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Letters to the Editor

Published 3:31 pm, Thursday, December 8, 2011
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Commission on Aging urges shuffle support

As Commission on Aging members, we believe the plan for a new community/senior activities center at town hall works for Darien. It is significant that every elected town body, each with their own particular jurisdiction, has now voted in support of that plan.

The shuffle, moving Board of Education offices to 35 Leroy to free up space at the town hall annex for a new Mather Community/Senior Center, answers safety concerns about the Edgerton building; saves operating costs through efficient use of town buildings; capitalizes on favorable financing available now; fits within town plan parameters; opens up the possibility of privately funded affordable senior housing; and offers Darien seniors an appropriate place to gather.

Take a few minutes from the busy holiday season and speak out on this important issue. Say Darien cares -- vote "yes" in the upcoming referendum.

Jennifer Geddes

Geri Genovese

Ron Heinbaugh

Mary McCarthy

Pat Morgan

Joe Pankowski

Ray Slavin

Amy Squyres

Robin Woods

I am voting no

to the shuffle

I understand that a key feature of the shuffle plan is to demolish the current senior center and construct a number of affordable housing units for seniors on the property.

To my knowledge, vitally important details such as cost, timetable, feasibility, responsibility, etc., have not been developed or, if developed, have not been made public. Until a comprehensive plan for the utilization of the Edgerton property has been completed, made public and endorsed by the appropriate authorities, it seems foolish to proceed with any of the other components of the shuffle.

Linda Goodyear

Darien

Mather Community Center

I am writing to encourage you to vote yes for the planned facility renovations.

I currently manage over 200,000 square feet of commercial space here in Darien. I served on the high school building committee; I'm currently on the police station building committee. I am also chairman of the First County Bank Building Committee. Experience has given me knowledge of commercial buildings.

The bottom line is simple: We will be better utilizing two good town-owned buildings and demolishing the current senior center that is beyond salvageable. By optimizing the use of buildings, we reap the savings of operating two buildings instead of three. An added bonus is the group that has come together to build 20 senior affordable housing units on the Edgerton site at no additional cost to taxpayers.

Please join me in voting "yes" for a solid solution to improve Darien facilities.

Jerry Nielsen

Darien

Editor's note: Jerry Nielsen serves on the Board of Selectmen.

Senior center hasn't changed in 50 years

Fifty-some years ago, I climbed the child-sized steps at 30 Edgerton St. every day. This was Hollow Tree School, where during the Cold War years, we hid under our desks during air raid drills, imagining a bomb might come through the ceiling.

Last summer, I again scaled those steps for a volunteer job at the Darien Senior Center. I was shocked -- aside from the obvious decay, nothing had changed. Even the toilets were just as I remembered -- lilliputian.

The director of the center, Beth Paris, is creative and tireless, but even she cannot change the effects of time on this building. The roof might indeed fall in, but this time it will be from our own neglect.

This issue has been argued for 20 years now. Our seniors deserve the same safe and pleasant surroundings that our children enjoy -- and in this century.

Please vote "yes" on Dec. 13.

Christine Lacerenza

Darien

Shuffle cost

won't change

I have lived in Darien since 1966 and have been involved with the United Way (now the community council) over several years. They held several community leadership conferences to determine Darien's needs. A community center and affordable housing were usually in the top ten. The shuffle can fulfill both of those needs.

As a member of the RTM, I want to impress upon the public that the amount approved by this elected body was $6.9 million which is all that the town can spend on the shuffle. There have been scare tactics by several people who do not seem to realize that the two-thirds affirmative vote dictates the price of the project.

Please vote "yes" on the shuffle.

Carolyn P. Schoonmaker

Darien

Shuffle plan is too big for Darien

Unfortunately, what began as a great creative idea to develop -- the shuffle of town hall annex, 35 Leroy and Edgerton senior center spaces -- wasn't explored beyond the original concept, leaving us with an over-sized, over-priced solution to the problems that were originally identified.

We need a new senior center (now). After touring the buildings in question, reading the architects' presentations and attending the RTM discussions, it seems that a compromise solution could quickly and easily be pursued.

