GROTON — The Town Council has approved another $1.47 million for renovations to Sutton Park, bringing the total budget allocated, primarily toward updating the skate park, to about $2.5 million.
On Tuesday, councilors were in agreement about improving the park, but there were differing opinions regarding the extent of the work and the timing of the renovations.
Councilor David McBride, who abstained from the 8-0 vote of approval, said he worried the town was depleting its capital projects fund halfway through the fiscal year.
“I think we could be impacting the next Town Council by not allowing them to have appropriate [capital improvement] funds for the seven months remaining in the year,” McBride said.
In its budget for fiscal year 2022, the council included $1.05 million for Sutton Park renovations — $850,000 from American Rescue Plan funds and another $200,000 from the state’s local capital improvement program.
The funds were originally meant to upgrade the skate park, install new lights and replace the playground. However, following public feedback, additional desired changes and increased labor and materials costs were incorporated into the plan, hiking the price tag to about $4.15 million. Town Manager John Burt said the park improvements are meant to be a long-term plan and will not be completed all at once.
At a Committee of the Whole meeting earlier this month, the council moved forward with a $665,466 bid for basic site improvements like paving and plantings, along with the nearly $1.75 million worth of renovations to the skate park — $176,000 for lighting and $1.57 million for the skating area.
Burt said the town would also look for alternative bids for the playground, which was estimated to cost $740,552.
On Tuesday, the council approved another $1.47 million for the project — $135,000 from the LoCIP program and $1.33 million from the town’s Capital Projects Fund, for a total project cost of $2.42 million between the basic renovations and skate park work.
Burt said there would be enough left in the fund to potentially build $200,000 locker rooms for the police department, adding that he felt comfortable with the town spending a large amount of its capital fund. But McBride said he was still concerned the town could need that money throughout the rest of the year.
McBride proposed postponing the decision until the new council was seated, or lowering the amount taken from the capital improvements fund by removing two sections of work on the skate park totaling $542,400. Both of McBride’s proposals were rejected.
Counselors Juliette Parker and Bruce Jones both argued it would be cheaper in the long run to upgrade the entire skate park at once because of the rising costs of materials and labor. Jones also said he was opposed to postponing the vote because he wanted the park to be an accomplishment of the current council.
“I think it’s just important for us to close this chapter out and make a statement that we can do good things for the community,” Jones said. “And we have the funds to do it, and I think the will and desire and support of the community behind it.”
The appropriation still needs approval from Groton’s Representative Town Meeting.
Affordable Housing Fund
On Tuesday, the Town Council also approved the creation of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to help build new housing or make existing housing more affordable with down payment assistance, among other programs.
The fund was recommended by the town’s 2022 affordable housing plan as a way to hold money from town appropriations, grants or donations. The council approved putting $41,000 in the fund, which Groton received from selling the Colonel Ledyard School to Bellsite Development, which plans to remodel the building into 65 apartments.
Burt said the fund doesn’t need approval from the RTM, but any program the council creates using that money would require approval from both bodies.