March 12, 2004
dzb GOVERNMENT ADMINISTRATION & ELECTION 1:00 P.M.
PRESIDING CHAIRMAN: Representative O'Rourke
SENATORS: O'Rourke Roraback, DeFronzo
REPRESENTATIVES: O'Brien, McCluskey, Fleischmann, Donovan, Caruso, Spallone, Floren, Adinolfi, Labriola, Peters
SENATOR DEFRONZO: Ladies and gentleman, I'd like to call the meeting of the Government Administration and Elections Committee to order. We have a number of bills to hear today, so I'd ask all speakers to be cognizant of the limitations on time we have this afternoon. And we're going to go right into the testimony beginning with our elected officials and the first speaker is Senator Gaffey from Meriden.
SENATOR GAFFEY: Thank you Senator DeFronzo, Mr. Chairman, Members of the GAE Committee. This is really a record this year, I've never testified in front of a committee, I've testified in front of Labor, General Law and now GAE.
: Saved the best for last.
SENATOR GAFFEY: Yes, I saved the best for last. You guys have been a little busy I understand too. And I've to get back to Education, so I'm not going to be too to long.
But you have the Conveyance Bill in front of you H.B. 5648 and within section 12 of the Conveyance Bill is language to transfer property known as the Undercliff Property which is off of the Chamberlain Highway in the City of Meriden, which I represent and which my good friend and brother Representative Donovan represents. And this has been a long and tortured history with the property. Just to give you a thumbnail sketch. We do have existing facilities under the Department of Mental Retardation that are on the property and they provide excellent services to clients that need those services. And I understand there is some angst that's been raised amongst the people that work at DMR and those parents of clients even in my own town about this proposal.
But let me just say from the outset, that what we seek to do is to have the piece of land that's down bordering the Chamberlain Highway and abuts I-691. And have the DMR facilities transferred up north of -- on the northern part of the property where there are existing buildings where there has been for quite a long time utilization of those buildings by either DMR or DCF or the State Police.
At this piece of property we have had the disaster of the so called Cliff House under the jurisdiction of the Department of Children and Families, housing juvenile sex offenders where -- they out source the supervision of that facility to a Boston area private group and have two juveniles that were housed there escape within the first 48 hours that they were there.
We also have the DMR clients that are little bit of a mystery as to their total background, we know that there have been incarceration for sex offenses and that there's -- and that there's three of them now currently according to DMR in the so called Grey Cottage.
And then we've got the other DMR facilities. We've got the recent published fact that there is a State Trooper living on the property that was unknown by myself, actually by the Commissioner of DPW until very recently too, according to my conversations with him.
And then we have some surplus storage of the State Police on the property. But as I look at the map of this property I'm very familiar with it having lived in Meriden all my life. The lower portion of this property is quite valuable. And the Chamberlain Highway section of Meriden that I'm talking about you may know of if you've ever been through there or to Meriden Square Mall. Up in back of the Meriden Square Mall there's a big Target store, then 691 and the Undercliff Property.
So this is a major piece of property that's extremely valuable for commercial development and we're talking about a city here that is very land poor. And as Chairman of the Education Committee and one of the probably few people in this building that understands how the ECS calculation works, you are incredibly restrained as a municipality from raising revenue if you are as land poor as the City of Meriden is. We have very little land that can be developed commercially and generate revenue, which besides the ECS grant, is the only way you generate revenue to pay for city expenses including education expenses which are the lion's share of any municipalities budget.
So what we're seeking here is help from this Committee to have a portion of this property conveyed to the city -- the portion that can be utilized for economic development, generate -- add to the Grand List, generate badly needed property tax revenue, help us fund the essential services of our city. And then stay within a partnership of use on the overall piece of property with the DMR services that are essential services that are needed, and actually even serve a number of families within my district.
As far as the other uses of the property, I'm not going to opine as the appropriateness of those uses on this piece of property, that's for you all to decide if it ever comes to be in the Senate as a bill, I'll gladly cast my vote then. But this is under jurisdiction and I leave it to you to look at the other uses of this property to determine whether or not they're appropriate usage.
But with that, Mr. Chairman I would be glad to take any questions from the Committee. The only thing I'll add is that, in my first term in this Legislature back in 1995, the Administration closed down Fairfield Hills in Newtown and Norwich Hospital and sought to consolidate services throughout this state and it really hasn't happened. And in fact, it has really caused quite a bit of a mess. And we have in Southbury, for instance, a property under the jurisdiction of the DMR that is Southbury Training School; it is 1,600 acres of land that I would respectfully submit is vastly under utilized. It wasn't too long ago that there was a proposal to cut off a portion of that property for private development in Southbury for housing.
But I -- when I look at that property and how large it is you can readily see that the state has land where, certainly warehousing for State Police equipment or any other agency under the State of Connecticut's jurisdiction their equipment can certainly be utilized for.
So with that I would also offer the written statement of the Mayor of the City of Meriden for the record and I'll give it to your clerk. Mayor Mark Benigni who is in full support of this effort, as well as my fellow members of the delegation, Representatives Donovan who's President in this Committee, Representative Abrams and Representative Altobello.
Thank you, sir.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Thank you, Senator.
Just a question on the overall - you're asking for a conveyance of approximately 67 acres. The overall partial, which is currently occupied by other state facilities is -- do you have any ideas how large it is in total?
SEN. GAFFEY: I believe and I can stand corrected, but I believe it's somewhere in the neighborhood of 37 to 40 acres. But again, as I look at the buildings on the -- and there is an actual map that DPW can provide to you of the site and the buildings on the site. But I look at the square footage of the buildings on the site by far and away the largest building; Gibson Building is 126,254 square feet. The use of that building is simply for surplus. Surplus what? Anybody's guess what's really in there, we knew there was surplus Army equipment in there for at one point in time. I don't know what's in there now. But that is the by far the largest building on the square-foot basis on the property. There's a lot of other buildings that are used for equipment, another one for surplus, storage. There's two major buildings used for storage for the State Police.
And again we would be looking to have the lower part of the property that abuts to Chamberlain Highway and which is Route 71 -- that goes up through district Senator -- and I-691, use that piece for economic development.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Okay, are there other questions?
REP. DONOVAN: How nice to see you.
SEN. DEFRONZO: You too Chris.
REP. DONOVAN: Just so everybody gets a picture its -- for anyone whose been up in that area it's an old -- it's an old area the State use to use for I guess an institution years ago, and it's up a big long hill and there's an old administrative building and -- and some cottages on the top part of the building and I believe that's where -- well that's where the Grey Cottage is, I think that's also where that -- Public Safety is housed up there. And then there's empty space and then there's actually the Cliff House which is an empty building right now which is apparently, I think, at least quite a few apartments in that building which is now empty, that is unutilized at all. Then there's really not much until you get to the bottom and there's some cottages down the bottom.
So, under the -- your plan you're just looking at is using the bottom part which is close -- kind of close to the retail section on the Chamberlain Highway and I guess willing to work with the State on consolidating those other cottages if they need be, and the Cliff House or some other part of the area, is that correct?
SEN. GAFFEY: That's correct, Representative Donovan. And I might add, that as you know representing the area and having been up there with me, that the Cliff House that formerly housed the privatized DCF program for juvenile sex offenders which was an abysmal failure, is totally empty as you stated. But the State put hundreds of thousands of hours into renovating that building and it stands there empty now. So certainly that's available for use. There would undoubtedly have to be alterations done.
But the good news is, is that if that's available there are other buildings up on the northern portion of the property available and Undersecretary Chicetti in meeting with me yesterday, did express a willingness to comprise instead of the city taking all of the property, having the type of mixed use I'm discussing today, with the DMR needed facilities that provide essential services be moved north up on the property.
REP. DONOVAN: Okay, thank you.
SEN. GAFFEY: Thank you.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Senator McCluskey.
REP. MCCLUSKEY: Thank you and thank you, Senator for your testimony. I just had a question regarding the State Police presence on that site. In the -- in Commissioner Spada's testimony that was I guess submitted by Colonel Barry, they say they have two -- they have two buildings there, ones a two-story 3,000 square foot office environment and the other is a 1200 square foot garage, and I was wondering to your knowledge, is the two-story building, the building that Major Seneck is renting at $150 a month or is there another building that the Major is providing security for?
SEN. GAFFEY: Now, I'm of the understanding that the Major is housed in the supe -- what was formerly known as the Superintendent's house. And that is a 2,000 square foot house with a garage on the property also. Now you've got that house where a State Trooper is in, and again that was news to me. And Representative Donovan and I have been following this property now for years and years and years because of the controversial uses that are up there. And as Chris can tell you that the Neighborhood Association up there in that area were actually provided with beepers from the DMR as a precautionary measure for security sake that if in fact, any of the clients located in the Grey Cottage, which are sex offenders who have been adjudicated and incarcerated, yet can no longer be incarcerated in a Connecticut prison. They have been given beepers in case there was ever an escape.
But, with all the public meetings we've had with the Neighborhood Association and the State, whether it's DMR under the jurisdiction over Grey Cottage, or DCF that formerly had the Cliff House there. We had never been told that there was actually going to be a State Trooper living up on the premises. At least I don't recall ever being told that.
But in addition to that house, the State Police has according to what was provided to me by DPW, you've got a 4,836 square-foot building, the so called Highland House and that says State Police Surveillance Unit. Then you've got another 1,000 square foot garage State Police and you've got a 5,194 square-foot garage State Police storage. And then you've got a 400 square foot, what's identified as a shed, State Police storage. And then you've got this humongous 126,254 square-foot building that's just identified as surplus. I don't know if that's overall State surplus, State Police surplus, whatever.
REP. MCCLUSKEY: I think -- I think Governor Rowland and Director of Homeland Security, former Director Homeland Security Vincent DeRosa are very familiar with that property as I believe that's where the surplus military equipment from Project North Star, so I guess they've had an opportunity to look at the site as well.
I -- what was really interesting in your testimony regarding the beepers is you would think that if we were paying a State Trooper to provide security that he would be in with that pager system to, you know, that the residents around the area -- to your knowledge you know if Major Seneck had a beeper and was a part of the security system for the people living in the Meriden area?
SEN. GAFFEY: I have no idea whether or not he's part of that beeper system. And the Commissioner is here, he might be able -- he might know, I don't know. But it -- it -- you know we went through lengthy protocols with the Meriden public -- Meriden Police Department on the Cliff House and then with Grey Cottage the same thing and you know. Again in my time involved in -- I was there from start to finish with all the neighbors and all the public meetings, I don't recall ever being told that a State Trooper was going to be living on that property.
REP. MCCLUSKEY: No representatives of the State Police were at any of these meetings where you were trying to address the concerns of the neighbors of that property, you know. Since they have several facilities on that site and have decided to house someone in the former superintendent's -- they were not part of the discussions that you and Representative Donovan had regarding that area?
SEN. GAFFEY: I don't recall the State Police ever being there. We had our own Meriden PD there, but I don't recall the State Police ever being there.
REP. MCCLUSKEY: Thanks for your testimony.
SEN. GAFFEY: Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you. Any further questions for Senator Gaffey? Representative Peters.
REP. PETERS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Senator for coming before us today. As a former Mayor of Berlin, I sympathize certainly with the bigger cities, certainly Meriden who's south of our town, a town that I represent at the present time. And I -- why I sympathize with the Mayor who may have to relocate the paying of $150 a month rent as to Representative across the aisle from me does.
I'm more concerned about DMR citizens. If the State Police has to relocate that's going to be an expense to the State of Connecticut. And I'm aware of that, but with the DMR citizens it's not the expense that counts, it's the fact that whether you move these people a 100 yards or ten miles, it's the effect that it has on the people that I'm truly concerned about.
So I think of your testimony Senator, you said that we could certainly relocate either the State Police or DMR residents. And I'm truly concerned, and I had more requests and more emails and more letters and more phone calls on this issue then any other issue I've had since I've been up here 13 months, all of 13 months. And I'm truly -- want to make sure that we're protecting those people. Nowhere in the request for this land transfer is it even mentioned that there is a DM -- you testified to it, but there's nothing in the written testimony that tells me that there's a home up there.
I happen to know that, because I lived in Berlin for 44 years and I know what's there and again while I sympathize with Meriden, if you're going to displace the DMR citizens center I'm going to have to oppose it, because I just don't think it's right. I would -- the cost for the State if there is some cost removing the State Police, but I would not favor moving the DMR citizens even 500 feet.
REP. O'ROURKE: Okay, I -- do you have a question there Bob?
REP. PETERS: Well I guess the question is, if we're going to relocate them how --
REP. O'ROURKE: I'm not saying you have to have a question --
REP. PETERS: I'd like to have a question.
REP. O'ROURKE: I think you said your piece. I've got a huge list of legislators and officials that I have to get in here.
REP. PETERS: Then I'll pass on the question. Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you --
SEN. GAFFEY: I'd like to comment on that though, because --
REP. O'ROURKE: Can you do it just brief and really quickly sum up, because obviously we're going have to talk more about this.
SEN. GAFFEY: Obviously.
REP. O'ROURKE: We appreciate your support.
SEN. GAFFEY: But, just so the Representative knows, I don't know if you were here when I was first speaking, but I already made it quite clear, that what we would be seeking to do is to move the DMR clients on the same piece of property, just up north on the property.
And I would submit to you sir that my district is the epicenter of hosting most of the facilities that nobody else would want in the State of Connecticut, including I'm sure Berlin. When I have Connecticut Valley Hospital, Long Lane, which is now the Connecticut Juvenile Training Center, Riverview over in Middletown, we've got this facility in Meriden, we've got the State Police Academy in Meriden with a firing range, you know. So if any other towns including your own, want to step forward and volunteer to host some of these facilities I'd be more than happy to facilitate legislation that would transfer them over to you.
But I in no way, shape or form testified that we'd be seeking to displace DMR clients from needed services on this property. As far as the State Police and the use on that property or for the other uses from the State of Connecticut on this property that might be questionable, where we can move them out and put DMR facilities in where they are in, I think that's what we ought to be exploring.