If space can be allocated more efficiently for all government and Board of Education offices at town hall (sharing conference room, lunch and IT areas, reducing the number/size of private offices, using digital filing to reduce storage, and moving BOE maintenance to the Public Works garage), then likely a more appropriately-sized senior center can fit in Town Hall Annex along with the Board of Ed (leaving Leroy and Edgerton available for other uses).

Holly Schulz, RA / LEED AP

Darien

Shuffle offers a `unique opportunity'

I am writing as a lifelong resident of Darien, who also worked at the Hollow Tree School (now the site of the current senior center), at a time when the child-sized toilets were actually used by kindergartners and not endured by our seniors.

With the proposed Mather Community Center, we have a unique opportunity to finally create an appropriate gathering place for our seniors, while simultaneously making better use of facilities already owned by the town. It's no wonder every board and commission that voted, as well as the RTM, thought this was a good idea -- including the financial watchdogs.

A "no" vote takes us back to the drawing board. Then what -- another study that will potentially join the other 30 studies on the shelf, because it didn't have the support of the necessary town bodies?

Vote "yes." Let's just get the job done.

Cyndee Lawrence Rogers

Darien

Stefanoni: I'm being used as a scare tactic

I heard that a reason for the shuffle is fear that I will get my hands on the old library site. This scare tactic is baseless. I do not want that site, and never have, and will bind it in writing if anyone wants. I have my eye on other things.

The town is unlikely to extract good value out of 35 Leroy. It dropped the ball with the Procaccini site, and I believe someday will even regret the outcome of the land at the Ox Ridge Hunt Club.

It is never smart to be dumb about money, and ideas orchestrated by trust fund babies are a sure way for the town to lose value. The shuffle wastes a lot of money that could be better used for seniors, school kids, and a multitude of other sensible ideas.

Politicians will strangle this town, not me.

Christopher Stefanoni

Darien

Shuffle has nothing to do with ed budget

I wholeheartedly support the shuffle and so did every town board or commission that studied this project. The opponents want to spend $350/square feet on a "new" building. The shuffle will spend $150/square foot to refurbish existing space? Who's saving money?

The shuffle opponents say that our schools' operating budgets would be diminished by the shuffle. Not true say our schools superintendent and the chairman of the Board of Finance. Who do you believe? The shuffle opponents also say voting "no" would not deprive our seniors of a new center. Really? How long do you think it would take to get a new plan developed and agreed upon? Twelve years and more than 30 studies/surveys have been squandered before getting this close to a senior center worthy of Darien.

This is a good plan packed with operating efficiencies that opponents are unwilling to acknowledge. Let's get it done now and stop the bickering. Vote Dec. 13; there's a lot at stake here.

Ted Hawkins

RTM Member, District 6

Why I'm voting against the shuffle

I am voting "no" on Dec. 13 and urge all Darien voters to do the same. I can't see the reasoning behind relocating 30 Board of Education employees to 35 Leroy, at a cost of $2.6 million or $86,000 per person, renovating and putting an addition on town hall at a cost of $4.3 million to create a senior center to serve 30 to 60 seniors a day.

Darien needs a new home for our seniors, but other options, such as forging a partnership with the DCA to offer town-subsidized senior programs there or building a new center at Edgerton, have not been fully explored.

At a time when the economic climate is extremely challenging and our taxes continue to rise, we can't afford to move forward on a project of this cost and magnitude when other more affordable options exist and have not been explored. I have yet to hear of one good reason why this shuffle is the only option.

Susan Farrington

Darien

Stop shuffling around and do it

We weren't going to write a letter but after reading both sides of the shuffle issue we felt we must respond. Darien needs to build a senior center for seniors and to stop shuffling everybody around. It's that simple.

Anne and Alan Shaw

Darien

Shuffle serves various town needs

As a third-generation Darien resident, I'm familiar with Darien's conservative ways. Our traditional "go slow" approach, combined with a system of government that makes fast decisions almost impossible, has over the years saved us from overspending on "nice-to-have" and focused us on "need-to-have" projects without busting our budget. A new senior center is most definitely a "need-to-have" project, and the shuffle is the least expensive, quickest way to get there.

