For well over an hour residents rose one by one at to voice their opinion on the best future use of the
But in the end, no clear consensus rose among the standing-room-only crowd as to the best path for East Haven to take with the town-owned property at 200 Tyler Street.
'You Can't Do It Again'
As the hearing began the first group of speakers signed up to address the East Haven Town Council advocated the position that the best use for the property is to return the aging facility back to its original purpose: a school.
Several of those who spoke were volunteer members of the education committee that was part of the mayoral task force charged with developing proposals ideas for the future use of the site.
The group was led by Dave Hausler, who presented the to the town council at last night's hearing.
Hausler, as well as the others who advocated for educational use, argued the town spends more money maintaining its school buildings than any other district of the same size.
And so, by renovating 200 Tyler Street and returning it to an active school building, the district could then consolidate and close up to four other school buildings — reducing its operating budget costs by $2 million a year.
Additionally, the educational use advocates noted their proposal is the only one of the three options on — educational use, community use and selling the property to a private developer for condominiums — that would allow the town to retain ownership of the building and land while also receiving state reimbursement for up to 70 percent of renovation costs.
"We are very generous with money toward education, very generous but we're not spending money in the right place, Norm DeMartino, the former East Haven High School principal at 200 Tyler Street, said. "We spend so much money in other areas. And one of the biggest areas is the maintenance of the schools."
"Take a look at this, it's the future," DeMartino said of the educational use committee's plan. "if you let that building go, you can't do it again."
'Good Things Can Be Done'
Several speakers, however, said they felt residents of the town would best be served by enhancing and expanding the facility's current function: community use.
Right now, a small handful of local organizations utilize the building — which houses the town's indoor swimming pool — for a variety of purposes.
This includes the several hundred young athletes a year who take part in Sal Tinari Biddy Basketball League, the East Haven Historical Society and now — after being forced out of its previous location in the TJ Maxx Shopping Plaza — the East Haven Teen Center.
Ric Raffone, who heads the youth basketball program, said the league has spent tens of thousands of dollars of its own money revamping portions of the school and the gym itself.
And, he said, the entire building could be renovated for community use, by simply allowing other local organizations to do the same in exchange for a permanent home in the town-owned building.
Raffone added that this could include additional organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the East Haven Food Pantry, East Haven Arts Council, as well as summer camps, tutoring services and other local groups and programs.
"I know with a little effort and vision from town organizations, and what the people voted for, good things can be done," Raffone said.
'Time to Close the Bond Books'
Residents were not allowed to specifically address the third option of selling the property for the private development of condominiums or senior housing at the site, because it was not on the public hearing's agenda.
Several residents, however, did address their concern the town cannot afford to spend the money that would be required to renovate the building for either education or community use.
"Now is not the time to increase our debt," Carl Ruggerio said, adding that "renovating 200 Tyler Street means a tax increase" because the town would be required to bond to pay for the project.
Other residents also agreed.
"Stop the spending and stop the borrowing… put the credit card away," Peter Cianelli said.
Temple Smith, also urged town council members not to pursue a project with the old high school that would require bonding.
Smith said her monthly mortgage payment recently rose by more than $200 a month because the town's mill rate increased for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
"I can't afford to live in my own town any more," she said, as many other residents enthusiastically cheered and applauded during her remarks.
"Right now is the time to close the bond books," Smith told the council, adding East Haven needs to focus on increasing economic development — and not on renovating the 200 Tyler Street facility — because many residents can not afford another tax increase.
"I love this town," she said. "And I don't want to leave."
This article was updated with additional reporting at 9:15 a.m.