REP. O'ROURKE: Okay.
SEN. GAFFEY: Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you very much, Senator. Will see you soon and talk more about this issue.
Next up, I'm going to call Representative Mikutel, be followed by Senator Gunther and Representative Abrams and -- is Representative Mikutel here? No? Senator Gunther.
Come address us, sir. Welcome to the Committee, Representative Abrams will be next. And I just ask you please keep your remarks as close to a couple of minutes as possible because I've got a huge list of folks here.
SEN. GUNTHER: I know that, I just got out of Environment, waited almost two hours so -- I have great deal empathy this time of year. I sit on committees too and get little bit disgusted with them, but anyway -- as far as the process.
I'm here to support the H.B. 5432; which is the reform in the -- in the State Property Review. Frankly, let me give you a little quick thumbnail of where this -- this Commission came from.
I go back to, I think it was 1973, there was another sitting Governor, and we had things that were being done during that period like sweetheart deals with garages and that type of thing, not illegal and that but certainly not in the best interest of the people and the taxpayers of the State of Connecticut.
After we had a little fiasco because I was one of the whistleblowers at that time, I introduced a Property Review and Investigative Committee. That's been on the books ever since then, and I dare say that 90 percent of the legislators here probably never heard of it. But this is one of the most important Commissions in the State of Connecticut, this Review Board. They have done such a fantastic job that they shouldn't have been watered down. Now I've been getting a little bit more disenchanted year-after-year because both parties and all organizations in this State and departments, that would normally be under this, without any restrictions and that to start, with when we first got the bill. They all found out how to operate in the operation of the -- of avoidance on this as far as the Property Review Board was concerned. And what we've had now is quite a bit of watering down and in fact even their staff has been watered down to I think three or four people.
All I can tell you, last year they saved $14 million in this State for their activities. You know I put them just about on the same plane as what we have our State auditors, with the two guys that we have in there and the fantastic work they do in the State. This Commission operates on that particular basis.
Now, one of the things that really bothers me is when the bills come to the floor quite often, for instance I know when Weicker brought in the UConn 2000, they avoided the Property Review, put it right in the bill. And at that time I -- when I smell these things and if I find them, I get to the floor and I try to take and get that drawn out so we keep these things into a proper -- proper perspective as far as the State is concerned.
So, I can't catch them all, but even when I do catch them, we as legislators are a party to avoidance. Because quite often they use the excuse "Oh, we need a little, we got to move things quicker than that".
If you go back and look at the record of this particular Board and that, you'll find out they're moving stuff in and out in five to eight days after they get it. The excuse of trying to implement something to speed it up is just so much hogwash in my book. So that what I'd like -- I'd love to see you get this bill raised. The most important thing is, we stop the avoidances that are being exercised.
Just as a quickie to you. In the past few years the Board has been excluded from the Adrian's Landing, Rentschler Stadium Project, Hartford High Education Center, Connecticut Juvenile Training in Longhill -- Long Lane -- Long Lane School, rather demolition of State buildings in the Department of Public Works. In other words, there's a lot of avoidance going on with this Committee. I said put the hounds back in the doghouse so we can have them in there, they can save the State money. If we don't spend it and waste it, why we don't have to raise more money.
I would like to take and even call your attention if anybody knows something about the -- the library at University of Connecticut. There is a beautiful example in my book for they had to rebuild it, tore it down and rebuild it again practically. Millions of dollars going down the drain. So what I say is let's take and put this back where it belongs, and give these guys a chance to take and save the money that they should be saving for the State of Connecticut.
Are there any questions?
REP. O'ROURKE: Very good, Senator Gunther. Thank you very much for putting this bill in to our Committee. Any questions for Senator Gunther? If not, thank you very much.
SEN. GUNTHER: Thank you; let's see it on the floor.
REP. O'ROURKE: Will see you around the building. Next up, Representative Abrams. The Attorney General here? Anybody here with the Attorney General?
Morning, Representative. Or good afternoon, I should say.
REP. ABRAMS: Good afternoon, Representative O'Rourke, Members of the Committee, nice to see everybody.
My name is Jim Abrams, I'm State Rep. -- shutting off my cell phone in deference to the Committee, sorry about that. I'm State Rep. I represent portions of Meriden and Berlin and I'm here to testify in favor of H.B. 5648; specifically Section 12 concerning transfer of the Undercliff property.
You've heard some of the issues with Senator Gaffey's testimony. I will say in preface that I am a former employee of DMR and actually my office in 1986 and 1987 was on the Undercliff property in one of the cottages, so I understand what the issues are.
I would ask the Committee, I think the issues raised about the transfer and about disrupting the lives of the clients of DMR are valid. Highly valid. I urge the Committee, we all know that there are works in process that move through the Committee process; I would argue that this is one.
There are many ways to skin -- skin a cat. It's a huge piece of property we can jaw about it, we can talk about it, but I'd urge you not at this point. I think it would be premature to kill this part of the bill at this point.
Let us try and work out the issues as the bill goes along. And I -- I hope to be at the table and I will; I pledge that I am very sensitive to the issues raised and I understand them and I hope to work through them. Any questions, I'm certainly open to them?
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you, Representative Abrams, and I think that's a good point you make. Any questions?
Thank you for your testimony.
REP. ABRAMS: Thank you very much.
REP. O'ROURKE: Is Representative Mike Patell here? I don't see the Attorney General. Commissioner O'Meara?
Good afternoon, Commissioner, welcome.
COMM. O'MEARA: Good afternoon, thank you. Representative O'Rourke, Members of the Government Administration and Elections Committee. I am Peter O'Meara, Commissioner of Mental Retardation and I am here today to testify against Section 12 of H.B. 5648; AN ACT CONCERNING THE CONVEYANCE OF CERTAIN PARCELS OF STATE LAND.
The Department of Mental Retardation has operated community programs for people with developmental disabilities for over 40 years. Since the 1970s the Meriden property has been the site of DMR's Central Connecticut Regional Center, now known as the DMR Meriden Center. Although the original structure of DMR has changed, the Meriden Center remains an important part of the DMR service delivery system. The DMR Meriden Center occupies approximately 20-25 acres of state property at the front of what is commonly referred to as the Altobello property. DMR currently has a field office, residential programs, day services programs, a respite center, and maintenance operations on the DMR portion of the site.
The field office provides a work site for case managers and early connections staff who support families in Meriden, Middletown and the surrounding towns. The office also provides a work site for clinicians who support people living in DMR operated residential settings, as well as meeting space for DMR staff. There are a total of 35 staff assigned to this 5,000 square-foot office.
The Meriden Center also has two residential units and four houses on the grounds of the DMR property and one house referred to as the Grey Cottage located on the Altobello property. Twenty-five people who depend upon 24-hour comprehensive support services live in these homes. These individuals include those who require significant medical and nursing care, as well as people with very challenging behaviors.
The Meriden Center is the only DMR operated setting with 24-hour nursing in New Haven and Middlesex Counties. It provides support to people with very complex medical conditions as well -- as well at times providing a short-term place to live for people who leave the hospital needing extensive but temporary nursing support.
Seventy-two employees, public state employees work in these residential settings. The programs are certified under the ICF/MR program of Title 19, we generate 50 percent revenue in return for participating in that program. And while community programs also generate similar operating revenue under the Home & Community Based Waiver, it is estimated that the property replacement costs that would be incurred by the State for the various buildings, programs, and services at the DMR Meriden Center, with the passage of H.B. 5648, would be in excess of $6 million. And we've attached a very rough estimate of our cost, we only had a day to do that, and we feel that it is probably a conservative estimate on the low side.
These projected costs take into account land acquisition and construction, or purchase/renovation, as well as the need for specialized environments, ADA accessibility requirements, fire code, licensing regulations, leased state program and office space, and full relocation of DMR's support team.
The DMR Meriden Center is also home to a family respite program. This unit provides respite to over 100 families annually, 108 to be exact. Who live in Middlesex and New Haven Counties and principally in the Wallingford-Meriden area.
The program is open every weekend and provides a critical break to families caring for a person with mental retardation in their home. Families are -- are able to use the Center two to three times per year and the Center is full every weekend, and maintains a waiting list.
Respite care is consistently sighted by DMR families as one of the most important services that we offer and is viewed as a critical to avoiding the need for more costly permanent residential placement. The Respite Center also offers 24-hour nursing coverage for medically challenged individuals and is fully accessible, with specialized facility. Eight State employees operate the Respite Center.
The Meriden Center is also the site for vocational and recreational day services to 14 people; it's open Monday thru Friday. We recently moved that program from lease space where the annual cost was $67,000 a year in New Haven. Those people just moved in last -- actually are moving in today.
The DMR Meriden Center also provides a workshop and storage area for the Region's plant facility maintenance department, and houses a generator used as back-up energy to support medical --
REP. O'ROURKE: Commissioner.
COMM. O'MEARA: Yes?
REP. O'ROURKE: Could you maybe just summarize the rest of it? You're against this provision of the bill I take it?
COMM. O'MEARA: Yes sir.
REP. O'ROURKE: I'm just trying to keep --
COMM. O'MEARA: Well, there -- there are 25 people that call the Meriden Center their home. There are 120 employees that work there. There are 108 families that use the site on a regular basis. We just have significant concerns about displacing those individuals.
REP. O'ROURKE: I got that message.
COMM. O'MEARA: Okay.
REP. O'ROURKE: Loud and clear. Questions? Representative McCluskey.
REP. MCCLUSKEY: Thank you, thank you Commissioner for your testimony. Just two brief questions.
First of all, you -- maybe you were here when I asked Senator Gaffey a question. Was Major Greg Seneck of the State Police involved in the security issues regarding the DMR facility or the pager notification system that was alluded to earlier?
COMM. O'MEARA: I don't believe so. We have a --
REP. MCCLUSKEY: Thank you.
COMM. O'MEARA: -- an agreement with the Meriden Police Department in terms of emergency response and the protocol that's worked out around the pager system --
REP. MCCLUSKEY: So DMR has decided to work directly with the local PD since Meriden is not a State Police town, they have their own police. That's how you worked that out?
COMM. O'MEARA: I believe the agreement actually is among the Meriden Police Department and the State Police in terms of the transfer of responsibility. I can provide the agreement to you if you would like it Representative.
REP. MCCLUSKEY: I would like a copy of that. And lastly, in your prepared testimony, you said that if we were -- were to go ahead with this transfer you would have to maintain lease space at One Long Wharf, New Haven. Now, I think that might be an interesting location. Is that a location that's owned by Mr. Matthews?
COMM. O'MEARA: I'm not sure, sir.
REP. MCCLUSKEY: Okay. Would you provide the Committee with the -- who owns that property that you'd be leasing?
COMM. O'MEARA: I believe the property that we just moved out of was 100 State Street in New Haven --
REP. MCCLUSKEY: But you refer to One Long Wharf here --
COMM. O'MEARA: -- that's an office space that were looking at to move into the, I believe the Whitehall Building. I think.
REP. O'ROURKE: I think you're right. First Representative Caruso and then Representative Donovan.
REP. CARUSO: Yes, Commissioner. Representative Abrams spoke earlier about trying to work through the differences, do you feel that they can be worked out?
COMM. O'MEARA: I would think that my experience --
REP. CARUSO: Okay, the question is, are you willing to?
COMM. O'MEARA: -- would say that they could be, although the options of utilizing the buildings that were referenced by Senator Gaffey, I'm not a structural engineer, but I've been in both the Cliff House and the larger building at the top of the campus, and I believe that they are uninhabitable from our prospective, because of ADA issues and also you kind of look up at the sky through the -- the buildings.
I would think that you're probably talking tens of millions of dollars to rehab those buildings. And also, I think the other issue that our engineer asked me to kind of caution people about, if there was a relocation from the lower to the upper campus, there are significant infrastructure issues around water pressure and power that he did not have the opportunity to even get a sense of what the cost of that would be.
REP. CARUSO: I've seen things up in this building move when you never expected them to happen. Building football stadiums and everything else within a year. Are you willing to sit down and try to work through this? That's what I'm really asking.
COMM. O'MEARA: I think we certainly are able to look at the property in terms of are there pieces that would suit, you know the city's purposes and ours. But we just want to be very cautious about the relocation issue and then the disruption --
REP. CARUSO: I understand all that, I'm just trying to get an idea as a legislator, if we move the bill along will you be willing to work with us?
REP. O'ROURKE: Okay, I think he answered that.
REP. CARUSO: Okay.
COMM. O'MEARA: Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Representative Donovan.
REP. DONOVAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Commissioner, nice to see you.
COMM. O'MEARA: Good to see you, sir.
REP. DONOVAN: Just in the last couple of years, there's been activity and I just want to get so that Members of the Committee are aware. The Grey Cottage, that is in the upper area, which you just alluded to.
COMM. O'MEARA: Correct.
REP. DONOVAN: And that was pretty much a gutted building then you -- you moved pretty quickly through that. How long would that rehab of that whole building?
COMM. O'MEARA: I think for that one house, was probably in the 12 to 14 month period of time.
REP. DONOVAN: Almost nine if not less. It was pretty quick if I recall. And the Cliff House which you talk about, that was actually just been rehabed prior to you showing up at the Grey House maybe a year or two before that so --
COMM. O'MEARA: Correct.
REP. DONOVAN: -- so DCF came in and they did pretty, you know extensive rehab of that building if I recall.
COMM. O'MEARA: I just walked through that building probably within the last three months and my opinion would be it's uninhabitable. The bathrooms, there is no elevator, it does not meet the ADA codes that we'd have to comply with, and it does not meet our rather stringent fire safety requirements.
REP. DONOVAN: Alright, but when you did the Grey House you did, that was empty and that meets all those codes, correct?
COMM. O'MEARA: It does, significant.
REP. DONOVAN: Also, in the -- the list of buildings you have there, I wonder if you could just real quick, just -- as I run through them say upper or are they all in the lower end?
