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Park & Rec Laments Lack of Master Plan

KENT—The need for a master plan for recreation grounds was stressed during a special Park & Recreation Commission meeting last week. The commission was discussing its Five-Year Capital Plan, trying to fill in projected costs for years 2030-2035, but the lack of a plan to work within and an inability to forecast costs hampered the effort.

Twenty-five thousand dollars for planning is included for 2027, but Abigail Smith Hanby pressed to have money made available sooner. “We have $100,000 in ARPA funds for a splash pad, $250,000 to invest in Emery Park [$100,000 for a playground and $150,000 for a pool floor repair]—there is a lot of money to spend that we can’t use because we intentionally pushed the master plan out to 2027,” she said. “Can we move any of this, can it be reallocated?”

She and new member Naomi Joseph urgently advocated for taking money from some other line item to initiate planning. Joseph, obviously frustrated by the lack of structure a plan would give, said, “If want to have families move into town, these are things we need to do [improving recreational facilities]. But without a master plan it is like building a house when you don’t know where the property is and where you will get the money. Money-wise, we should bring someone in, get a plan and get it moving.”

She asserted that real estate is so hot in town that it is impossible to buy a house and said that to maintain that momentum, the town must offer the amenities shoppers are looking for. “Money is flying out the window,” she insisted. “We have had people want to come to town, but they are leaving, going elsewhere.” 

Hanby said a request for proposals was put out in 2019 but that no money was available to implement it. “Now we have $100,000 from ARPA for a splash pad, $150,000 to repair the pool—$350 000 waiting to be spent until we have a plan. How can we get access to actually do a plan in 2024?”

Park & Rec Director Jared Kuczenski said a strong case could be made to the Selectmen and the Board of Finance to move money around. “Just because an idea was good six years ago, doesn’t mean it is good six years later,” he said. “It’s my understanding there is some flexibility with the Board of Finance, but it seems taboo to ask for it. If the majority feeling that a master plan needs to be done, take money from somewhere else. I don’t think they will be opposed.”

The allocations in the capital plan can be altered with the approval of the Board of Selectmen but cannot be changed in scope without a vote of townspeople in a town meeting.

There are plenty of issues to be resolved and ambiguity around almost all of them. Development at Kent Commons is clouded by a request from Kent Affordable Housing for a tract of town land. Kuczenski referred to the 2028 allocation for parking on the site, saying, “But with the affordable housing request and the fact that it is next to a wetland, I don’t know what it would go for.” 

At the same time, the existing tennis courts at Kent Commons need immediate attention. There is $20,000 in the capital plan for 2025 to rehabilitate them, but Kuczenski said that contractors who look at the courts all agree there is something wrong with the surface. “As water continues to get under there, more and more will chip off and they will need to be resurfaced,” he said. “That could be $30,000 to 50,000. Right now, we could get them repainted, but that will probably more than $20,000.”

He predicted the courts could last as they are until 2025, but that the budgeted money won’t be enough then. He said the board should build in another $8,000 to $10,000 in its operating budget to cover the difference.

Looking at the next five-year segment of the plan, Chairman Michael Perkins plugged in $40,000 in 3031 to resurface the courts and possibly replace hardware and benches.

Paving and drainage for Emery Park was another huge question mark. There is currently $25,000 earmarked for it in 2027 and 2029 but Kuczenski noted there are underground springs on the site. “It’s like throwing darts in the dark,” he said to try to determine a budget.

Hanby said an assessment of the existing pool at Emery Park must be done. “If we demolish Emery Park pool, that will cost some money. I don’t know if we will get a pool, but we will have to do something with that site—pool remediation, turning it into a pond, filling it in …” She would like to allocate money for 2030 in the capital plan but had no estimate of cost.

Referring to the town’s playing fields, Kuczenski said a backstop would have to be replaced that could easily cost $50,000. He also recommended funding to ensure the fields remain in great shape.

Looking at the proposed budget, First Selectman Jean Speck suggested spacing out some of the requests. “It may make sense to spread this out a little bit,” she said. “Take the splash pad and spread it out over two years, for instance. Once you start seeing a lot of projects in one year, the Board of Selectmen may look at moving things around.”

“We’ve got to fight for the things we want,” Kuczenski urged. “I don’t think we should move things. We need these things as soon as possible. I don’t think we should be the ones to say, ‘Oh, we will wait. It’s been a mess far too long.”

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