Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra will be serving a fourth term in office. She says there is some unfinished business and new challenges that she wants to accomplish. She feels accountable and responsible for some of the things already in the pipeline and right on the horizon. She wants to move the agenda further before retiring. Llodra says the Sandy Hook School project looms large. Construction is on track to be completed in May. There will then be a transition for faculty and students before the opening in the fall of 2016.
Llodra says having the building in a state of readiness and helping transition to the facility is still emotional and challenging. She says residents are reminded of the hurt all the time, and the town continues to struggle to get to a place where there can be a celebration of a new building and the opportunity for youngsters to learn in a wonderful new environment. She says it has to be about all of the children yet to come, and to have a place of learning that’s joyful, purposeful, productive and positive. She wants to see that project to fruition.
There is also the challenge of the Community Center. Newtown received a generous donation from GE of $15 million. $10 million is to build the center and $5 million is to be used over five years for its operation. She says they’ve struggled to find what the concept should be. They need to figure out what it will house, what the key feature will be. Suggestions have ranged from a senior center or art center to an aquatic center or an ice rink. How to make the gift serve the community at the highest and best level while also honoring the intent of the donor is going to be a challenge. The Community Center Commission that’s currently working on the plan is the town’s second go around. They are not at the decision making process yet.
Llodra says the sewer installation in Hawleyville is another area she would like to see through to completion. She says that will help to continue to grow the Grand List in a way that makes sense for the community, consistent with Newtown’s core values and culture. She wants to support development that helps mitigate taxes by generating revenue, but in a way that is in alignment with how Newtown residents see the community developing.
Llodra says the current senior center facility is inadequate for the growing number of seniors in Newtown. She wants to keep that conversation on the forefront. Llodra says the current police station needs to be either significantly remodeled, or an entirely new facility. Added to that is the question of declining school enrollment will face the Board of Education. Their decision may influence the kind of municipal facilities plan. She wants to keep that conversation on the forefront, but in a respectful and positive way.
Llodra says there are a lot of issues that weigh largely on her right now. She wants to make the town a little more stable before there is a leadership transition to someone else. She wants to give a new administration a chance to have a leg up without being handed a long list of challenges.
The Fairfield Hills property has been a challenge for years. There has been incremental progress recently, but Llodra says it’s such a resource drain. 10 large buildings need to be demolished or repurposed. Additional money is in the Capital Improvement Plan for future work. Llodra says a large building will be taken down this winter or spring to start to clear more of the landscape to make it more desirable for investing in new development. This year, a duplex is being repurposed as a home for the Newtown Parent Connection. The longtime 501c3 works with families who are struggling with substance issues. She says they’re hoping to do more of that type of work in the duplex are. There are five duplexes. The Fairfield Hills property will be a many decades long challenge. She called it worthwhile with a vast potential. Llodra says the property will be the jewel of Newtown, but it will take many millions of dollars to achieve that good end.
The recession has been very deep in Connecticut and the state is struggling to come out of the economic decline. Llodra says there is more money in the pipeline for development, with banks and developers having more confidence in the future. She says there are many projects coming before the Planning and Zoning Commission.
One challenge will be how to use the land in Newtown. With a demographical and cultural shift, there’s less interest in large homes on multiple acres. Llodra says the millennial generation sees value in smaller housing structures, a more urban-centric cluster housing. Llodra says there is also a need for more affordable housing as long as it meets the cultural standards of Newtown. She says a diverse stock of housing is needed for young people just starting out, and also those who want to downsize. She says there is a moral, ethical and social understanding that having a diverse population is a benefit to a community so people all along the economic and age scale need to be welcomed to Newtown.