COMM. O'MEARA: I believe everything is on the lower campus except for what we would call the Altobello property, which is the upper campus, which is the Grey Cottage.
REP. CARUSO: So the Grey Cottage there's a generator and residential all those other --
COMM. O'MEARA: Everything is in the lower part by the road, by the entrance road.
REP. CARUSO: Okay, thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you, thank you very much, Commissioner.
COMM. O'MEARA: Thank you, sir.
REP. O'ROURKE: Next up, Representative Mikutel. Be followed by Representative Hetherington.
REP. MIKUTEL: Good morning or good afternoon.
REP. O'ROURKE: Whatever it is. Is someone joining you, Representative --
REP. MIKUTEL: Yes, Mr. Chairman --
REP. O'ROURKE: -- he can pull right up next to you there.
REP. MIKUTEL: -- this is my First Selectman from Plainfield, Don Gladding. He's newly elected and he wanted to come up and experience the process. So I said sure I know we'll accommodate you. A lot of friendly faces - a lot of friendly faces in the GAE Committee I said they'll treat you well.
I'm here because Plainfield has a piece of H.B. 5648 and the First Selectman is here ready to address that.
DON GLADDING: Thank you, Representative Mikutel. Honorable Representative O'Rourke and distinguished Members of the General Administration and Elections Committee, good afternoon.
My name is Don Gladding, I'm the First Selectman for the Town of Plainfield. And I would like to speak to you on behalf of H.B. 46 -- H.B. 5648 AN CONCERNING THE CONVEYANCE OF CERTAIN PARCELS OF STATE LAND. Part of this bill concerns property in the Town of Plainfield that we would like to acquire.
Here today to request that you approve the conveyance to the town, of a tract of land consisting of two abutting parcels totaling approximately 139 acres. These parcels are adjacent to I-395 and south of Kate Downing Road in the Town of Plainfield, and they're currently owned by the Connecticut DOT. The Connecticut DOT acquired these properties during the construction of Route 52, now I-395 in the 1960s. These lots are landlocked and direct access by public byway except the non-access highway I-395 is not available.
The town recently approved the construction of a Lowe's Regional -
(Gap in testimony changing from Tape 1A to 1B.)
DON GLADDING: -- construct a new access road, called Talredi Road, past the distribution center.
During the design phase of the Lowe's site and Talredi Road, numerous site and road locations were investigated. With the final locations approved, the Army Corps of Engineers determined that it was necessary for the town to provide land to mitigate -- impacts on 2.5 acres, approximately 2.5 acres of non-contiguous wetlands.
One primary area that the Army Corps of Engineers determined suitable for such mitigation are the two subject parcels of land. This land consists of the two landlocked tracts, one is 39.5 acres plus or minus and 99.7 acres plus or minus, which are ruminant tracts from the construction of I-395.
In March 0f 2003, the Town and the DOT negotiated an agreement to purchase the property for $70,000. When the Town first approached the DOT, the DOT was not aware that they even owned the property. This agreement was with the understanding that the land would then be conveyed to the Pachuag Outdoor Club, and abutting property owner, for the same price and be subject to a conservation easement in favor of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Town resolution for funding was written based on this conveyance to the Pachaug Outdoor Club so that there would be no cost to the Town.
The initial easement would have allowed the Pachaug Outdoor Club to use the land for passive recreation purposes such as hiking, fishing, hunting, etc., and to manage the forested areas in accordance with the Best Management Practices as outlined in the Connecticut DEP Silva culture program.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was to oversee the environmental easement. And the Corps of Engineers has since revised their requirements so that what was initially a conservation easement is pretty much more like a preservation easement.
Additionally, the State Properties Review Board rejected the $70,000 negotiated price and established a $99,000 price for the land. A $29,000 increase in the price for the land and the additional restrictions put on it by the Corps was more than the Pachaug Outdoor Club was willing to pay.
The Town does not have the funds to pay for the extra land, nor did the approved town resolution provide for this additional funding, because it originally was supposed to be at no cost.
Therefore, we are at the present situation, we're asking the legislature convey this land to the Town at no cost other than any necessary administrative fees. You have the packages; a map attached showing the location of the site. Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you, Mr. Gladding. I appreciate your testimony and you did a good job. I want you to know Representative Mikutel has been bird-dogging this issue for you, so he's doing -- he's working hard on it.
DON GLADDING: Yeah, he's working hard for us.
REP. O'ROURKE: Representative, do you want to add something?
REP. MIKUTEL: I just want add Mr. Chairman, that in this bill also I believe there is a piece dealing with the Town of Voluntown, and at the request of my Selectman from Voluntown, we're going to withdraw that piece out of the bill. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. O'ROURKE: I remember you spoke to me about that, we'll take care of that. Thank you, Representative.
REP. MIKUTEL: Thank you. Thank you, Committee Members.
REP. O'ROURKE: Representative Hetherington to be followed Representative Ferrari.
REP. HETHERINGTON: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee. I would like to respectfully, urge passage of H.B. 5648, in particular Sections 8 and 9.
These two sections deal with parcels in respectively, Wilton and New Canaan. My district includes most of New Canaan and a portion of Wilton. Pardon me. The New Canaan parcel runs along the Meritt Parkway for some distance, it's about five acres. It was acquired by DOT at one point to provide at alternate site for a maintenance yard, equipment maintenance yard. Subsequent investigation proved that and it is the Town's finding as well, that the property is not suitable for construction of any kind. It is -- the topography is not appropriate and there are wetlands on the property. The Town of New Canaan would like to acquire this property to add it to a comprehensive open-space plan. It is bordered now by a property held for open space. The property really serves only as home to wildlife and if the Town is successful in acquiring this tract it will continue providing that purpose.
The -- pardon me -- the tract in Wilton is several acres. It was acquired decades ago by DOT as part of possible expansion of Route 7. As my research indicates that it is no longer within any projected widening of Route 7. It is essentially land-locked. The neighbors, one neighbor in particular, several properties owners would like to acquire this property, is probably not suitable for construction of any purpose because of the presence of wetlands.
If it -- if it could be acquired by the neighboring property owners, it would be restored to the tax rolls of Wilton and it would be enhanced in appearance I believe, the area in South Wilton is -- is a rather transitional one where -- pardon me -- there is a mixed use of both commercial and residential. And I believe this would enhance the appearance of the property and also as I say, would put it back on the tax rolls.
So with respect, I would ask you to approve this bill, in particular Sections 8 and 9. Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you, Representative Hetherington. Any questions? Looks like you answered them all.
Representative Ferrari. Welcome.
REP. FERRARI: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Chairman O'Rourke and Senator DeFronzo, and members of the GAE Committee for scheduling a hearing on H.B. 5648 today. Testifying today in favor of Section 1. To be honest with you, I haven't looked at the other Sections, so I'm not sure where I am on those.
The Section 1 of the bill concerns the conveyance of New-Gate Prison in East Granby to Old New-Gate Prison and Copper Mine, a non-profit organization founded to preserve and operate New-Gate Prison as one of Connecticut's premier historic and tourist sites.
Most Connecticut residents know about Old New-Gate Prison and Copper Mine. If you had an opportunity to visit the prison in the past, one experience if you're old enough to remember that is, one of the experiences you probably most vividly recall is when you climbed down the rickety old ladder, wooden ladder, that went down which was the only way to get to the mine.
New-Gate Prison and Copper Mine has a long history. It is an historic site unique to Connecticut and elsewhere in the country. It has been designated a national historic site and it deserves better then it has gotten while being overseen by the State of Connecticut.
Please do not construe any aspect of my testimony as criticism of the Connecticut Historical Commission's supervision and maintenance of the site. The Commission's dedicated staff, and especially those who managed and staffed Old New-Gate, should be commended for the high quality of work they did with limited funding and support we were able to give them over the years.
As you know, several Connecticut museums and historic sites were to be closed last year to help eliminate the projected state deficit. Although widespread public opposition prevented most of the threatened closings from taking place, New-Gate Prison was not one of them. It was closed last summer in response to our budget crisis. We didn't have a budget, they had no money to open, and therefore it wasn't opened.
It was in response to that closing that a group of concerned area citizens committed to preserving Connecticut's historical sites got together and looked into a variety of alternatives for protecting and preserving this important link to our colonial past.
Their goal is to ensure that New-Gate Prison remains open and continues to educate and enthrall visitors from throughout Connecticut and all other parts of our country for generations to come.
Their conclusion was that the most effective and responsible way to achieve the goal was to have a non-profit organization operate and maintain New-Gate as a private museum.
One group could concentrate on and be more -- try to do adequate preservation and presentation to the public. Several citizens who are active in the group will offer testimony today about their vision for New-Gate Prison and Copper Mine.
You probably seen some of the colonial guys here. I think if you guys look on this favorably they'll let me out if not I think I'm going to be end up in solitary confinement in the mine.
After you have heard all of the testimony I'm sure you will agree that this plan offers the best possible future for this valuable, vulnerable and irreplaceable historic site.
I'd like to thank you for -- and for the time to consider this important proposal. And if I can answer any questions, I'd be happy to try it.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you, Representative Ferrari. I remember my folks taking me there when I was a little boy, just like it was yesterday. But I gather we're going to hear some differing opinions on this shortly from the agency. Have you talked to them about it?
REP. FERRARI: We've been talking to the new -- I guess we call it CCATCHF now. And we are in discussions with them. At no time did we think that we want to disassociate ourselves with them. This is an important historical site, it's an important tourism site, and I think we want to work with them regardless of how this works out, we're going to work with them anyway. But we think that the plan that was presented before you today shows a great deal of thought, a great deal of expertise on running a site like this and we have a great deal of community support from all over the region not just from East Granby or Granby, but it includes Suffield and Simsbury and other areas within the State.
And I've gotten letters from 4th graders I think down in Trumbull, I got letters from numbers of people and calls to volunteer to help us do what we think is going to be right for the site. But we will continue to work with - with all interested parties in this all along but we do think we offer an alternative to -- and I realize it's not a proven agency yet, and I don't dispute their desire to do good for the site, but I must say that past experience has not really made us comfortable with the fact that this site needs to be protected and concentrated on.
REP. O'ROURKE: Do you think that -- is closed now, I think probably?
REP. FERRARI: It is closed, but it is a seasonal operation that generally runs from May through October. But it has not been opened now for this will be the second year, and if we can get this through I think we can get it open for this summer and start providing for a long term future for it.
REP. O'ROURKE: Senator Roraback, has a question.
SEN. RORABACK: (MIC NOT ON) Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good afternoon, Representative Ferrari. You certainly have been a great champion for New-Gate Prison and I should say that it's the first bill that anyone came to me on this year, Representative Ferrari called me up in September or October and said I need a bill next year GAE Conveyance Bill to protect New-Gate Prison -- should know how fortunate we are to have your advocacy on this issue.
REP. FERRARI: Actually the Prison is in East Granby, but the region is all of us.
SEN. RORABACK: (MIC NOT ON) Yes, and I feel your pain, because one of the other museums that took it on the chin is located in my district in Kent, The Sloane Stanley Museum. And the question that is now percolating in this building is, the intent that we can convince -- we can convince the State of Connecticut to make a sizable investment in upgrading our museums. We wouldn't wish for New-Gate Prison to miss out on that investment by virtual of a conveyance, it's something that we're thinking about and I'm not looking for a response, but I just hope that everyone that's thinking about this, thinks about how can we create the best possible partnership. We can do raise the profile of this museum to safeguard it's future. But also to make sure that the State of Connecticut continues to provide the type of support that is appropriate to make it the best it can be.
I know that it can't get any worse than it's been, it can only be better, but I do have some hope that looking forward we maybe able to do better, but -- you and your constituents be partners in that proposition.
REP. FERRARI: Well I think we do take heart and I think, and when I say the past, I look at some of the priorities that we have to deal with around here. Even just, when we were in session last week somebody handed me proposals for -- we need $37 million in affordable housing, bonding. And I think when you add or when you take the two together and you put them on the balance sheet, you say affordable housing, prisons and Old New-Gate Prison and colonial sites. And we look at the -- the priorities that we have to set, and we cannot as a State continue bonding everything. And while I certainly appreciate the desire to do good, and the desire to have this move along, I still question in my own mind, having been around for 14 years, whether or not it's something that can come to fruition this year or even next year. And frankly the site needs -- it needs attention now.
SEN. RORABACK: And I think your skepticism is well founded. The moment of truth is fast upon us. I just wanted to let you and your constituents know that you'll have an ally in trying to look to the State to put their money where their mouth is to upgrade and improve these museums because -
REP. FERRARI: -- and certain --
SEN. RORABACK: -- they deserve it
REP. FERRARI: And I appreciate that very much and so do my constituents here. I certainly believe that we will again, and I want to reiterate, we want to work with the new Commission and new leadership, but there is a little bit of -- I know what goes around here and I know how hard it is to try to get dollars, especially when you're talking about the early part of this bill was mental health people and other bills that we're talking about. There are a lot of people with needs and God knows you have to -- you have to balance those needs and sometimes museums and those nice places get the short end of the stick. Not that they're less important but -
REP. O'ROURKE: We've got one last question from Representative Fleischmann and we've got to move on.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just briefly, because I know the Attorney General is waiting. You talked about a group of --
REP. FERRARI: Heavens, I don't want to have the Attorney General wait.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: He does have a schedule that's a little busier -
REP. FERRARI: I know, I know.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: -- from the rest of Connecticut
REP. FERRARI: I'm through.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: You mention that there's a group of concerned citizens from your district who are interested in taking over operations of Old New-Gate Prison. Are you aware of how much money they have raised?
REP. FERRARI: No, but there are -- they will be discussing some of that when they come up to testify.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Okay. And are you aware of what the operating costs and what the capital costs would be for --
REP. FERRARI: I know -- I know somewhat, but there are some disputes on those numbers being discussed and they will have that information for you today.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Okay. Thank you.
REP. FERRARI: Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you, Representative Ferrari.
