More elected officials than town residents attended a public informational meeting about the Shuffle on Thursday evening, just five days before the proposal is up for a townwide referendum vote.
About 10 people, including several town officials, were at the meeting in , at which the public was invited to ask questions about the plan. District 5 members of the Representative Town Meeting organized the public meeting, which was covered live on TV79, the town cable channel.
One very desirable part of the Shuffle proposal, Finance Board Chairman Liz Mao said, was being able to get rid of the building that now houses the Senior Center on Edgerton Street.
"As far as I'm concerned, tear down the building," Mao said. That would get rid of the maintenance and repair costs.
The Shuffle plan would move the from Town Hall to the site of the former Darien Library at 35 Leroy Ave. The would then vacate its current Edgerton Street address and move into the space freed up in Town Hall. The Edgerton Street building might then be torn down and some other use made for its land—probably affordable housing for seniors if a number of town officials have their way.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson pointed out that if the Shuffle plan is rejected in the referendum, there will be a cost to the town, including continued maintenance and upkeep of the Edgerton Street building—and those costs won't be able to be paid for through bonding, but through the operating budget, which would have an immediate impact on taxpayers, she said.
Extensive repairs are needed to keep maintaining the former school building on Edgerton Street, she said. The roof and boiler both need repairs, and work would need to be done on the foundation.
It was pointed out that the Edgerton Street building uses heating oil, which is more expensive than natural gas, used now at Town Hall and, Guimond said, possibly 35 Leroy Ave. in the future. Guimond said a request has been made to Yankee Gas to install natural gas service to 35 Leroy.
Size of the Senior Center
Martha A. Banks, vice chairman of the Board of Finance, said she thought the size of the proposed Senior Center in the Town Hall annex was larger than the space that even bigger towns were using for their senior centers.
New Canaan's senior center uses 11,000-12,000 square feet, she said. Ridgefield, a larger town, uses 15,000 square feet. Wellesley, MA, also larger than Darien, has a study that recommends a 12,000-square-foot senior center, she said.
With 24,000 square feet proposed for the Mather Community Center, she said, "I think we've come up with an oversized center."
Guimond responded by saying the proposed space to be used by Senior Center programs in the Town Hall Annex is 16,000 square feet. Other Mather Community Center space would be used by the Darien Arts Center (about 2,000 square feet), youth services (1,000 square feet), and corridors and the mechanical room would take up the rest of the space, he said.
Joseph Pankowski Jr., chairman of the Commission on Aging is one of several people in a group who want to organize a transformation of the Edgerton St. tract where the Senior Center now stands and make it 20 units of affordable housing for seniors.
Pankowski's proposal is not officially part of the Shuffle plan, but it appears to have the support of a good number of town officials. He said that he never expected to get so much support from Republicans for affordable housing in Darien.
Editor's note: This article originally was posted at 6 a.m. Friday. The timestamp has been changed for layout purposes on the Darien Patch homepage.