The senior center has been under review for more than a decade -- that is slow enough. The cost of the shuffle (community center, rehab of old library and relocate the Board of Education) is less than the cost of a new senior center, and frees up the Edgerton Street site for another unmet need: Affordable senior housing based on a nonprofit development model outside of the town budget.

James H. Rand

Darien

BOF member: Shuffle questions still loom

Many people have asked me why I voted against the shuffle, crossing party lines. In short, I concluded that there was not a sufficient, supportable and appropriate level of analysis to proceed on an expensive and complex project. As a career banker, I found the information available and the cited analysis to be lacking. As a representative of the taxpayer, I could not in good conscious vote in favor absent a full understanding of what the ongoing costs to run the center will be, and confidence that all other reasonable options had been explored with equal seriousness.

Darien deserves a level of due diligence which is reflective of the caliber of the community. While one email I received cited the shuffle as an "acceptable" cost to the taxpayer, in the end, I just don't believe the cost should ever be "acceptable" to the taxpayer until their questions are answered.

Lorene Bora

Darien

Editor's note: Lorene Bora serves on the Board of Finance.

Quit stalling, approve the shuffle

Thirty studies, 12 years, six administrations, one solution -- the shuffle. Every town board that actually studied this plan approves of it. Both the Commission on Aging and Social Services Commission support it. The Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance voted in favor of it and finally the RTM had a landslide vote of 58-28 to support the funding.

Many of our elected officials that voted in favor toured the senior center, town hall and 35 Leroy to see exactly how the shuffle would work. Seeing was believing for them. Please do not be misled by the misinformation out there. We have updated the schools, police station and Weed beach. Now it is time for the seniors and the rest of the Darien community. Join me and vote "yes" on Dec. 13.

Susan Marks

Darien

It's time to support our town's seniors

Lately there's been a lot of noise about the shuffle plan being a waste of money when we should be focusing on our schools. We all want what's best for our children. I'd like an elementary foreign language plan, too. But the shuffle has nothing to do with that.

To state the obvious, not everyone within a community will ever have the same needs at the same time. So what do we do? We support each other. When Tokeneke Elementary was rebuilt, Darien didn't just tax Tokeneke residents. When the high school was rebuilt, it was not funded only by residents with high school students. The whole town chipped in. Plenty of Darien folks who don't have children in school still support the system through taxes. That is how democratic governments work; you simply can't subdivide every need into little separate pieces of the funding pie.

Think your taxes will drop if the shuffle fails? Highly unlikely. Minimum repairs the current senior center at Edgerton will cost at least $3.3 million, and makes little sense, like painting over a rusted piece of metal. $3.3 million will be spent regardless. It can either be wasteful spend or efficient. So we are talking about a net $3.67 million to get a new community center.

Refurbishing town hall costs about a third per square foot vs. new build. Ask any contractor. Unused town buildings cost money for upkeep. The shuffle is many birds with a few stones -- the cheapest way for what the community needs.

What a terrible message we'd be sending our fellow Darien neighbors -- that we don't want to spend money except for our own narrow interests -- that community is lost on us. I'm not a senior, but I will be one day. After decades of seniors supporting our schools, the shuffle is the just and moral plan. Think about it.

Chris LaJaunie

Darien

Support the shuffle

for these reasons

If you're still undecided on the shuffle, please note:

Every town board which has studied the shuffle has approved the plan. For example, our RTM approved it by a vote of 58-28;

The shuffle will not affect school budgets. Our school superintendent has said, "I don't think there will be any costs associated with a building move that would impact anything in our budget. These are two different things. This is not a trade-off in my mind."

Many of the anti-shuffle supporters have argued for the sale of the old library at 35 Leroy Ave. This could result in adverse consequences to our town, per the comments of our Planning & Zoning Chairman, Fred Conze, and local developer David Genovese.

The shuffle uses existing buildings to meet our programming needs. It is economically sound and environmentally friendly.

Please vote "yes" on Dec. 13.

Joe Pankowski

Chairman,

Commission on Aging

Chairman, Vote Yes Darien

Shuffle would help

with senior housing

Voting "yes" on Dec. 13 makes sense for many reasons, but one is particularly close to my heart -- the opportunity to construct 20 units of affordable housing for seniors at the current site of the senior center. Bob Calve, Caroline Murray, Joe Pankowski, Debra Hertz and I have been working together to make this happen as a nonprofit, and are confident that we have the ability to get it done. We are ready to move forward with the planning process as soon as the town votes "yes."

