Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst has written the latest chapter in the long saga of possibly building a community center, via an ambitious plan that he said could be the main factor in a windfall of $8.5 to 9.5 million and annual tax revenues of some $600,000.
The Republican official has focused his efforts on 85 and 93 Church Hill Rd., which the town acquired last year, as the site for a community center that he said would end up measuring between 25,000 and 40,000 square feet. The building would be the new home of the Trumbull Senior Citizens Center, now located at 23 Priscilla Place, as well as various other social services, meeting spaces and even a swimming pool, which Herbst said “is sorely needed” as the existing town pool at Hillcrest Middle School “is not meeting our needs.”
The town’s Community Center Building Committee vetted some 23 sites before selecting the Church Hill Road properties, which are centrally located — within a mile of Town Hall at 5866 Main St. and the library at 33 Quality St., and near the Pequonnock River Trail, which Herbst said receives 6,000 active visitors weekly during peak season.
“Our current senior center is in a building that’s one hundred years old,” Herbst said. “It’s located in the southeast corner of Trumbull, one mile from Shelton and one mile from Stratford. That doesn’t make any sense.”
Herbst has been campaigning for the construction of a community center for several years, and last year touted figures predicting that Trumbull’s senior citizen population was growing at rates outpacing the rest of Fairfield County. “By 2019, 27 percent, roughly 9,000 residents will be over the age of 65,” he wrote in an open letter to the community last April. “In that same year, 37 percent or 13,300 residents will be over the age of 55.”
“Trumbull has been talking about a community center for the last 18 years,” the first selectman told the Business Journal. “It was one of our former First Selectman Ken Halaby’s visions to have a community center that would also benefit our senior citizens.”
When Halaby’s successor, Democrat Raymond Baldwin Jr., took office in 2001, “he shelved that. Eight years later, when I replaced his successor (Herbst defeated Baldwin in 2009), I started to bring it back.”
Halaby was also one of Herbst’s political mentors, encouraging the then-19-year-old to run for his seat on the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission. Herbst has formed an exploratory committee to run for governor in the next election.
Approval of Herbst’s proposal depends upon a yet-to-be-completed traffic study, followed by a vote by both Planning and Zoning and the Town Council. If bonding for the project is more than $15 million it will be put to a referendum; if it’s less, the Board of Finance and Town Council will determine funding.
As for that promised multi-million-dollar windfall, Herbst believes it can be realized by selling six buildings, including the senior center, the VFW Hall at 1 Veteran’s Place and the Trumbull Nature and Arts Center on Route 25. Herbst said the VFW Hall is in need of “extensive repair,” and the organization has expressed interest in relocating. He also said the town has been discussing relocation of the nature and arts center.
The first selectman said an RFQ has been sent out to qualified bankers to take a look at all of the properties. “I’m not saying all of them will be sold,” he cautioned, “but if they are, we’re looking at $8.5 to 9.5 million in additional revenue. And if they’re sold, the town will be in a better position to develop than it would be if it was one private party selling to another.”
If all goes according to plan, Herbst said, “We will have a 21st-century building at little to no cost to taxpayers.”
And, he added, if the project proceeds smoothly, he expects to break ground this summer and have the community center completed within about 18 months.