Mayor, general manager look forward to 2013
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., Jan. 4, 2013
Mayor Leo Diana can sum up what 2013 will be like in three words: “Lean and mean.” To help close a fiscal gap of $415 million for this fiscal year, the state has recently made cuts in aid to municipalities – including Manchester.
In Manchester, the cuts are primarily reductions to secondary grants, mostly pertaining to human services. These reductions won't have a significant impact to the town for this fiscal year. “After July 1, 2013, is another story,” said General Manager Scott Shanley. With state leaders warning municipalities that any past promises of protection from reductions are no longer in effect, Manchester is preparing for extremely lean times. And if this year's state deficit seems bad, the next fiscal year is slated to be worse – with unforeseen consequences. “I don’t know the impact or what the governor’s budget is going to be. But I know he has a $1.2 billion deficit per year to deal with,” said Shanley.
Fiscal troubles aside, there are many bright spots to look forward to for 2013. “Broad Street will be completed, and that will be a feather in our cap,” said Diana. Roadwork to this major street is expected to be complete in early summer.
They will also move forward with the Broad Street Project, in which a 20-acre property – formerly the Broad Street Parkade along Green Manor Boulevard – will be redeveloped. The town purchased the property, tore down the buildings, removed hazardous materials and prepared the land for new construction. The Redevelopment Agency has prepared a Master Plan, which lays out their vision for possible uses of the property, which they will use to solicit bids from the private sector. Before bids go out, however, the town is hoping to remove some property restrictions based on nearby property owners. While requests for qualifications may eventually go out even if the restrictions are not lifted, Shanley is hopeful that the matter will be resolved soon.
The Master Plan calls for a mixed-use development of housing, neighborhood-style retail or restaurants and some civic use. A green space is part of the plan as well. Civic use could include a library, a senior center or a community center. “That’s the vision. We’ll see what the private sector wants to do,” said Shanley. “The timing will ultimately be pretty good because the housing market is beginning to turn.” He hopes that by the time they receive bid responses, the economy will be improved.
Diana looks forward to seeing what proposals the town receives, be it a shopping area, sports complex or something else entirely. It also remains to be seen whether the town will maintain ownership of the property, or if the developer purchases it.
Shanley also said that 2013 will bring new discussion on the town's library services – as well as exploring whether or not Mary Cheney Library will continue to be the main facility for these services. The town struck down a proposal to expand Mary Cheney Library in the 2012 referendum. The expansion would have brought the outdated and cramped structure up to ADA code.
The SMARTR Committee is expected to unveil its findings in the coming weeks. SMARTR is a work group tasked with developing a long-term plan for schools in town. “They should be wrapping up this year a grand vision for elementary schools in the town, along with cost figures,” said Shanley. In the past seven years, the town has spent more than $100 million on schools. “We still have significant work to do on our schools' rehabilitation – or replacement,” he said. While Highland Park School has been updated and classrooms have been added to Martin and Buckley, the remaining elementary schools in town have not seen significant investments in decades, according to Shanley.
SMARTR’s goal is to make recommendations, to be approved by the Board of Directors and Board of Education, in time to put an item up for the next referendum in November 2013. The recommendations could include major work on school buildings, or even complete replacements. SMARTR is working on a highly aggressive time-line to make this possible. The committee's time constraints have been all the more intense due to a new state law that mandates that when a school is investigated for repairs, a study be done to analyze whether they should build “new” versus building “like new.” Should SMARTR determine that a school needs to be done “like new,” it will have to be approved by the state. Once approved, more time will be needed for an architectural firm to create designs. “When something is approved at referendum, we’re talking two and a half years before it’s actually done,” said Shanley.
The town will continue to focus on the downtown area. “We’ll continue to work with Imagine Main Street, and capitalize on all the energy that is happening downtown,” said Shanley. He also said that as part of their partnership with the MCC on Main Gallery, they will be launching their plan to open the upstairs of their Main Street location in the next month.
In 2013, most of the upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant will be complete. This $50 million project is extremely important to the town. “It’s the single most important environmental work that we can do,” said Shanley. “The plant takes town wastewater and puts it back into the environment at least as clean as when it was taken from the reservoirs.”