REP. FERRARI: Thank you very much for your time, people.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you. We'll be talking to you more about it. Attorney General Blumenthal. Good afternoon.
ATTY. GEN. BLUMENTHAL: Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. As promised I want to say a word of support on behalf the cause that was the subject of your most recent testimony. I think that these kinds of cultural treasures, museums, sources of education deserve our attention and the kind of proposal offered in connection with the New-Gate Prison could well be a template for involving private resources along with public support. And as you know, the last, as a matter of fact, my last appearance before this Committee was on a foundation that was established ostensibly to preserve and enhance another structure, the Governor's Mansion.
If we can have a conservancy to promote and enhance and preserve the Governor's Mansion why not a similar institution that helps other kinds of treasures. And obviously the New-Gate Prison, other museums around the State, we can probably mention at least a dozen might be worthy of similar kind of attention. And so, I will work with Members of the Committee in trying to fashion a land conveyance, a foundation structure that meets the kinds of standards that I know the Committee will want to observe.
Which brings me to the bill that I'm hear today principally to support H.B. 5649 AN ACT CONCERNING THE BUDGET FOR THE STATE PROPERTIES REVIEW BOARD, etc. Essentially I support this bill, I have recommended to the Committee that there be a Review Board to scrutinize and oversee large contracts. Part of my investigation has indicated very clearly that the current system has been gamed and exploited, unfortunately has been corrupted and we need this kind of Review Board to scrutinize those contracts and restore credibility and integrity to our State contracting system.
I have spelled out in my written testimony my reasons, my further reasons for supporting this bill and I would just add that my feeling is that the budget support can be strengthened for this bill. That is the budget provisions that the Legislation should specify that increases of at least the cost of living, and I underlined at least the cost of living, should be guaranteed as a yearly adjustment to the budget. With the idea that a larger amount could be allocated if staff, investigative resources and so forth are necessary for reviewing these contracts.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you, Attorney General Blumenthal. Any questions? Representative McCluskey.
REP. MCCLUSKEY: Briefly. Attorney General, have you had an opportunity yet to look at the contract between the -- the -- Major Seneck at the State Police and his rent at the Altobello site at this time? I welcome your thoughts if not at this format at another form regarding the first the dollar a year and then $150 a month deal, especially just received testimony that the DMR signed an agreement where the Meriden Police will be the first responders for calls for assistance at the site where the DMR facilities are. And so it seems to be very unusual that we would be paying a State Police Major or we would give him -- we would give him housing to provide security at a site that's mostly vacant and the maning security responsibilities are by the Meriden Police Department.
ATTY. GEN. BLUMENTHAL: Since we have an ongoing investigation as to that situation, I'm gonna offer to provide a briefing for the Committee at some later point, but let me just say, that that arrangement or situation may not be unique. We're also investigating other similar kinds of housing agreements that may seem to raise the same kinds of issues or problems. And I think it's an area that deserves some attention and we're giving it.
REP. O'ROURKE: That's very interesting, Representative Fleischmann.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And Mr. Chairman, I'd like to thank you and the rest of the leadership of the Committee for having raised this bill, and Attorney General for your excellent testimony and support.
As we discussed, it's become evident that watchdog agencies and commissions in general are in budgetary jeopardy and have been as part of this administration over the last few years. And that we need to be thinking about how to put them outside of that jeopardy in the same way that we offer protection to whistleblowers. And I think this bill is a logical step in that direction as apparently to you from your testimony.
But I'm wondering A. if we should be trying to take these steps in a single piece of legislation for all such watchdog agencies in your view and B. what test you might think we should apply to ascertain whether a commission or agency ought to fall under this kind of budgetary protective umbrella?
ATTY. GEN. BLUMENTHAL: Well, let me answer the first part of the question by saying, that whether to include all of the agencies in a single bill is largely a question of legislative strategy. When I was here on the bill that would safeguard budgets of the other watchdog agencies, the Ethics Commission, Elections Enforcement Commission and the Freedom of Information Commission I suggested adding the Property Review Board and I think it should be because it is a watchdog agency.
What is equally important is to make sure that beyond the current jurisdiction of the Property Review Board there is either a broadening of its jurisdiction or another Review Board to look at all contracts, regardless of whether they're covered under the Property Review Board now.
And that's really a choice for the legislature whether to use the same board or expand its jurisdiction and authority, but I would suggest that they all be in the same bill. Although creating another Board obviously raises some different issues and you might want that in a separate bill. And I think as a -- as an element of the reform package that I proposed, I've always regarded as a separate -- a separate proposal. But maybe dealing with the budget in a single bill is the way to do it. I'd have to think about how to answer your question.
But I think how to define watchdog agencies which is the second part of your question. I think any agency that exercises an oversight function where there are significant issues of either disclosure, or individual compliance as there are in Ethics and Election Enforcement, and an independent function that is judicially reviewable but not administratively overseeing. In other words, where the agency is independent -- exercising an independent function and where independence is necessary for it to exercise a watchdog function, I think it should be so and I can, you know I'd be happy to look and think about others that should be included in this status.
But I also would add just as a final note, that the presumption should be that the budget should be reviewed and appropriation should be done by the General Assembly and we shouldn't go to the extreme of adopting a somewhat anti-democratic or non-democratic approach simply because we're reacting or overreacting to the threats that we've seen to these agencies.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: I thank you for those remarks, very thoughtful and analytical and helpful. And I will be interested in following up with you and your staff on this, because it's come to my attention that the Office of Child Advocate may have suffered some of the same difficulties that the State Properties Review Board has. The Office of Victim Advocate again, and we're talking about commissions or agencies set up by this General Assembly to protect the public interest. And in so doing they sometimes blow the whistle on actions of the Executive or Legislative branches. And I want them to be able to do that without fear of budgetary retribution, so I will be interested in following up with you on that.
ATTY. GEN. BLUMENTHAL: Sure. Thank you.
You might have them mind my budget too when you're talking about -- (LAUGHTER)
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Absolutely.
REP. O'ROURKE: That will occur to people. No further questions, thank you very much.
ATTY. GEN. BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: I'm going to switch over to the public portion and switch back and forth, we still got a few public officials. Steve Darley, here? And Steve will be followed by Lou Soja.
STEVE DARLEY: Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, I'm here to speak on behalf of H.B. 5648. I'm Executive Vice President of Nutmeg Housing Development Corporation, which is a non-profit corporation. We're supporting Section 14 of H.B. 5648, which proposes a conveyance of a 5.7-acre parcel in Colchester located at the intersection of Old Amston Road and Route 85 to Nutmeg Housing Development Corporation.
This is a site that's currently owned by the Department of Economic and Community Development. It was acquired with DECD funds by a non-profit back in the early `90s. And for various reasons was never developed and subsequently taken over by DECD and has been laying dormant ever since. We're proposing 30 units of elderly housing. We're working with the town and with DECD to do that. I have submitted written testimony.
I wanted to amend the -- in one of the sections in this bill that applies to this particular transfer which I proposed in my testimony. Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you, sir. Any questions for Soja? Mr. Darley, I'm sorry. If not, thank you, sir. Lou Soja? Lou, from Plainfield? Holly Cole, is Holly Cole here? Holly will be followed by Dale Dreyfuss. Good afternoon, Holly.
HOLLY COLE: Good afternoon.
REP. O'ROURKE: Welcome to the Committee.
HOLLY COLE: I'm a little nervous.
REP. O'ROURKE: Don't be nervous.
HOLLY COLE: I'm here on behalf of H.B. 5648, specifically Section 12, I believe it is which I'm against.
Hello, my name is Holly Cole. I am the mother of a beautiful seven-year-old boy, named Jared. Jared has Down Syndrome. Jared has attended the State run Respite Center in Hamden and Meriden on several occasions. These centers are wonderful places in which I can bring my son for a visit and I know that he is properly taken care of. As any parent can tell you, it is difficult to find good child care.
However, when the child has special needs it's virtually impossible. The Respite Program is a godsend and allows parents like myself time off from the responsibilities of caring for these special-needs children. The Meriden Center is Jared's favorite as well as mine. At this center there is an on-site nurse, which sets my mind at ease as Jared also has other medical conditions. It is a safe place for him to visit.
The staff is attentive to Jared's needs and always available to speak to me about any concerns that I may have. Another feature is the Meriden Center has is the location. It is centrally located with easy access, but yet private due to the location on the State property. It is important to me because the center is not located on the main road where anyone can ring the doorbell. The center is a little haven set back from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The grounds offer a perfect place for intellectually-challenged individuals to walk and enjoy nature in a secure private setting.
Throughout the years, I have met several parents of intellectually-challenged children in other states, and I have learned what other states have to offer those children. I have always been very proud of the services that Jared receives through the State of Connecticut Department of Mental Retardation. I have truly believed that the Department has genuinely cared for my son.
It has been a good feeling to know that the Department is there when I need them. Last summer when the Saturday Respite Program closed I was disappointed because that was a very good program, but I took comfort in the fact that the other centers were opened. Recently I learned that the State was considering selling the land on which the Meriden Center is located to the City of Meriden and I thought, that would be a sin.
The Meriden Respite Center is the finest in the State and should remain right where it is. The central location, the privacy, and even the proximity to Mid-State Hospital provide parents with a sense of comfort. Before the mistake of selling the land to the City is made, I ask each one of you to take a good hard look at the work done by the Meriden Respite Center.
Ask yourself, what would you do if you had an intellectual-challenged child and needed time off from the care for that child? Who would you turn to? I would like to continue to trust the State through the Department of Mental Retardation by having the Meriden Respite Center available to Jared. I implore you to keep the center, as it is, where it is, and not sell the property to the City. The services offered by the Meriden Respite Center are priceless to the families of intellectually-challenged individuals.
I thank you for your time this afternoon.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you, Ms. Cole you did a nice job on your testimony and Senator Gaffey testified earlier that he was -- he knew that was an important program there and willing to try to work around it, okay.
HOLLY COLE: Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Any questions, Representative Donovan.
REP. DONOVAN: Ms. Cole thanks for coming. In that property, you've been on that property --
HOLLY COLE: Yes.
REP. DONOVAN: -- it's a pretty extensive area, and I think what the Senator was talking about is kind of moving some of the areas around. You've been, there's a lot -- if you've been there you've noticed there's a lot of unused property --
HOLLY COLE: There is. I don't think that would be appropriate for these individuals for these children. It's very easy to take a handicapped person and pick them up and move them. You don't think about what they're feeling, you don't think about what they're thinking, and you don't think about what their families are doing. So while in theory, yeah that sounds good, it looks good on paper. I think it would be a sin as I said, you can't keep just shuffling special needs individuals around, it's not right. I'm not going to go what they do in the school systems, but I'm not too thrilled with that right now either. So, I do thank you.
REP. DONOVAN: How long has your son been there?
HOLLY COLE: He's seven years. He's been going there since before his first birthday.
REP. DONOVAN: Okay. And which area is he in?
HOLLY COLE: I'm sorry?
REP. DONOVAN: Which part of the -- which building is he in?
HOLLY COLE: He's in -- I think it's the third or fourth building. There's four wings on the building. I don't know exactly which building. But if you go up there outside there's usually a trampoline right outside, it's before the parking lot.
REP. DONOVAN: Okay, yes I know the one. Right, okay.
HOLLY COLE: And I think it's absolutely perfect, it's far enough away from the road, but it's not so far that they're put in the back where nobody even knows they're there.
REP. DONOVAN: Okay, I thank you.
HOLLY COLE: Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you. Next up is Dale Dreyfuss, from UConn. Welcome, Dale. After Dale is Paul Fortier from 1199.
DALE DREYFUSS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee. My name is Dale Dreyfuss, I'm the Vice President for Operations at the University of Connecticut. I'm here to testify on H.B. 5649 and 5650; both concerning the State Properties Review Board.
The University of Connecticut has serious concerns about the detrimental impacts that provisions of these two bills will have on UConn's ability to continue to manage effectively the highly successful UConn 2000 construction program. These bills require that all University construction projects be evaluated and approved by the State Properties Review Board.
We request that this Committee amend these proposals and eliminate this unnecessary bureaucratic oversight. By doing so, this Committee will insure that the UConn 2000 program and its recent extension phase, 21st Century UConn, continue to operate in accordance with the extensive statutory framework that has worked successfully for nearly a decade.
We have no reason to believe that this Committee, in drafting these bills, intended to add another layer of bureaucracy and delay to the University's construction management processes and we trust that our inclusion in these bills when it was inadvertent.
In adopting the UConn 2000 program in 1995, the legislature acknowledged the long history of inefficiency in State construction and recognized the need to develop a long-term strategy that includes appropriate procedures and safeguards for the transformation of the University. At that time, and subsequently in extending the program, the legislature authorized the University to plan, construct for, and manage all construction of any real asset or any other project on its campuses and eliminated the Department of Public Works responsibility and oversight for such projects.
Furthermore, the General Assembly reaffirmed the authority it vested in UConn on several occasions including, in 1999 when you received the UConn 2000 Four-Year Progress Report and decided to continue the program in recognition of its achievements. You did not consider at that time, any changes and in August 2002, when you enacted the ten-year extension of the program, commonly referred to as 21st Century UConn, without operational modifications and thirdly, in December of 2002, when the Legislative Program Review Committee studied UConn 2000 program and found that it was well run and appropriately administered.
Adding an additional layer of bureaucracy is unwanted given the remarkable results attained by the University in administering this infrastructure program. To date, more than 50 major projects have been completed involving eight million square-feet of new and renovated space.
There are other practical considerations that make adding another bureaucratic level problematic. As you know, adhering to timeliness is critical to the smooth operation of a construction program. Delays in timely contracting can result in negative outcomes like the loss of price guarantees, in other words, the loss of dollars. You should, however, be aware that timeliness in contracting and the ability to respond to unpredictable infrastructure needs also has special meaning for an institution like UConn, which runs what is, in essence, a small city with its own water, sewer, and other utility systems.
In addition, timeliness in contracting is important at UConn because much of our construction is subject to sever time limitations due to the fact that we operate on an academic calendar.