We are excited to make these units available for our seniors in Darien, and with the wealth of experience in our group on senior issues, affordable housing, construction, and nonprofit and project management, we are confident that we can make it happen -- so please give us the chance to help our seniors by voting "yes" on Dec. 13.

Jenny Streeter

Darien

Lost in the shuffle:

The new library

Whether you are for or against the shuffle, one discussion topic that has fallen off the radar screen is the town's investment in the new library; other than the acute need for a habitable senior center, another catalyst that sparked the shuffle is what to do with 35 Leroy. When the new $24 million library was planned, a central part of the construction financing was to sell 35 Leroy, with the town given first dibs on the property.

The $4.2 million purchase of 35 Leroy was, in effect, a taxpayer funded subsidy for the new library. In return, the town got a perfectly serviceable office building. Selling this asset (at a likely loss), as some opponents have suggested, is ludicrous. We have one of the best libraries in country and taxpayers should be proud of their investment.

This is a well-conceived and practical use of town assets. Vote "yes."

Bruce G. Orr Sr.

Darien

Shuffle doesn't

just benefit seniors

Let's re-cap who benefits from a new Mather Center:

Our kids get space for after school Parks & Recreation department programs.

Darien Arts Center dancers get new state-of-the-art practice studio space with music;

Royal School gets food service to vacate the portable in their playground.

Girl Scouts and Brownies get a renovated gym with new bathrooms for their annual Halloween and father-daughter dances.

Children's birthday parties in the DAC fine arts room get a much-improved setting and bathrooms.

Parks & Recreation basketball, hockey and volleyball players, and moms get locker rooms with showers adjacent to the courts in the gym.

We all get a centrally located emergency shelter with a cafe and kitchen for use during storms and power outages.

Oh, and the seniors get a new center.

Here's an opportunity for everyone to benefit -- vote "yes" on Dec. 13.

Stephen P. Olvany

Darien

Shuffle project

shouldn't be so large

I visited the Westport Senior Center today. It is a lovely, warm and cozy building of 12,000 square feet that serves Westport's seniors, who number approximately double the size of Darien's senior population. Westport offers everything from exercise to cooking to computer classes -- and a daily hot lunch. By all accounts, their community is very happy with it.

I've heard shuffle supporters repeatedly say there are no other options presented for Darien's senior center. There are in fact several options, less expensive and more efficient than the shuffle, some of which are detailed on the stoptheshuffle.com website.

Unfortunately the only option ever considered and priced by the last BOS was the shuffle. Let's build Darien's seniors a warm and cozy center at a more economical size and price, which doesn't unnecessarily involve the BOE. If Westport can do it, why can't we? Vote "no" on Dec. 13.

MariLu Cleary

RTM District IV

After much debate,

yes vote is clear

I will be voting "yes" for a second time on Dec. 13 to support the approved shuffle project. After a considerable amount of due diligence, I (like an overwhelming majority of my fellow RTM colleagues and other elected officials) came to the conclusion that the shuffle is the most cost efficient method to meet Darien's Senior Center needs while also delivering benefits to the broader community through multiple building renovations.

Some opponents to the shuffle have falsely charged that the reconstruction of a new Senior Center at the Edgerton site would be a much smaller and cheaper project. However, a study completed in 2008 for former First Selectman (Evonne) Klein -- and verified more recently by (BOS member) Mr. (Dave) Campbell -- tells a much different story. This comprehensive needs-based assessment showed that a new stand-alone facility would be a similar size and price as the renovated space at the Mather Community Center, yet would provide much less payback to taxpayers since it would leave 35 Leroy vacant and the under-utilized town hall annex in its current state.

Lastly, I am a father of three young boys who are currently enrolled in the Darien public school system. Like Dr. Falcone, Darien's superintendent of schools, I am very confident that pursuing the shuffle's approved capital plan will not negatively impact our schools' operating budget. By voting "yes," you will send a message that you support the Mather Center which will benefit our entire community -- old and young -- for many years to come.

