Members of the want to see Southington Community Cultural Arts raise all the money for the $1.2 million renovation of the Gura Building in just 18-months and complete construction in a single phase. Volunteers with the SCCA said for a non-profit to succeed in this venture, both fundraising and construction would have to be done in several phases.
If a compromise is to be reached to allow the Gura Building to be used as an arts center, then the two groups will need to meet somewhere in the middle. Right now, however, it appears that the two are still “far apart.”
“There is still a lot of work to be done and it seems both sides would benefit to sit down together and go over details and expectations,” Councilman Peter Romano said Monday just before the council voted to table a vote. “I did not realize that we were this far apart."
The council voted unanimously Monday to table the vote for further discussion, and so that perhaps compromise could be reached.
Monday’s council meeting proved to be a heated one with several frieworks as Republican leadership on the council presented a series of stipulations for a vote that SCCA member Peter Veronneau said would “kill the entire project.”
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A Set of Strict Stipulations
The motion, presented by Romano, included requirements that the SCCA not only raise all the money for the project at no cost to the taxpayer, but do so entirely within the 18-month window being granted by the council.
The construction would need to be completed in a single phase and the SCCA would be responsible for all maintenance costs for the building, including heat and electricity, during pre-construction of the building as well. In addition, the town would be cleared of all liability on the building as soon as the agreement is reached.
Democrats on the council – Dawn Miceli, Christopher Palmieri and John Barry – each expressed concerns that they were not apprised of these added stipulations prior to the meeting. Furthermore they, along with Veronneau, expressed that the new requirements were not only unfair, but impossible to meet.
“This project is doomed if we are asked to comply with this,” Veronneau said. “We cannot raise the full amount of money in just 18 months. We never said we could.”
“What we had agreed on, in meeting with everyone over the last several months, was for the first phase to include all remediation and exterior renovations and to carry on from there. You can’t raise that kind of money all at once. Grants aren’t all available at once. It just can’t be done,” he said.
Emotions Running High
Over the past two months, discussions regarding whether to lease the Gura Building to the SCCA have led to an emotional response from almost everyone involved regardless of where they stand.
In late July, being set forth and felt that the Republican members of the council have forced the non-profit organization to “jump through more hoops than would be required of any private entity.”
The two have also expressed concerns that the latest set of requirements and concerns, which were put in writing by Romano following a July 11 meeting, were politically motivated and not entirely focused on doing what’s best for the community.
Read the complete recommendation made by Romano in the PDF attached above.
A four-page response to Romano's written concerns was provided to members of the council at 10 a.m. Monday morning.
Council Chairman John Dobbins and Romano each said that the accusations regarding political influence couldn’t be further from the truth.
“We as a council have a fiduciary responsibility. This is not about whether we support the SCCA – no one here is opposed to the development of an arts center,” Dobbins said. “This motion, with stipulations, is a compromise that will allow the SCCA to pursue their goal and protects the taxpayers of Southington.”
The comments led to objections from the Democrats – who were not allowed to speak as Dobbins read through his statement – and things only became more heated when Councilman Al Natelli Jr. questioned the motives of the Gura Building Use Committee and Councilwoman Dawn Miceli in presenting their recommendation to the council.
Natelli said he believed the committee went beyond the scope of their responsibility in presenting the SCCA plan and recommending that the building be leased to the SCCA as opposed to simply suggesting it be leased to a non-profit.
He further questioned Miceli’s role in the committee overstepping the charge given in December 2011, saying it was impartial given she had previously worked as a board member with the SCCA.
“Policy should be made by the council. To recommend who the building be leased to was not within the scope presented to the committee,” he said. “I also question whether the committee explored other questions related to this project.”
Miceli spoke only briefly to the accusations, saying that the committee was bipartisan and noting that others including former Councilman Michael Riccio and Planning and Zoning Commission Vice-Chairman Paul Chaplinsky were in full support.
Fellow Democrats on the council, however, were not as gun shy in offering a response.
“This is out of order! This is a personal attack on one of our colleagues and it is totally unacceptable,” Barry said. “We can disagree on the Gura Building, it’s a controversial issue and we understand that, but this speech, type-written and read verbatim, is over the top. If you don’t like the plan, express that, but don’t go after our colleague who is volunteer on the council.”
Natelli’s letter also led to jeers and negative reaction from the audience, a few of which had expressed continued support during the public communication portion of the meeting earlier in the night.
Councilors and audience members alike expressed concerns that Natelli’s statements were not only a personal attack on Miceli, but were also incorrect as it related to how the committee reached it’s recommendation.
A History of the Committee Recommendation
Before the committee was formed, Miceli spoke at length with former Council Chairman Edward Pocock III and Mark Sciota to make sure there was no conflict of interest in serving as the committee’s chairwoman. She had been serving as a member of the board prior to serving on the committee.
The two told her that not only was there no conflict of interest, but that she was the right person for the job because she was passionate about developing an arts center in town and was an established volunteer with many groups in the community. Miceli promptly stepped down from her role as an SCCA administrative board member before taking on the challenges of the committee.
to determine whether to recommend selling the building to a private entity, lease it to a non-profit or have it demolished in place of parking or park space.
After going out to bid, which was part of the committee process, Sciota said there were no private entities that expressed interest and the SCCA was the only non-profit who was interested in leasing the building. and did not include any paving or instillation of parks materials once the building was demolished.
Christina Simms, an SCCA board member who reinforced a message that DeCroce has delivered during the past three council meetings, said the council needs to consider the request for what it is – a vote to simply give the SCCA an opportunity.
“All we are asking is for you to give us a chance to work with the people of town for something the town would like to see. That’s all we are asking for. All we want is a chance,” she said.
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