For example, when the University decided a few years ago to install sprinkler systems in all our residential facilities, even though its not required by code, to ensure our students' safety, we knew that this meant that the construction projects had to be completed between June and early August.
At this time of tremendous demand for a UConn education, both the goal and effect of the UConn 2000 program, we cannot afford to take any beds offline during the fall and spring semesters. When students arrive for the start of the school year, we must be ready to receive them. Any procedural delay for us can translate into opening-day chaos. Somewhat more flexible, although nonetheless apt illustration would be the need to several years ago to add additional seats to the Gampel Pavilion that was a job that had to be accomplished again within a straight time frame. Basically the end of one basketball season and the beginning of another and could not afford delays.
The amendments to H.B. 5659 and H.B. 5650 that would rectify what we conclude are the unintentional impacts on UConn 2000 are simple and those are outlined in the written testimony.
At the present time, the investment that the Governor and the General Assembly have made in the University is yielding a dramatic rate of return for the citizens of Connecticut. As a direct result of the UConn 2000 program, the University's physical infrastructure has been and is continuing to be transformed. More importantly, talented Connecticut students and their families in unprecedented numbers are making UConn their top choice. We are no longer a safety school for the best students in this -- in this State. The University's Board of Trustees and its administration have effectively and efficiently achieved the objectives the State articulated when UConn 2000 was enacted. I'd also like to -- to observe that the example of the UConn Babbidge Library which was adduced earlier today, that was a project that was not included in UConn 2000 exemption from the State Properties Review Board.
The dynamic transformation that continues to occur at the University attests to the successful management of this institution. In light of these remarkable achievements, and in the absence of any significant problems with the administration of UConn 2000 construction program, the changes reflected in H.B. 5649 and H.B. 5650 respectfully we feel are unwarranted and we respectfully request that the amendments we are proposing be adopted by the Committee.
I'd like to take --
(Gap in Testimony changing from Tape 1B to 2A.)
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you, Mr. Dreyfuss. Representative Fleischmann.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for your testimony. You talked about a concern regarding procedural delays, are you aware of how long an SPRB Review currently takes?
DALE DREYFUSS: I can't tell you how long it currently takes because we're not under those reviews. I can tell you that before UConn 2000, when SPRB was reviewing UConn leases, it was not uncommon to receive an approval for a lease immediately before the lease was up for its renewal.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: So if I told you that the average time that the Properties Review Board takes to review an issue that comes before it 7.3 days, would that affect your concern about procedural delays?
DALE DREYFUSS: It would not because we're talking about the review of construction contracts, which I think are significantly more complex than the things that the Board is doing right now.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Okay. You talked about your concern regarding beds going offline as you put it in your testimony, how many beds went offline this winter when you had new construction with burst pipes and a bunch of rooms that were flooded?
DALE DREYFUSS: We had actually not only new construction but many buildings of all ages that had burst pipes because of the incredible cold. We were not alone in that as you're aware there were a number of towns throughout the State that had similar problems and had to close down, grammar schools or middle schools. We have a very great number of buildings, the number of beds that went offline was minimal at the worst of the problem we had 20 students who had to be housed in the hotel on campus because their rooms were in need of repair. That was it, out of -- that's out of 11,000 plus beds.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: And do you not consider it a significant problem if new construction has pipes bursting? Because you said there's been an absence of significant problems. I mean, I know for the students who are involved they considered it a significant problem, I just wondered if you considered that so.
DALE DREYFUSS: Certainly we consider it a problem, but given that we had the coldest winter spell in 50 years and that the number of rooms that were affected was quite small considering the size of our housing operation. I don't think it's a problem that it's terribly unusual and certainly was not limited only to UConn, as I say it happened throughout the State, in school buildings. Which at that time of the year are not inhabited.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Another concern that's been brought forward to me which I'm sure in your role you've heard about and I believe at this point have dealt with but it did arise, was that there were contractors working at the University of Connecticut who may have been employing illegal aliens or may have been employing people to do certain work for which they weren't certified, you know folks doing carpentry who were not necessarily carpenters, folks doing pipefitting who are not necessarily pipefitters. Do you view those problems as having perhaps been significant from the perspective of State taxpayer and supporters of UConn?
DALE DREYFUSS: The characterization of some workers as having been illegal aliens is one that I'm not aware was ever proven and I think its unfortunate and may have been based on the fact that the first language of some of those workers was not English. That does not make them illegal aliens.
We did have problems with contractors. A couple problems with contractors or sub-contractors who did not pay the appropriate wages. There were a couple of occasions of job -- jobs not being appropriately categorized. That happens in all construction its not unusual. We were not happy with those occurrences.
Our experience with any contractor, any job, goes on the record and because we pre-qualify contractors for all jobs, that experience would certainly count in any request for pre-qualification for subsequent job by those contractors or any other.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Okay. My last question for you, just brings us to a slightly more theoretical realm, but I think an important one.
DALE DREYFUSS: Surely.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: The problems that we've witnessed in the last few months regarding things that have happened in State Government over the last decade, have arisen where there was not much oversight, there were efforts either to streamline projects because of an extensible emergency or there just had never been a clear process created.
For example, when the State is hiring legal council we don't really have processes and set in place for RFPs and so what we found is that there were individuals who were given this tremendous degree of latitude who may have ended up playing fast and loose with taxpayer dollars. And that if we had certain basic safeguards not only might those abuses not have occurred, but folks might not have even contemplated them, because the processes would have prevented it.
Knock on wood, I don't think there have been any scandals of that sort at the University of Connecticut, I'm a big fan of UConn. But might it not make sense for us having seen problems that have developed elsewhere in government, to simply have this additional week or so of review for your projects, in order for us to have confidence that indeed nothing of that sort will ever happen at UConn?
DALE DREYFUSS: I'm not sure that -- that you or I or anyone can guarantee what the length of such a review might be or what its breadth might be, because its something with which we have no experience.
I will say that I don't think its warranted because you have here a program that has done very well, that has proven what we said in 1995, which was that for the kind of business we're in, University is a competitive business, it's a quality driven business, and it is -- it is that way wherever it is done. And for that kind of business flexibility the ability to move quickly and the ability to have construction schedules that are predictable are very important values. We've not seen any problems at the University of Connecticut.
One of the things that UConn 2000 reacted to was the DPW process which in its attempt to insure that there were appropriate controls had 57 steps to building a building and took on the average seven to eight years to build a State facility. We don't have 57 steps, you thought that was a bad idea, we did too. We've done -- we feel we've shown that we can do a good job and that this would be superfluous and to the extent that it has the potential to impair the University's ability to continue for another ten years when its proven that it can do very well, that is not of value to the State or to the University, very simply. We're proud of what we've done.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Thank you.
DALE DREYFUSS: Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: That was very interesting. I'm going to rule that a draw, I think. Very able testifier, Mr. Dreyfuss. Any questions? Not, thank you very much for your testimony.
DALE DREYFUSS: Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Mr. Fortier. To be followed by Jennifer Aniskovich.
PAUL FORTIER: Good afternoon, Representative O'Rourke and Committee Members. I'm Paul Fortier, and I'm Vice President of New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199.
While we are sensitive to the needs of the City of Meriden, for space, for industry, or commerce we oppose Section 12 of H.B. 5648. We agree with Commissioner O'Meara and the DMR position on the site. Displacement of clients from their home is a traumatic event. The cost of refurbishing to meet ADA specs is costly. With the cuts in the DMR budget last year and the layoffs and the early retirement, the Department of Mental Retardation is now in crisis.
Our position is in crisis, many of our members have met with you in local forms to talk to you about the crisis that we're in and they face and the clients face. And to put another challenge on the table of DMR at this time we believe would be inviting more problems in an agency which is already, I believe about this far from going where DCF is, which is under Federal oversight.
There's no mention of the cost of rebuilding up the hill. Studies have not been done. And we are inviting more problems for people with disabilities and the staff who serve them.
Thank you, any questions?
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you. Questions for Mr. Fortier? Representative Donovan.
REP. DONOVAN: I'm just wondering do you know, I don't know -- in terms of Meriden's the City itself -- in terms of DMR units throughout Meriden -- do you have any idea the extent of that?
PAUL FORTIER: I do know that since the last budget cuts, the site in Meriden is the only one in two counties. There's been a real retraction of services for clients with the last budget and to -- and so the agency is still grappling with demand right now with the last budget. And so any type of moving up the hill or moving sideways or moving downwards or parallel is going to put more demands on an agency that lost many managers, lost hundreds of members who had a lot of seniority, who would normally be in charge of this. And again, they're not grappling with it right now. So I do know that there's a lot less beds then there were two years ago. And because things were closed up down in the New Haven area.
REP. DONOVAN: How about in Meriden proper? I mean aside from this building, are there other places in Meriden that --
PAUL FORTIER: Well, there's other group homes, and there's CLAs and in all in Connecticut. But not what Meriden has to offer.
REP. DONOVAN: Okay. I thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Representative Fleischmann.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for your testimony today. I just was wondering, yesterday we had your President, Jerry Brown, testifying with the leader of non-profit -- sorry, for-profit nursing homes, in the same side of the issue today, your apparently on the same side as the Commissioner of DMR. Are we witnessing a sea change, where everyone is going to get together and get along and 1199 will be part of, you know, campfire singing?
PAUL FORTIER: I'm sure there's much that Commissioner O'Meara and I and the other leadership of 1199 could disagree with, and one of them is probably that the department is in crisis. But, it is what it is and we are certainly on the same page with closing the Meriden facility or moving up the hill because that's -- I worked at Southbury Training School for years in MR, that's how I became involved with 1199.
I've seen ICF buildings built. I know the time it takes for an ICF building. And I worked in buildings that were totally dilapidated and "Oh well, your building's coming up, it's right around the corner we just got to go ICF", well that year went by and then another year went by, "No we're getting it, we're getting to it we are going to put those" -- and mean while we had two cottages and one building. So twice the amount of clients in one building and so I'm -- maybe I'm a skeptical to how quickly this could happen and so therefore, I distrust that it will happen in a timely fashion. And I also see nothing in Section 12 about who's going to pay for this. Where's the money going to come from? Because DMR doesn't have the money. DMR just laid off hundreds of workers, so are we going to do bake sales, so we can move up the hill?
Is the City of Meriden going to pay for it? I don't think so, I'm sure they can't afford it.
So, I think -- I think if we're going to do this, we have to do it intelligently, we have to plan on this thing, we've got to do our study, we have to find out how much it's going to cost to refurbish up the hill. And quite frankly even with doing that there's a cost with taking people out of their home and moving them. There really is a cost to that and it's their cost and we don't know what that cost is to the person who's being moved.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Thank you for your testimony.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you, Mr. Fortier. Jennifer Aniskovich, be followed by Bernard Ackerman. Bernard here? You're next.
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: Good afternoon --
REP. O'ROURKE: Good afternoon.
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: -- Senator DeFronzo, Representative O'Rourke and members of the GAE Committee. My name is Jennifer Aniskovich, I'm the Executive Director of the newly formed Commission on Art, Tourism, Culture, History and Film, otherwise known as CCATCHF. I have here with me today Paul Lother who is the Director of our Historic Preservations and Museum Administration division and I'd just like to offer some brief comments about H.B. 5648, the Conveyance Bill in particular Sections One and Two concerning Old New-Gate Prison and Copper Mine in East Granby.
Old New-Gate is one of four State museums that come under the jurisdiction of our agency. Together, Old New-Gate, the Henry Whitfield State Museum, the Prudence Crandall Museum and the Sloane Stanley Museum tell the story of Connecticut's past. Old New-Gate tells the story not only of our State, but of the Nation. It is the United State's only surviving colonial-era copper mine and its only remaining colonial-era prison.
Mining began at New-Gate around 1705 as an early attempt at industrial capitalism. When the endeavor failed to prove profitable, the mine tunnels were turned into one of the colonies' first prisons and were used to confine Tories and British prisoners-of-war during the Revolutionary War. Later structures were built over the mines to confine prisoners and New-Gate served as the State's maximum-security prison until 1827.
Today visitors to New-Gate enter through 12-foot stonewalls built in 1802; they see exhibits in the old guardhouse; they walk among the ruins of the prison; and they are able to explore the mineshafts. Also on the property is Viets Tavern, a mid-18th century home of the first prison warden and later a tavern that offered amenities for both the prisoners and the visitors. Today, almost 20,000 people visit New-Gate annually.
The legislation before you proposes the conveyance of Old New-Gate from the State to a newly formed non-stock corporation known as Old New-Gate Prison and Copper Mine. We understand that the group that formed the corporation intends to seek non-profit status.
We understand that the proposal to privatize Old New-Gate is the result of a concern on the part of these local supporters that the State has not, in the past, demonstrated a commitment to the operational or capital needs of the museum. We share the concern of these supporters and their desire to ensure the future of this historic property. We admire their entrepreneurial spirit and their devotion to Old New-Gate. However, we do have serious concerns about the proposal for privatization.
The proposal is supported by a small group of dedicated and enthusiastic supporters of Old New-Gate. Who currently have no track record of operating a historic facility, raising funds for operational or capital expenses, or providing for the stabilization and restoration of the museum structures, ruins or mines. Their proposal is lacking in certain areas and we're concerned that any -- any fledgling non-profit would face serious hurdles in making Old New-Gate profitable and in ensuring its structural integrity.
We believe that this important piece of our Nation's history must be preserved for future generations. Old New-Gate is a hands-on learning tool for children, a unique attraction for students of history, and a rare resource for scholars. Its ability to serve in this capacity for Connecticut's citizens depends on its continued existence, operation and upkeep. If any private group were to falter in its mission, the integrity of New-Gate's buildings, ruins and mines could be comprised, thereby causing us to lose forever a piece of our history. And once it's gone, it cannot be restored.
