The Middletown Common Council voted Monday in favor of appropriating $750,000 toward transforming Eckersley Hall into a new senior and municipal center for the city.
The former school building on Durant Street will need to undergo a series of improvements to make it ADA compliant and for it to meet safety and fire codes for a senior and municipal center, along with other improvements.
The funding would go toward providing a comprehensive architectural review of the building.
While Councilman Bauer explained that he believes the new senior center and municipal offices are long overdue and a step in the right direction, he expressed reservations with the fact that the project in its entirety will not go to voters at referendum.
According to Bauer, the $750,000 is just below the amount of money the town can borrow before going to referendum and only represents a fraction of the cost of the project, which he estimates could reach at least $2 million.
“We should have sent it to referendum,” argued Bauer. He said the Council has broke its “covenant” with residents by not going to referendum. For that reason, Bauer explained that he would not be voting for the $750,000 appropriation.
While Bauer’s fellow Councilman Robert Santangelo voted in favor of the appropriation, he too expressed misgivings about not going to referendum.
“People are coming up to me and saying, 'when are we going to vote?'” he told the Council. “No one has had a chance to vote.”
According to Santangelo, in the future, the Common Council needs to look at what the public is saying. “What they are asking for is a voice,” he told his fellow members.
Bauer said he worries that if the public begins to believe they have been ignored regarding funding for the senior center project, it might endanger votes regarding funding for other projects such as the Mattabassett District. He thinks voters might decide to reject funding to become a member out of anger regarding the fact they have not been asked at referendum to approve other funding projects.
Other members of the Council however expressed their belief that the senior center project is long overdue and needs to get underway.
“I think this approach works for everybody,” explained Councilman Daniel Drew. With the approval of the $750,000, the city will be able to take advantage of available grant monies rather than waiting, he argued.
Councilman Serra also pointed out that the project would be funded through bonding.
“I hope this first allotment gets us into the building,” argued Councilman Grady Faulkner. The next time around, he said, he hopes the Council will be able to vote on the “whole enchilada” and approve funding to finish the project.
The Common Council approved the appropriation of $750,000 to start the project 10 to 1, with Councilman Bauer casting the lone dissenting vote.