, and the Board of Selectmen had approved, an appropriation of $500,000, but the Board of Finance chose to give $400,000.
Last February, the voters in town resoundingly approved the $2.5 million project, but when the bids came in, they were significantly higher.
After the bids came in, the PBC began working with the involved parties to try to get the costs down. The building was made a foot shorter, less fancy doors were chosen, elements were removed.
Building Official Peter Williams, who has been very involved in this project, said that if the building was to be done the way it was originally planned, $800,000 would be needed.
He said that in order to make the cuts, things that don’t affect the function of the building were done.
According to Board of Finance Chairman Robert Clements, the PBC decided it was best to give $500,000 back to the project because the major cuts that had to be made were of items that, in their belief, would have to be put back at some point and at a higher cost.
Clements was upset, saying that there was a misunderstanding between the board and the PBC when it came to what was wanted.
“We wanted them to redo the designs so it would come in $2.5 million, not pull out all the things that are necessary so you have a sympathetic vote to put them back in now,” he said. “That’s my take on it.”
Board member Richard Cleary had some concerns with some of the things that were removed, in particular, a telephone system, landscaping, signs, security, and handicapped doors.
“Why are we doing this if this is what we had to take out?,” he asked.
The local legislature has shown support for the senior center project, but First Selectman Maurice Blanchette cautioned the board to work with what they have in front of them.
“The state has little energy or will to put money into senior centers,” he said. “I don’t see that as a very sure thing. I see it as a very long-range thing – and most likely not going to happen.”
The appropriation will now be taken to a referendum, where the townspeople will have the final say. Because the Board of Finance chose to allocate a different sum of money, the Board of Selectmen must now go back and approve the same amount. The referendum was tentatively scheduled for April 2, but will now have to be pushed back. Blanchette was unsure of what date it will now take place.
Senior Center Director Erin Graziani said that while they had asked for $500,000 to complete the Senior Center budget, the approval by the board to go to referendum for $400,000 is certainly better than nothing.
“We will do our best to get as much done as possible with funding available,” she said. “We appreciate the support from the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance so the Senior Center can go to referendum. We sincerely appreciate all the support from the public and members in the Senior Center Steering Committee. We hope the public will once again give support needed for the Senior Center.”
Blanchette said that if the referendum doesn’t pass, the seniors won’t get what they hoped to get out of the project.
“If it doesn’t pass, we’ll be fighting this war over and over again every year to divert some money to it from the capital equipment fund, but the capital equipment fund is pretty well spoken for,” he said.