We believe the State has an important role to play in safeguarding the structures that tell the stories of our past. In fact, the stabilization of our four museums is the number one priority articulated by our 29-member CCATCHF Board of Commissioners, in this, our agency's first year. As a result, we have proposed a $6.5 million plan for stabilizing and preserving the four State museums. Including a $4.2 million investment in Old New-Gate. Our plan is a direct outgrowth of the concerns and issues raised by the New-Gate supporters. In addition, our agency which now includes the State's Tourism division, is beginning to explore ways that we can market New-Gate and the other State museums to out-of-state visitors in our vacation guide, and on our print materials and on our website.
We believe that the individuals who have proposed privatization are an important part of New-Gate's past and of its future. We're eager to work with them to develop a plan for partnering to make the museum an even more attractive and effective site. We've begun to meet with them and believe that together we can create a strategy for meaningful --their meaningful involvement in this State-owned site.
Statutorily, our -- CCATCHF is charged with making recommendations to the General Assembly regarding the development and preservation of historic structures and landmarks owned by the State. For the reasons that I've just talked about, we can't support the current privatization proposal. But we do look forward to working with the group of supporters of New-Gate to craft division for the future.
I'd like to also just close by pointing out, that we are especially thankful to Representative Ferrari and to this group of supporters for their hard work over the last year. In really making sure that the important needs of Old New-Gate are brought to the forefront. We -- we are very conscious that the State has not always done what it needs to do with this museum and we view this new agency as an opportunity to begin a fresh.
I'd be happy to take any questions?
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you. Any questions for Mrs. Aniskovich? Representative Fleischmann.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for your testimony and I believe you were here earlier when I was asking Representative Ferrari about the relative resource needs of this site versus what might be available through the citizen's group. Would you be aware of what those numbers might look like?
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: Well, I can tell you that based on several engineering studies that have been done in the last couple of years that we know that there are about $4.2 million of just structural stabilization needs. On the operational side, we generally -- Paul correct me if I get this wrong -- the museum operates at about a 40 to $45,000 a year deficit. And that doesn't include any managerial time, we don't credit that to the museums in the way we budget, just the straight staff time for the guides and the assistants that are there.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Just for me to understand, are you saying the $45,000 a year would then be sufficient to have this sort of staffing that those of us who have been there are familiar with?
JENNIFER ANISKOVISH: $45,000 a year on the operational side would be enough to close the deficit, the gap that's run annually but and to include minimal staffing with no managerial oversight.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: So, obviously we'd be interested in proper staffing that would permit the kind of wonderful tours the kids in Connecticut have enjoyed for more than a generation. What -- do you have a sense of what the dollar figure would be for us to accomplish that end?
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: I don't. It really depends on the business model that a private group would use to employ. I mean at a minimum you would need five people on site at all times.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: And, lastly. Are you open to the notion of a partnership whereby you could draw upon some of the resources that these folks who really care about this site are trying to bring to bear while also being able as a State agency to help make sure we get the capital investments and the management oversees?
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: Absolutely. You know -- I really mean it when I say that the group that has come together around Old New-Gate is part of both their past and their future. We -- we view that kind of a partnership a public/private partnership as absolutely the best way to go. Not only with New-Gate but with our other -- other museums. And I'll tell you that -- that there are some wonderful models of that in DP in particular at Gillette Castle has one wonderful model of how a friends group really works well.
The advantage that we see in a situation like that is that -- that a group of supporters can be meaningfully involved in areas like reenactments and special events and gift shops. And contribute to the vitality of the museum and the site without becoming burdened by serious issues related to the fact that New-Gate is a -- is a National Landmark, a State Archeological Preserve, that there are severe and significant capital needs. So we see that as a definite.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Thank you.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Ms. Aniskovich, I've had a chance to talk to some of the folks who are involved in the -- in the effort to have the property conveyed. And clearly, their -- their concern has to do with the substantial neglect of the property and buildings over the years and documented in many photos that were presented to the Members of the Committee. I just want to clarify a couple of things.
Right now, is the -- is there a State employee on the grounds at all times or for any substantial period of time during the course of the year?
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: Well, the facility is a seasonal facility so it opens in May and closes down in October, so during the time when it's closed there's not someone on on a regular basis.
SEN. DEFRONZO: So, in terms of security -- what do we have there now and how is it -- how is it protected, how is it safeguarded, how is it protected from people coming in and picking up loose bricks and things of that nature?
PAUL LOTHER: Senator, currently the site has alarm systems that are in place, which we operate regularly, on a regular basis. We also do have the site monitored by staff at least once a week, sometimes more often. We do respond to any issues that are up there. Over the past two days I've had a staff member up making sure that certain parts of the site are secured that have been vandalized recently. We've been in discussion with a resident State Trooper regarding the potential for further vandalism and with the Town. And we are taking steps to address some of those current issues by adding site security eight hours a night, if you will for an ongoing basis seven days a week.
Obviously there's some cost involved in that. We are aware of the issues up there. It is a difficult site and its very nature to check security wise. And certainly I think down the line, were we to partner, this is an area where the friends could be a great help on a long-term basis.
SEN. DEFRONZO: The estimate is you'd say 4.2 million is that what you said just to structurally stabilize -- and the operational cost, if you want -- if you were going to move to a -- to a operational basis where it would be open to the public again, did you say at least five employees, or is -- that did I? --
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: Yeah, Yeah absolutely. You need at least five on the grounds just to run it and that doesn't include the manager oversight. You know I can tell you and we've shared this with the supporters group that -- that the cost right now, the operational cost for us is roughly $90,000 a year and we bring in about you know, half of that in revenue in terms of admission. So, you know, again there's a gap of about $45,000.
SEN. DEFRONZO: How do you plan to secure the 4.2 million?
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: We have submitted and you should have it, each of the Committee Members should have a copy of a proposal that looks something like this. No you don't? I think the Clerk -- I think the Clerk has it and we can make sure that we get it to each of you. We've been in conversations with Secretary Ryan and with legislators that represent the museums in each of the districts, and we've put together a proposal that's a two-phased proposal for bonding for addressing the capital needs in each of the four facilities.
SEN. DEFRONZO: You know what source they would try to access for that?
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: It would be bonding funds, but I -- I'm not --
SEN. DEFRONZO: But no -- you don't have -
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: I don't have anything beyond that.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Thank you very much.
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: Sure.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Any other questions? Thank you very much for your testimony.
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: Thank you.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Bernard Ackerman.
BERNARD ACKERMAN: Good afternoon. H.B. 5648, Section 12, I disapprove of the bill. I have a child that is at 35 Undercliff. She's been there for about 14 years. Have four units there each one service different types of problems or for the client.
Mine is a severely handicapped unit and also have very -- a lot of medical problems. It's a unique place there, they have a nurse that's there 24-hours a day, that cared for all these patients. There's six patients in each unit. There's three units that are being used, one as respite. The fourth unit they used to use it but not it's used for the nurses.
All the buildings that are there are used. Those that are able to be are all used. The only ones that aren't are the ones that can't be used at all.
They'd have to tear the buildings down, that's the ones that Gaffey was talking about.
It's a nice place for those children like the woman said. It's off the road, its close to the Fire Department, the Police Station -- the Hospital and -- and it cost so much money for them to be moved up the hill, cause they would have to tear those other buildings down as far as I -- their roofs are caved in and it's not -- it's not livable.
And that's why I oppose it.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Thank you very much for your testimony. Are there any questions? Thank you very much for coming down today and informing us about that. Next speaker I believe is Kim Sarmuk.
: You're going to get tired of hearing --
KIM SARMUK: Good afternoon. Senator DeFronzo I believe you represent my district as well, the Town of Berlin.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Yes.
KIM SARMUK: My name is Kim Sarmuk and I come here today in regard to this lovely bill, H.B. 5648 and in particular Section 12. I am the guardian of a wonderful woman who lives on the Meriden campus. Jenny has lived there, I believe for the better part of the last 25 years it could be a little bit less. She has a physical disability that prevents her from doing most of the things we take for granted. But due to the care she receives she has a happy and healthy life.
Jenny's care requires extensively trained staff and nurses to assure her safety and well-being. The Meriden campus is the only place in central Connecticut that can provide those services. I was horrified to hear that there is even a consideration of her losing her home. Not only is it her home, but as -- as Heather Cole stated, they have a wonderful respite center that's run there and hundreds of families come there and use the services.
To take a look of the DMR waiting list which is legend, and I know that the Commissioner will agree with me on that. They have so many people that are out there looking for homes and shelter and services, and you have a wonderfully functioning place that doesn't require anything extra on anyone's part and there's money out there that should be spent on people who need the services not by moving people from one spot to another.
And we're requesting that Section 12 be removed from the bill and that Jenny gets to stay home. Thank you.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Are there any questions? Thank you very much for your testimony. Anita Mielert, okay, thank you.
ANITA MIELERT: Good afternoon. Thank you for allowing my testimony this afternoon. By way of introduction, I would like to say that I currently serve as a volunteer position on the Board of Advisors of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I'm the former First Selectman in Simsbury, I'm a former member of the Connecticut Historical Commission and of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation Board of Directors.
I come before this hearing today to oppose AN ACT CONCERNING THE CONVEYANCE OF CERTAIN STATE PROPERTY, which would transfer an important historic resource, Old New-Gate Prison, from the State of Connecticut to a group of citizens.
In my years on the Connecticut Historical Commission, I experienced first-hand the frustration of years of budget struggles which forced choices between programmatic needs and museum needs. The professionals who serve the State in this field are among the finest in our Nation and serve the State exceptionally well. The choices that have been made in the past were well reasoned and necessary.
That the basic maintenance of one of our most important historical sites are now in crisis is a symptom of the overall lack of public money devoted to preservation of our history, not a lack of management or concern or misplaced priorities.
This fact, the lack of public money, will also doom any attempt by a non-profit group to accomplish the same goal. I believe the group working on the Old New-Gate proposal is very well intentioned, they appear to be earnest, intelligent, and goal-oriented, in fact they're -- many of them are my neighbors and my friends. But I have significant concerns about their ability to succeed in this lofty goal.
They are entering a world of intense competition for fewer and fewer dollars. The current fund of approximately $15,000 is dwarfed by the needs of this facility, which for stabilization alone, requires in the range of a million to a million and a half in the first stage. That's approximately one percent of the funds that they need. Where will they go for the rest of the money? To the Bond Commission? To the same foundations where every charitable, educational and preservation group in the country will be going?
How long will it take, even this dedicated band to admit that the job cannot be done without public money? If this is so, why doesn't the State step up to its responsibilities now, before irreparable damage is done. To accomplish what we all want, in a framework of professional management and public ownership, to save our people's history for the people.
In conclusion, I would like to say that we all want the same thing. It's also clear that a public/private partnership is going to give us a lot more bang for the few bucks that do go into this facility. So don't remove the public from the picture, keep the public ownership and create a bottom line, which includes the public in the public domain. Thank you.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Thank you. How long did you serve on the Historical Commission?
ANITA MIELERT: Five years.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Five years. So you wrestled with this problem and --
ANITA MIELERT: Oh, yes.
SEN. DEFRONZO: You know, when you -- when you look at -- when you look at some of these photos, when you look at the current state of our finances in the State of Connecticut, I mean it's hard to -- it's hard to conclude that we've been able to meet our responsibilities to preserve these historical sites and in this -- in this session when we're scrambling for bond money for things like housing, things like group homes for the mentally retarded, many very very important issues that affect our current living situations in the State of Connecticut. You know, a proposal like this that comes forward from a group of citizens, has a greater value in a sense because our track record has not been good a preserving these historical sites in the long run. And why -- why should -- why should we believe now that the State is going to pick up its responsibility and execute it fully when for the past decades we have not done that?
ANITA MIELER: I think because primarily you have all of these dedicated people here. There are a lot of things that a government needs to do but doesn't have the money for it. They seem to find the political will to do it when there are masses of people who want them to do it. And I think that's where the public/private partnership has a real strength. And I think it's extremely important what all of these people are doing.
But the reason it hasn't happened in the past is not because the people in charge have failed. That's what I tried to make clear in my testimony. They are very professional. They know what needs to happen. They've done the engineering studies, they've done all the feasibilities, they know the different economic models for managing the place. They know all of that, but the legislature has to put money, real money behind some of this. It's tempting I know, to be able to say "Okay, we screwed up so you handle it from now on". But they're going to have to come back to you. The only place that any of this money really exists is with the state government or a federal government.
They're not going to be able to have enough bake sales. They're not going to be able to have enough reenactments and charge admission. They're not going to have enough little local teacup auctions in order to put together $4.5 million let along $90,000 year after year after year.
If I were in your place, I would recommend that you stabilize it, that you have a long-range plan for opening it again. I do understand that they are actually aiming towards a May opening this year, so it is not a completely closed facility. But if you're going to fail to open you should mothball it properly. Stabilize it and then have a plan for opening it say in five years or something like that.
Another danger in handing it over to a private group is that you lose the professionalism of the interpretation. The National Trust runs many sites all over the United States and it's very important that they tell the correct story of what happened at that site. It's not just a story that might appeal to the school children or a story that might appeal to the politic correctness of the moment. But it's very important to tell the real story that really happened. And you get that with professional management.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Senator Roraback.
SEN. RORABACK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and I appreciate the spirit of your testimony, but I don't wish -- I sense there's a risk of you overstating your case. I know that in my --
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: Maybe, yes.
SEN. RORABACK: -- the community that I grew up in, Litchfield we have the first law school in the country and its interpreted beautifully without the imprimatur of the State of Connecticut on it. I think that the -- the presentation we have from the individuals who are committed to the future of Old New-Gate Prison, suggest that they know a lot about that place and that they're committed to providing a first-class experience for people, not only from Connecticut but from throughout New England. So I guess that's why I -- my efforts are going to be concentrated on making sure the State doesn't lose the positive energy that this group of citizens is bringing to bear on this project --
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: Oh, I think that would be a tragedy, yes.
SEN. RORABACK: -- and that we work together. So, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Thank you very much. I'm sorry are there any other questions? Thank you very much for your testimony, appreciate it.
