Since 1997, when the doors closed on the old high school the main part of the building was left for dead. Once vibrant hallways filled with students were empty and desolate. Many of our residents' memories were left behind and now 14 years later the people of East Haven will have the chance to voice their opinion on what we should do with the old school.
When I served on the Town Council, I noticed that many functions in our town are segmented and, at times, very inconvenient to our residents, town employees and people who do business with our town. For example, there is only one large meeting room in town and that is the Senior Center. There East Haven holds many of our public meetings. While it is a lovely space it lacks the decorum of a “governmental body” that one would expect.
Additionally, I can’t tell you how many times meetings were jockeyed around due to conflicts in the schedules, and the Town Council had to meet in the small conference room or even the kitchen at the Senior Center. I used to say to myself we really need a new look and a new venue. I brought up the issue of the old high school but was told there were other plans for that space.
From 1997 to 2009, the East Haven Academy was housed there. Still in good working order are the town pool, the gymnasium and the large auditorium. These are all big pluses to make the case to consolidate many of the properties the town owns and move them to 200 Tyler St. for the benefit of all.
Currently, the town administration is spread all over town. At the Public Service Department is the director of engineering and numerous staff and supervisors. At the same complex is Park & Recreation laborers. In the front of the complex is our police department.
Over at the ice rink on Hudson Street is the director of recreation and his staff. At the Senior Center is the senior coordinator. The Fire Department houses the chief, assistant chief, fire marshal and training officer. Behind Town Hall is our Community Counseling Center. And located in the garage behind Town Hall is the Registrar of Voters.
Coupled with the fact that a number of Town Hall offices are already cramped for space, it is a challenge to run this town efficiently, especially when many of the mayor’s direct reporters are spread throughout the town. If all of the departments were consolidated it would be a win-win for the administration, the taxpayers and the employees.
Having all municipal government employees in one location serves the taxpayer well. Have you ever had to fill out a building permit in this town? I’ve done it twice and if I didn’t have a car I’d be waiting a long time for the completion of my project.
First, one must fill out the application at Town Hall, then the application is sent up to North High Street to the director of engineering, and then back again to Town Hall. This is if you want to expedite the process. The amount of driving between the two locations is insane.
What about the cramped space inside of Town Hall?
Have you ever gone to pay your tax bill and had to wait on a long line with no place to sit?
Have you ever needed a meeting with the assessor and realized that his space is no bigger than a closet?
Attend a Board of Finance meeting in the Giaimo Conference Room on the bottom level of Town Hall and you're find you have to stand in the hallway because there's not enough space to accommodate a large public crowd?
The fact of the matter is our town has grown but the facilities are the same size. It’s time that we realize that we need to sell some of these properties and right size the town.
With a new municipal center at 200 Tyler St., we could have a Town Council chambers, Board of Finance chambers and Board of Education chambers. We could sell the Senior Center property and build a new center that would have access to a gymnasium and pool. We could relocate the Police Station back to the center of town either at 200 Tyler St. or the current Town Hall and give Public Service a larger facility and move its entire administration to the old high school.
We could utilize the Reggie Hatch Center as a police substation along with the Beach House for better police coverage. We could give the Fire Department administration the office space it needs and give our dispatch center a larger area to work from. We could sell the Community Counseling Center house and move it to Tyler Street.
Lastly, we could expand the size of every department's working space at the old school building making the working environment better for our employees and certainly improving services to taxpayers.
This concept is not new. Many municipalities will convert a school or large municipal building to its government centers. Click on these towns to learn how they've made this conversion: West Hartford, Cromwell, Torrington.
Let’s hope between the administration, the the mayor is establishing and the residents -- who will for a reuse plan -- we can refurbish our old high school into something everyone in East Haven can be proud of.