Griswold First Selectman Kevin Skulczyck looks ahead to the coming year's projects

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Fri., Dec. 27, 2013
Kevin Skulczyck, the new first selectman of Griswold, said he hopes to forge a greater spirit of cooperation between the town and the borough of Jewett City. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.
Kevin Skulczyck, the new first selectman of Griswold, said he hopes to forge a greater spirit of cooperation between the town and the borough of Jewett City. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.

Griswold’s new first selectman, Kevin Skulczyck, has been undergoing what he calls a “40-day education” since his November swearing-in ceremony. “It’s been overwhelming, in a sense, how many behind-the-scenes things can change… projects,” he said. But he has hit the ground running in his overriding mission of building cooperation among town and borough boards.

To that end, Skulczyck has made it a point to schedule joint meetings between the boards of selectmen and finance, and has met with the warden and burgesses of Jewett City. “Our main goal is to improve our community,” he said. “This isn’t Griswold versus Jewett City. I have a strong feeling you’re going to see a lot of progress coming out of these meetings.”

Cooperation between the two municipalities could lead to more improvements on Jewett City’s Main Street. Skulczyck said new street lights, funded by a state STEAP grant, will be installed this spring after the weather breaks. Both town and borough officials plan to seek more grants to continue the downtown redevelopment plan, which includes reconfiguring sidewalks and crossings to facilitate foot traffic, as well as upgrading storefronts.

But beyond the aesthetic improvements, Skulczyck said he hopes to infuse new life into some key long-unused buildings. Chief among the possibilities is a proposal for a performing arts theater in the former State movie theater on Main Street. The Eastern Connecticut Performing Arts, a local non-profit, would be the catalyst for that project, he said. “I think it’s a springboard opportunity for downtown. It would be nice, and it’s needed.” In conjunction with the indoor space, he said he’s also exploring the possibility of building an amphitheater stage in the natural bowl at Veterans’ Memorial Park on Ashland Street.

The former Saint Mary School, closed in 2009, is also on his radar. A proposal to turn the structure into senior housing fell victim to the economic downturn, and while the structure is sound, the interior has been slowly deteriorating. Skulczyck said he’s been talking with pastor Father Ted Tumicki and looking into the place’s potential for uses such as a recreation center or a community college branch offering certificate programs. 

The town’s economic climate is in a state of flux. Skulczyck said that, while the former Wyr Wynd building has been sold, the company that had planned to start up a wind turbine factory at the site is now looking elsewhere. Change Wind Corporation’s application for a state grant is still waiting for approval after a year, he said, so now the company is pursuing a site in Pennsylvania.

Skulczyck said he’s been in contact with state legislators in an effort to break the logjam in Hartford on the grants. “I’m not saying we’re pulling the plug on this yet,” he said. But, he added, “the next step going forward would be to attract some other small business to town to fill that facility.”

Cooperation between boards may also prove key in settling the town’s ongoing issues with Griswold Ambulance. The company was put up for sale last fall, saying that it was not receiving enough financial support from the town. Skulczyck said that the boards of selectmen and finance are in negotiations with ambulance officials to work out a long-term agreement. “I don’t want to see the service go out of town to a provider that doesn’t participate in the community,” he said.

It is hoped that United Community and Family Services, which operates a small clinic on Main Street, can expand its services in town. “They’re looking to have a 10,000-square-foot facility,” said Skulczyck, which is four times their current floor space, along with access to bus lines. Several sites in town are in the running, and talks are ongoing, he said.

Skulczyck noted that the town will mark its bicentennial during his term, in 2015, creating an ideal opportunity to ratchet up interest in local history. Among the directions he’d like to explore is the tale of the “Jewett City vampire” – the burial site of a tuberculosis victim that demonstrated a persistent local belief in vampires well into the 19th century. The site’s discovery and the tale behind it was the subject of an article in Smithsonian magazine last year.

Skulczyck admits it’s a quirky idea, but not much different from plans in Norwich to play up the Rose City’s ties to infamous Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold.  And like Norwich officials, he points to Salem, Mass., which turned its witch-trial history into a big-business tourist draw. “It’s a rich opportunity for us to look at things in a different direction. Salem did it, and it’s working,” he said.

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