JENNIFER ANISKOVICH: Thank you.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Next speaker is Kevin Marshall.
KEVIN MARSHALL: Good afternoon.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Good afternoon.
KEVIN MARSHALL: I am one of the board member of Old New-Gate and I am excited to be here this afternoon.
I am by way of background, by way of personal background, I am a CPA and my wife and I own a bed-and-breakfast in Granby, so we are no strangers to the tourism industry. In fact, our bed-and-breakfast is an award-winning inn; we have been named as one of the top 15 inns in the country for customer service.
Likewise, I am no stranger to the non-profit world. I am the Treasurer on the Board of Hartford Interval House, a domestic-violence program here in Hartford. I also serve as an elder on the board of my church, Wintonberry Church in Bloomfield, where we see about 600 people come through our doors on a Sunday morning. In fact, also I am no stranger to fundraising. Just this week I was able to procure a $60,000 donation from a local company to Hartford Interval House, which is the single largest donation in our organization's 25-year experience. I also am the co-chair of our annual spring gala where we expect to bring in $80,000 to Hartford Interval House.
In summary, private ownership of Old New-Gate will allow for private funding where it has not done so in the past. I would like to talk next about the Finance Committee involved with New-Gate. There's myself a CPA, we have Rick Bellico who is a VP of Woronoco Savings Bank, as well as a Trustee of Old Sturbridge Village. We also have Evan Woollacott who is here today who is an MBA and the past Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control. To round out our group, we also have the CPA firm of King and Company in Winsted, who specializes in non-profits, who is currently in the process of filing our 501c(3) status.
In summary, our finance team has -- will have a singular focus. The long-term financial stability of Old New-Gate. Next I would like to discuss the business plan that you have in front of you.
As was already mentioned just previously, there ha been a lot of thought and planning that has gone on to be able to produce this packet for you this morning. The site is currently losing anywhere between 50 and $80,000 a year under State ownership, and you have heard that there is a proposal for $4 million worth of bonding that the State of Connecticut would have to finance as well as additional renovations that would need to be done down the road.
Private ownership would be a substantial monetary savings to the State of Connecticut. Included in the business plan is the hiring of an Executive Director with full benefits. The Executive Director likewise as our Finance Committee would have a single focus, the preservation and operation of New-Gate.
Our forecast is very conservative. As a CPA I can't help but to do that as a CPA for the last 15 years. We see that we have raised prices only $2.00, which is still below the ticket prices of other area attractions such as Hillstead Museum. We assume the same amount of visitors to the site even though we have budgeted for $10,000 a year for marketing and advertising costs.
We have assumed the expansion of programs, both private and public events as well as educational programs. We have in our proposal that over a three-year period we will raise $150,000 in grant money. We have already -- we've already had discussions with a professional grant writer who is an attorney, who has already raised over $1 million for other non-profits here in the Hartford area who has expressed interest in working with our organization.
I have already spoken with the President of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and told him about our cause, he has expressed interest in funding our organization and we will be applying to a grant with the Hartford Foundation to raise money with that foundation. We also have a grant, another grant pending with the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. Which is an organizational review and an independent evaluation of our existing organization.
In addition to these funding sources, we are also looking at raising $100,000 in unsecured credit lines from area banks, and we have just this week received a verbal commitment for $30,000 of such funding. In addition to that, the question was raised earlier what the operating expenses of the property are. We are projecting due to other -- you know management and the Executive Director, approximately $200,000 a year of operating expenses, and also upon the conveyance of the site to our organization, we will embark on a capital funds campaign, whereby we would hire a professional fund-raiser to raise the money necessary to shore up and renovate and restore the site.
So in summary, private ownership does allow the opportunity for public support. In summary, we would ask the State of Connecticut to convey this site to us for the following reasons. No. 1, that there would be a substantial monetary savings for the State of Connecticut. No. 2, it allows the opportunity for private funding that has not been allowed up to this point, because its in State ownership. Thirdly, our organization does have a single focus and will have a single focus and as has already been discussed the State has certainly more important things to worry about. And lastly, we're ready to go.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Thank you very much for your testimony. By any account the cost of trying to preserve -- stabilize and preserve and maximize the benefit of Old New-Gate Prison is considerable.
KEVIN MARSHALL: Correct.
SEN. DEFRONZO: And you have a I guess you even admit that it's a fledgling new organization, although there's a lot of energy and excitement, I guess generated by this challenge, but I mean --
Do you think you have the capacity to raise the hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars that are required to do this in a relatively short period of time?
KEVIN MARSHALL: As I mentioned, in a short period of time we're looking at over a five year period looking to raise the six, seven, eight million dollars what ever it will take through the use of a professional fund-raiser through a professional organization to raise the funds necessary.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Let me -- let me just explore for a moment, there's been some discussion about a potential public/private partnership to secure the future of Old New-Gate Prison, is -- are you open to such discussions?
KEVIN MARSHALL: We would be open to such discussion, most certainly. We'd have to obviously sit down and see what would -- how it would look and how it would work.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Any other questions? All right, thank you very much.
KEVIN MARSHALL: All right, thank you very much.
SEN. DEFRONZO: (mic not on) Geoff Mile?
GEOFF MILNE: Milne. M-I-L-N-E.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Milne, okay thank you.
GEOFF MILNE: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon it's a pleasure to be here as a member of the Bar Association. My name is Geoff Milne, I'm a partner in the Hartford law firm of Hunt, Liebert, Chester and Jacobson. And here to speak on behalf of Raised bill H.B. 5648.
You're hearing throughout this session testimony and requests for money for important, necessary needs in the State of Connecticut. We are not here to ask for any money. We are not here to ask for a nickel, we are here to ask for an opportunity to open Old New-Gate Prison and Copper Mine and to maintain that facility, since at the present time it is closed and it is not being maintained.
In terms of the challenges that face our organization, we have an extensive and professional board of a CPA, a lawyer, public relations, we have a veteran of World War II who was involved in nuclear testing, we have veterans from Iraq who were in forward combat units. We have people who have served in the United --
(Gap in testimony changing from Tape 2A to 2B.)
GEOFF MILNE: -- private sector and business or with respect to the professions that they're involved in.
In terms of Old New-Gate Prison and Copper Mine, Inc., it's not a fledgling organization. The Friends of New-Gate has been in existence for over 15 years providing support, both economically in terms of artifacts that they have been able to preserve for the museum itself. And in fact, all of the artifacts that are currently at the museum were procured and obtained by the efforts of the Friends of New-Gate. Bill Vibert who is one of our board members, and will be speaking in a few moments, has been involved in the Friends of New-Gate for over 15 years and this corporation is brand new, but the movement and the impetus behind it has been going on for about 15 years.
In terms of the additional challenges that we will be faced with, we have the opportunity by virtue of our location in the Farmington Valley with the public schools and the support of the First Selectmen of the Towns of Granby and Simsbury, to be able to provide access to the schoolchildren. I grew up in Simsbury; I'm a product of the Simsbury public school system, as a child I went to New-Gate. And it has a tremendous resource and educational value for the people in the community, which we can make available to everyone, not only within the State of Connecticut, but to tourists who come here to recognize the importance of that facility.
In terms of the challenges of our ability to fund-raise I have the good fortune this year of being a co-author of a legal treatise on Connecticut foreclosures with Dennis Caron, who's testified in front of this legislature in support of numerous bills in the past. Mr. Caron is in the process of having a book released on a prisoner from Old New-Gate, Prince Mortimer, in a national release which will be coming out in a few months, and he has agreed to donate a portion of the proceeds from that book to our cause so that Old New-Gate Prison and Copper Mine, Inc. can be opened, maintained and preserved.
I would submit to you that even in terms of the State's position of opening the facility, quite clearly they do not and cannot meet the capital goals and the capital improvements between now and opening for the season in May. So whether it opens under State ownership or it opens under private ownership, the capital improvements will need to be done over a long period of time. And I think that the issue that's faced by this Committee, is whether there is realistically $4.2 million available in order to open this facility or whether it's not there.
And I would submit to you based upon the demands of the State and the decrease in income tax revenue based upon the private sector issues that are going on today, that as the Attorney General said earlier today, efforts and initiatives like this in the private sector are going to be the wave of the future. They're going to be the wave of the future because with the demands upon the State there's absolutely no way that the State can be the champion of every cause and of every concern that exists within the State of Connecticut.
And this Committee can do a tremendous service, not only to the citizens of the State but to those who are friends of museums to support our efforts and to approve this bill, so that we have the opportunity to show the State that this is the way that this process can work and that we can work in concert with the public.
We have board members who live on New-Gate Road. They can walk across the street if there's a problem. They don't need to call the resident State Trooper in East Granby, who should be down at Windsor Locks at the airport rather than being up at New-Gate Prison to deal with security issues.
In addition to that, I would submit to you that we have one of the most professional boards who have fought for various causes throughout. Frankly the history of Connecticut Evan Woollacott is a champion of special education and anyone who knows special education of Farmington Valley over the last 25 years knows what he has accomplished. And I would submit to you that we have all of the skills and all of the intellect and all of the drive to make this succeed.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Thank you very much for your testimony. Are there any questions? Senator Roraback.
SEN. RORABACK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and good afternoon, Mr. Milne, I appreciate your testimony.
I just want to speak for myself and say that I feel like this Committee is being put in the unenviable position of being kind of asked to choose sides, which I think is the last thing that any of us like to do in our work. Really we are at our best when we work together cooperatively. You are well within your rights to have a great degree of unhappiness with the State of Connecticut's lack of commitment to your museum over time.
But I want to assure you that's not the fault of the Connecticut Historic Commission. The people in that office have been the best advocates you could ever hope to have for a long, long time. It's our fault. We'll take -- I take the blame along with my colleagues, we haven't made it a priority.
And so I just hope that all of you leave here today with an appreciation of why it is this ought not to be a fight or a battle it ought to be an opportunity to come together and take the best that the State of Connecticut has to offer with the best that your group has to offer so that this resource can be the best it can be for everybody in our State. And I hope that message isn't lost on anyone here. I hope its not lost on the Historic Commissioner, the Director or any of the people that are here today to testify in support of this bill.
GEOFF MILNE: Yes, I think everyone has the best interest of the site in mind and certainly as a member of the Bar and someone who is in the court system on a regular basis, I recognize that everyone is pushing in the right direction in terms of achieving the right goals.
SEN. RORABACK: And in my view, pushing in the right direction means pushing together with the people from the State of Connecticut who care about this resource and want to work with you and do the best all of us can with what we collectively have together.
GEOFF MILNE: Yes.
SEN. RORABACK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
GEOFF MILNE: Thank you.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Any other questions or comments? Thank you very much for your testimony. Elaine Chagnon?
ELAINE CHAGNON: Good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity to address you this afternoon. My name is Elaine Chagnon, I am a special education teacher with 20 years experience. I've worked primarily in Granby before switching to Capital Region Education Council at the opportunity to work at the brand new Two Rivers Magnate Middle School.
I have a great deal of experience in program development and implementation based on my experience as a special education teacher. My involvement with Old New-Gate spans nine years, where I've helped build up and also chair programs that we have put on in conjunction with the Friends of New-Gate and other town organizations.
Old New-Gate is a historic site with a truly unique style that lends itself to a wide range of opportunities for education and has been largely untapped. While the Mine tour is beneficial and it's an interesting activity for students, it's short in duration and it has remained largely unchanged. The subsequent self-guided tour through the grounds is also short in duration and is static, it is not a hands-on program. In order to draw consistently from the school population, educators are looking for programs with these characteristics.
First of all, the program should meet the standards outlined in the State curriculum guidelines. Second of all, programs should be interactive in nature. Research proves that interactive programs engage learners and help form lasting connections that build meaning and understanding, especially to history where they have no background.
Programs that are at least a half a day in length is what educators are looking for to justify taking time away from the classroom. And fourth, programs that are close to home cut down on the time and the expense of travel. Old New-Gate is the perfect site.
We are in the process and almost completing a couple of programs. We are developing a menu of educational program opportunities that would reach a large school audience and ensure repeat business from those same districts and also districts in a wider radius of the State.
Some of the programs under consideration and development include colonial law, a mock trial, a day in the life of a prisoner, military history and the history of mining. Another area is that of exploring colonial culture through customs and etiquette, music and dance. Colonial crafts of smithing both blacksmithing and whitesmithing, candle making, games, spinning and weaving.
Another untapped area is colonial medicine, cooking, architecture. While these are social studies and history-based programs, the science programs are another avenue. Science programs could be offered exploring geology, geography, the flora and fauna of the region and that can be done through hiking, hiking all of the trails on the contingent property and also through photography.
In your packet there's a complete -- a more complete listing of possibilities. And I would like to thank you and urge you to consider the conveyance.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Thank you very much for your testimony. Senator Roraback and I would like to know what whitesmithing is?
ELAINE CHAGNON: It's working with pewter.
SEN. DEFRONZO: What's that? Say it again.
ELAINE CHAGNON: Working with pewter.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Working with pewter. I understand that there is an in one of the old structures that there is an old blacksmithing operation that has been neglected for some years.
ELAINE CHAGNON: I believe so. Yeah, largely all untapped.
SEN. DEFRONZO: So, the kind of educational programming that you're envisioning here how far out are we from that? I mean with $4.2 million worth in preser -- stabilization, development of the site, I mean how far off would we be from some of the things you're talking about?
ELAINE CHAGNON: I have one program right now that is just about completed. And I would hope to start it mid-fall of the coming year. Because it doesn't -- it utilizes the areas that are still safe to -- to work around.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Yeah. Because it appears from some of these photos that there's a considerable amount of risk involved in moving around that site with loose -- loose construction, loose bricks and all that.
ELAINE CHAGNON: The majority of the walls that need stabilization are in the back quadrant of the -- of the prison and they a lot of them have been off limits for years anyway. So we're not planning on using that area, but basically the courtyard area, the area where the guardhouse is and when you first enter the gates to your right is a fire pit. So, those -- that basic area there is still usable and safe.