John Sini Jr.

RTM, District 1

Why choose between

children and seniors?

Writing as a former chairman of the Darien Board of Education, I want our town's citizens to know:

Neither side can claim certainty about future town budgets, but the Board of Finance and the RTM have a long track record of supporting Board of Education budgets in the face of recessions, escalating special education costs and more than $130 million in capital projects during the past 15 years. I'm confident that the $6.9 million shuffle bond issue won't change that.

If the referendum is defeated, the estimated annual shuffle bonding cost will likely be spent doing piecemeal emergency repairs to the senior center, not allocated to the schools. These funds won't be bonded, they'll come directly out of the current budget. And we will have no long-term solution for the seniors. There is a cost of "no".

Schools have been and will continue to be Darien's No. 1 priority, but they need not be our only one. We can have great schools and a great community center. Please vote "yes" for the shuffle.

John V. Boulton

Darien

Look beyond the

opposition's scare tactics

When the shuffle was originally discussed, we were told: 1. Any sale of Leroy would be at a loss. 2. Leroy was a sunk cost.

When these assumptions were questioned, the P&Z chairman gave a speech that suggested affordable housing at Leroy would be terrible. Why, it could become a huge tower.

As we all tried to understand this hysteria, a well known Darien developer emailed a voluminous letter to the electorate, rambling on about the horrifying possibility of affordable housing at Leroy.

The shuffle appears to be about fear. If it were about quickly satisfying the seniors, a senior center would be built at Edgerton. We wouldn't have to wait for Leroy's completion, then for "stuff" to be transported to Leroy, then other "stuff" offsite, then wait for town hall to be completed. One building is faster.

Fear always leads to mistakes. Vote "no" to fear.

Debbie Ice

Darien

Why I support

the shuffle project

As a member of the Board of Finance I voted in support of the shuffle for the following reasons:

We have an obligation to maintain Darien's capital assets. Until the plan for the new high school project was approved more than 10 years ago, Darien had under-invested in maintaining its capital assets. These key public assets make Darien attractive and, along with our proximity to major employment centers, make our home values, on a relative basis, nearly inelastic;

Interest rates have dropped to their lowest level since 1938. We have an opportunity to finance the project at unprecedented rates; anticipated to be in the 2 to 2.5 percent range;

The BOF has agreed to a self-imposed limit of $100 million of outstanding debt. Per a July 2011 Moody's Investors Service analysis of AAA-rated municipalities in Connecticut, Westport ($172 million) and New Canaan ($137 million) currently have higher levels of outstanding debt than we plan to have at the peak of our long-term debt plan.

The schedule for retiring this debt is short. In 10 years, our outstanding debt will be less than $20 million.

James H. McLaughlin

Darien

Learn the issues

and vote Dec. 13

On Tuesday, Dec. 13, every Darien voter will have the opportunity to approve or deny a $6.99 million town capital expenditure to fund a plan commonly referred to as the shuffle.

Briefly, the shuffle would provide for: The renovation of and a small expansion to the town hall annex for a multi-use/multi-generational community center; a relocation of the senior center at Edgerton Street to the town hall annex site; a renovation to the former library site at 35 Leroy Avenue to relocate the Board of Education offices from the town hall annex and for expanded meeting space.

There are many arguments both in support of and against this expenditure. The League of Women Voters of Darien has provided a referendum guide on our website at lwv.darien.org. Please note that voting will take place at normal District polling places from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

We believe good government and governance starts with active citizen participation. We urge you to take the time to study what is being proposed, consider and weigh the pros and cons of the shuffle, form your own opinion and vote.

Mary Genco

Vice President Voters Services

League of Women Voters of Darien

Shuffle is a joke

The shuffle is a blunder on every aspect. First, the use of the old library site as office space is crazy. Second, the senior center is being eliminated for a "community center." Third, affordable housing for seniors on Edgerton Street. Fourth, the cost -- $7 million.

Right now it is time to vote "no" to the shuffle. This is not the time to consider options. Your "no" vote will force the Republicans to drop this ill-conceived plan and work with John Lundeen and David Bayne on a real solution.

Chris Noe

Darien