COLCHESTER — Another $1.5 million for the senior center building project was overwhelmingly approved by voters in a referendum on Tuesday, resolving the town’s yearlong attempt to cover the looming shortfall.
The additional funds include approximately $32,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds, a $575,000 donation from the estate of Stephen Bendas and $892,300 in additional bonding, increasing the total project budget from $9.5 million to $11 million.
The project has been short on funds since October 2022, when it was revealed costs would rise. After making some reductions, the town voted to make up the shortfall using the $575,000 donation and additional funds from Colchester’s Unassigned Fund Balance.
Several town officials, however, argued that residents should decide whether to spend the additional money on the senior center. Selectman Jason LaChapelle sued the town to prevent it from entering into a contract with BRD Builders. But after a judge ruled in favor of the town in late December 2022, the Board of Selectmen approved an $8.625 million contract with the firm in February.
At the time, then-First Selectman Andreas Bisbikos said he supported going to referendum to assign the money from the Bendas estate to the project.
As of mid-November, $9.42 million of the $9.5 million project budget was already encumbered, without accounting for furnishings and fixtures or contingency costs.
Current First Selectman Bernie Dennler said he was glad the additional funding was allocated, since the building’s construction is underway.
“The fact is that it was not a referendum where we were deciding whether or not to build a building. The building’s already being built. The foundation is in, the steel has gone up in areas … the project was underway. And the fact is that the town did not have the funding to complete the project that it set out to build,” he said.
He said he wasn’t surprised the measure passed by such a large margin.
“This project had overwhelming support from the beginning. Look at the referendum results from two years ago. There was broad support for this project, and there was broad support to finish it,” Dennler said. “I think that people were well-educated on this. They understood what the consequences of voting no would be.”
According to Dennler, the referendum’s impact on taxpayers will remain flat, thanks to a $2.5 million state grant and the money from the Bendas estate. Dennler said the town expects to have to bond about $8 million for the project.
The project, which was slightly delayed this summer by rains and a lack of a drainage system, is scheduled for completion in 2024.
Building Committee Chair Tony Tarnowski said at a Wednesday meeting that he wanted to organize a workshop run by CSG, the town’s project manager, to create a revised budget for the senior center using the extra $1.5 million. Before the referendum approval, he explained that the committee had been taking funds from different line items to pay for necessary costs.
Tarnowski said he hopes to present the new budget to the full committee at its December meeting.