No solid commitment from a major tenant for Chalk Hill has spurred First Selectman Steve Vavrek's recommendation to "mothball" the building until a solid plan for Chalk Hill's future is in place.
"Nobody wants to close the building for a year," Vavrek said told the Board of Finance at its Wednesday night meeting. "We're only trying to do what's best for the taxpayers."
Public Works Dir. Douglas Arndt explained that a true mothballing of a building is when the water pipes are drained, the oil is shut down and the electricity is turned off. By contrast, he said hibernating is when the building is kept heated to the minimum temperature needed so the pipes don't freeze.
"You can put a switch on and bring it to life if you have something," Arndt said of hibernating. Hibernating also gives the town the flexibility to open the building for certain events if it chooses too, he added.
Town officials will only support keeping Chalk Hill open if uses in the building make it revenue neutral. The 2012-13 budget includes $150,000 to mothball the building. Board of Finance members agreed that hibernating the building is the better option, but that would cost an estimated $265,000, leaving a $115,000 hole.
However, Arndt said the most recent financial numbers for Chalk Hill date back to March. He the financial information will soon be updated.
'Apples and Bananas'
A grassroots group of mothers, who want to keep Chalk Hill open as a community center, garnered thousands of dollars worth of commitments from local businesses to host programs in the building and started a teen night there, but a high paying tenant is still missing from the equation.
Vavrek thanked three members of the group, who attended the meeting for all of their hard work.
Parks & Recreation could collect 25 percent of all program fees for the town, but Town Finance Dir. Carl Tomchik called that revenue an unknown because participation can vary.
Vavrek said he has been asking for the amount of square footage some regular programs would use so rent could be calculated and charged. "Unless we have what Carl said, 'a permanent base,' I can't say 25 percent, because we don't know what that's gonna be," Vavrek said.
During Monday night's Town Council meeting Kelly Plunkett, a member of the group of volunteers trying to keep Chalk Hill open, questioned town estimates on the costs for utilities needed to keep the building open, because the projected costs were much higher than when it was last operated as a school.
Arndt explained that calculations he worked on with the Finance Department in March were based upon Chalk Hill being used at full capacity.
Tomchik added that a volatile market for utilities such as oil presents variables that are beyond the town's control.
"The uncertainty in the market place we deal with ... it's crazy. It's lunacy," Tomchik said. "The apples to apples becomes apples to bananas. You can't figure it out anymore, so many things are happening."
A $180k 'Delta'
Vavrek asked Michael Manjos, who chaired the Board of Finance meeting in Mark Reed's absence, how much revenue must be made to break even for Chalk Hill. With the numbers he currently has, Manjos said the "delta" is $180,000.
Vavrek has spoken to several potential suitors, including the YMCA and Bridgeport and Danbury hospitals while trying to find a tenant.
"I'm told that hopefully something may be in front of the Planning & Zoning Commission soon," Vavrek said of one possible tenant Wednesday. "But unless it comes in, it's a pipe dream."
Any private business that expresses interest in Chalk Hill would need a special exception permit from the P&Z, because the building is currently zoned for a municipal use in a residential neighborhood.
The first selectman said townspeople should not feel that Chalk Hill will never reopen if it closes. Vavrek has toured buildings in other towns that were temporarily closed and later reopened with new uses. One of them is the old Lafayette School in Shelton, which now houses the United Way on the second floor.
Vavrek will present a status update for Chalk Hill to the Capital Infrastructure Facility Asset Planning Subcommittee (CIFAP) on June 12.
Town Council Chairwoman Enid Lipeles will request a joint meeting with the council, the Board of Finance and the Planning & Zoning Commission to discuss Chalk Hill's future. The P&Z will also host a public hearing to gather input on Chalk Hill.
As things currently stand, Chalk Hill will hibernate after Labor Day. It currently houses Parks & Recreation Department offices and programs, the Monroe Early Learning Center (a private daycare) and Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service training classes.