SOMERS — Despite some initial concerns about the cost and detailed nature of studies for a proposed new community center and updated HVAC systems for the three public schools, the Board of Finance this week approved spending $718,235 on architectural and engineering studies for the projects.
The board voted unanimously in two separate motions to allocate $138,235 for architectural firm GWWO of West Hartford to study the community center and $580,000 for Consulting Engineering Services of Middletown to study HVAC systems at the elementary, middle, and high schools.
Chairman Michael Parker said the board didn’t have to identify the source of money at its Tuesday meeting when the vote took place, but that the funds will either come from the general fund or American Rescue Plan Act funds.
The Board of Selectmen voted 2-1 last week to allocate the funds, and hope to have separate questions on the November ballot to determine if residents are in favor of the projects.
Finance Board members asked on Tuesday if it was necessary to have such extensive studies at this time, particularly for the community center that would replace and update the 30-year-old senior center with a brand-new facility of wider use to the town and various age groups. They also asked if the money would be wasted should voters decide against the projects.
Public Works Director Todd Roland attended the meeting to answer questions. Should voters decide against approving the projects at referendum, he said, the architectural and engineering studies would still be useful for the future.
Part of the study for the community center is outreach to residents and current users of the senior center, Rolland said, and they will be able to see at public meetings what the proposed facility would look like.
Chief Financial Officer Michael Marinaccio said staff thinks it’s more efficient to have specific information for the community “rather than to just hypothesize.”
Rolland also said he thinks the study costs seem fair for the work involved.
Parker said HVAC systems for the schools are what concern him the most of the two proposed projects because air quality is a “mission critical” issue. “I’d hate to put out kids at risk because we couldn’t move fast enough,” he said.
Marinaccio agreed HVAC is a crucial issue right now and said the town will soon be under a state mandate for air quality in the schools. “There will be financing or grant reimbursement as the law is written,” he said. “Let’s push forward with this.”
The two sites the town is considering for the community center are 600 Main St., behind Town Hall, and 19 Battle St., behind the existing senior center.
Some of the spaces staff members have suggested be part of the new facility include a gym, community gathering spaces and classrooms, fitness room, indoor walking track, offices, catering kitchen, and an outdoor gathering space.
GWWO submitted a proposal for its services that outlines steps the firm will be taking in the study, which are space assessment and program development, site evaluation, site investigation, and total project cost estimate and schedule.
After work on those steps is completed, GWWO plans to issue a conceptual design report.
The senior center would remain open during construction of the new building.