SEN. DEFRONZO: And the tavern across the street from the site, that's part of this whole --
ELAINE CHAGNON: The tavern is part of the site but its currently closed to the public. The public is not allowed in there. The only time in my recollection that its been used, is when we sponsored the Old New-Gate Halloween, and we used it for ticket taking and we also had it set up the first floor only, because we had certificate of occupancy just for the first floor. We had reenactors in all of the rooms on the first floor and people could get their tickets and walk through the tavern and then cross over to the --
SEN. DEFRONZO: You've been involved nine years, have you been involved with the State Historical Commission in efforts to --
ELAINE CHAGNON: I've worked primarily through the funds and also I've had a heavy involvement with the Marquis of Granby Junior Ancient Fife and Drum Corps which is a Revolutionary War Corps. And they've done a lot of performances up at New-Gate. So worked with the Commission not directly as a private person but in conjunction with the Friends of New-Gate.
SEN. DEFRONZO: So what brings you to the conclusion that it would be better for a citizens group to assume responsibility here rather than the State to continue to manage the site, or have you reached that conclusion entirely?
ELAINE CHAGNON: Well, I have. But, at this point over -- over my nine-year involvement with New-Gate, the events that have been put on that are truly interactive and community based have been done in conjunction with the Friends of New-Gate. The reenactments, the colonial wedding, the concerts, we've had several concerts up there, we've also had the New-Gate Halloween which has drawn up to 2,000 visitors on a two-day weekend up to the site. Have all been done based through the Friends of New-Gate and we've pulled in other area -- area organizations' reenactors and other Fife and Drum Corps. And we've done -- I've applied for grants from the Tourism Board to get money for advertising so we've kind of been doing it on our own, I guess maybe not totally on our own, but the programs have been put forth by the Friends of New-Gate.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Any other questions? Thank you very much for your testimony.
ELAINE CHAGNON: Thank you.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Keith Jones.
KEITH JONES: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. Because it's late in the day, I will cut my statement short from the full number of pages here. Just to introduce myself, I'm President of the Ridgefield, Connecticut Historical Society and at one time we used to work with the Housatonic River Valley Tourist Commission. Of course that no longer exists, because the State in its wisdom with its budgetary concerns consolidated it, so we don't have that to work with any longer.
I'm on the Board of Directors of 5th Connecticut Regiment of the Continental Line, we are reenactors who take pride in getting our reenactments right. We we're chartered by Governor Grasso in 1964, we've been on the ground for 30 years. We look forward to participating at New-Gate but we couldn't last year, because it wasn't -- it wasn't opened to us.
As a historian -- an amateur historian who's written a few books and who gets around in the State it's a shame our museums are a shame in this State. The ones that are opened like the Crandall House is dilapidated. There are others that are on such limited staffing that the opportunity for the public to deal with it.
Now, I guess I'll only address two things that are relevant here. One has to do with education on the ground through touch-and-feel. Professional educators have made the point that history is better learned and remains when young people touch it and experience it rather than read it from books.
And if all we give the children of our State are books, you might as well live in Montana or Arkansas. You can live in Arkansas and read the same books. It's a shame for one of the 13 colonies to be moving toward shopping malls, real estate developments, casinos and abandoning the history that's unique to us and our children in Connecticut.
I live near Danbury where my wife is teaching literacy to the immigrant population that's coming in, which is gigantic, gigantic. Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America. Our history is not their history. Reading is not how they get it. Through schools these young Asians and Latinos who go to sites and can see and touch some day our history will become their history, and we who are in the reenactment business take pride in helping these citizens become the future citizens they will.
Let me just close, by reading a few things. We reenactors are not in this for the money. Just the opposite, it costs between a thousand and $2,000 to properly outfit ourselves. By properly, that means every button, every type of fabric is researched, we don't make it up, we take great pride in having done the research in what we convey in educating our youth.
We do it form our passion of history; we do it because we really enjoy being human vessels to communicate from the past to the future. We do it because we believe our heritage is really special and needs to be passed onto the next generation hand-to-hand.
So what's the bottom line here, I guess two things. First of all, we need venues like Old New-Gate even if they're not perfect, if they're not fully funded. The children need to learn every year fourth grade they don't repeat, after fourth grade or fifth grade they don't get another shot at Connecticut history at least not in our community.
That's it. Shame on us if we let one of the original 13 colonies morph into a faceless collection of food stands, shopping malls, and tract-home developments, despite all of the good-natured effort of those who administer our public funds.
The second thing is this. Old New-Gate really needs the love and care of people who are not just in it for the money. Its not on I-95, it's not on the main tourist quarter. You've heard of the tip of the iceberg, it's the bottom of the iceberg in priorities. It has been and probably will continue to be because of its location.
Bringing it back to life will come from the passions and the sweat of people who don't look at it as a 9-to-5 job and go home after their testimony. They look at it because it's coming form their heart and they're passing it onto their heart. We come from the private sector; they come from people and organizations like the Friends of Old New-Gate. Thank you.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Thank you very much for your testimony we appreciate your commitment and passion to this cause that you are involved in. Are there questions, Committee Members? Representative Fleischmann.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for your testimony. First I'd like to observe that, having the testimony come from you while you are costumed as you are today I feel like I'm hearing from Patrick Henry or one of our founding fathers -- so you know my super ego is telling me that I must do what you say.
I'm trying to maintain a little more objectivity. I'm wondering you've heard today some talk about partnership. If we were to as a State do a better job of stepping up with the funding, figuring out how to fund the $4.2 million to properly stabilize the old mines and put more operating funds in there. But also to carve out more of a role for folks like yourself, who have such a passion for maintaining this history and keeping it alive. Would that for you potentially represent an acceptable resolution to the issues before us?
KEITH JONES: Well sir, I guess. Whitesmithing I always thought was right here and I don't know no matter how many years I have to wait for the State to come up with such money as I've gone gray and not only blind in the service of reenacting. But the question is who drives the bus that we're all riding on in partnership? And I think it's been clear that the driver being the State has been a driver whose license ought to be checked. And it is time for someone else to drive the bus that we can all ride in to get to where we want to go. That's my opinion.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Thank you.
SEN. DEFRONZO: Thank you very much for your comments. Michael Alcock.
MICHAEL ALCOCK: I'm here to speak in support of H.B. 5648, specifically as it addresses the New-Gate Prison.
My name is Michael Alcock and I live in Trumbull, Connecticut. Obviously I am a reenactor. I am the Commander and President of DeLancey's Brigade 1st Battalion, a 501(c)3 education corporation headquartered in Connecticut. There were soldiers of the original DeLancey's Brigade who were jailed at Old New-Gate Prison.
I portray a Loyalist, a Tory, a Royalist or whatever other name you might give a Connecticut citizen who remained loyal to the King during the War of Independence. During my 28 years of reenacting I have been to Old New-Gate Prison many times. Of course it was almost always as a prisoner. Striving for historic accuracy in our presentation, it has been my role at the prison to be inside looking out. But this has not been the traumatic and degrading experience you might imagine. On the contrary, it has been an exciting challenge and a unique opportunity. I have been able to portray a political prisoner in the very jail cells that were used for that purpose over 200 years ago. And there is no other place in this country where this would be possible.
When I talk to the general public in lectures, encampments, and reenactments about the cost of loyalty, I can get across at a certain level. But at New-Gate that knowledge threshold is dramatically crossed when the plight of a Loyalist is so graphically demonstrated. I would plead my case of unlawful and underserved incarceration using historically accurate scenarios, and educate the visitors to a dimension of the Revolutionary War they never knew existed.
They gained insight into political prisoners by talking to one. So persuasive were my arguments that sometimes I was even able to elicit their aid in helping me to escape. They would smuggle things into me and/or distract the guards. I once paid an 11-year-old girl with a reproduction shilling to help me. Upon my recapture she again visited me in jail and handed back the shilling because she felt that she had failed. She had gained an understanding of what a political prisoner is without understanding the meaning of the words.
This girl, her parents and just about everyone else who has visited me in those cells started out talking to me as if I were some kind of unpatriotic pariah. But after a short time inside the New-Gate time machine I was able to transport many of them back to a different time and to a different mind-set using persuasion enhanced by those surroundings.
But now that time machine is in trouble. It needs hard work and it needs TLC. It needs money and it needs a group of people dedicated to preserving this national treasure because they realize how important it is. Such a group is at hand, waiting for permission to arrest deterioration, to forestall vandalism, to maintain the structure and to restore this unique piece of history.
Won't you please give them the permission they seek to preserve this time machine? If you do, many more people like that young girl can be exposed to history as it really was and gain an understanding of its relevance to life today. If you don't, it may very well sit unused, unappreciated, subject to the ravages of time and weather and perhaps even a victim of the wrecking ball. That would be a sad and needless loss. Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you. Any questions for Mr. Alcock? Representative Fleischmann.
REP. FLEISCHMANN: Mr. Chairman. I -- really was just a comment which was to say that I find your potential fidelity to the Crown in this day and age to be extremely troubling, but I will nonetheless be taking your testimony seriously and appreciate your having taking the time to come up here.
MICHAEL ALCOCK: Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: As an Irish-American, a week away from St. Patrick's Day, I don't want to say anything but Representative Fleischmann spoke for me.
MICHAEL ALCOCK: I have no choice; my wife is a British citizen.
REP. O'ROURKE: Okay, William Vibert. Is William here?
And after Mr. Vibert, Richard Wheatley. Afternoon, sir.
WILLIAM VIBERT: Representative O'Rourke, Senator Roraback we've talked in other venues. Thank you for the opportunity for me to speak here. I'm in favor of Raised H.B. 5648. I think going back before that I have a biography that you can read, I won't go down it. But I do have a long history of teaching history and a couple of books to my credit and I'll let it go at that.
I -- we want Section 1 and Section 1B to continue to be put before the public in whatever venue we can have due. But permit me for a minute to share a little historical background.
The corporation -- I am President by the way of Old New-Gate Inc. And let me -- the corporation described above that I'm President of is an outgrowth of the Friends of New-Gate of which I am also the President. The Friends of New-Gate have been in existence for 16 years. It was a support group for the prison when we went back -- when we had our income tax come in. Do you remember the weather around Senator Weicker or Governor Weicker and the kinds of cuts that we were taking that led up to the income tax and those kinds of things? We go way back to that, that's why we got started as Friends. Because there was nothing in the store to sell kids there was nothing in there to intrigue them, the ones who came in and the parents too.
So we as a support group conducted various activities raising money to put in the store and share the proceeds with the Connecticut Historical Commission by any way we could do that. And I'd like to say right now; we're not knocking the Connecticut Historical Commission.
I'll go back to Senator Roraback and some of the rest of you, the State, the State, the legislature and the Government they had their priorities and when you have your priorities sometimes you have to make choices and the choices -- Mr. Ferrari talked about it and others have talked about those choices you have to make. But that's where the issue is. And so we now talk about if we could have another kind of arrangement. I mean we came to the conclusion that when we were told a year ago -- on -- almost on July 1st of 2002 that the Historical Commission's budget has been cut be 45 percent, and Jack Shanahan had to say we're going to close the prisons, right there.
That was a low point as far as we were concerned. And what happened of course was the human cry that came from the public money was found to open the prison, to keep the prison open beyond July 1st 2002 to 2003. It's only 2002 yea to 2003. Our prison hasn't been -- hasn't been opened for a year as far as the season is concerned because of those things.
Well those are the problems we ran into. But I'd like to say something else. Among the charter members of the Friends of New-Gate, and the second president was the late Aldo Newman who was Representative from the 62nd district, the seat that Mr. Ferrari now holds. Mr. Newman then was the Commissioner of Public Utilities and there is a stone with a plaque on it at New-Gate in his memory and his honor for his contribution to the State of Connecticut and to New-Gate Prison. That's our connection, we go back those years.
The State has owned the Prison 30 -- let's see, it's 32 plus four, 36 years. We've been with them 16. We have seen the kinds of things that have happened and not have happened. And that's how we came to this conclusion finally, we said we can't go on like this; there must be another format. And so here we are with the other format. And if there's a format that can be hammered out everybody's to agree - and the things happen. It's not if we can do it. But what were saying is we're going on if the if doesn't come, that's what's here.
Now I'd like to say something else. The Friends of New-Gate through golf tournaments raise money to make a video. This is a video tour of the New-Gate Prison and Copper Mine done by our senior guide of 22 years, Christopher Riley, who was forced out this year because of budget considerations. And he is also in retirement. He had a Hobson's choice, retire and get benefits or don't. So he has retired, 22 years.
This video we sell in the store for $20 at New-Gate and we share the proceeds with the Connecticut Historical Commission. A variation on this is a video that can be played upstairs in the guardhouse for handicapped people who can't go in the mine, by the very same person, and in having the real thing.
Now beyond that, we have raised money from time to time for advertising leaflets that we put out in adjoining states when the State didn't have the money to do it. We got grants from the North Central Tourist Association to do this. You know that Historical Commission can't get grants. But we can get grants and do the things that they couldn't do going into the prison.
So what we were saying is that that looks like maybe we have an opportunity in the private way to do things that can't be done in other ways because of the existences of government and the taxes and what's required.
What I'd like to say also is what these people -- these enactors who are here -- they come to us -- there are three times a year that they get here. They get here in July and they start out the year and we have our Halloween program at the end of the year that we've heard about. We have a thousand people go through the place in those times. It's just -- we just don't want that to stop. And it hurt; it hurt when there were no yellow school buses in our parking lot last year because there was no New-Gate. And that's what motivates us to go this way and we hope would motivate others I'd say.
Finally, I'd like to say and Mrs. Aniskovich has gone through this history before me so I can probably go fast enough. But you know in Mr. Domonel's book -- he was -- Bill Domonel was a guide for four years and he's a historian all of his life practically, and he's -- it's a great book, get it sometime and read about New-Gate.
He talks about to quote him he said; "All told, there appeared to be at least seven uses to which the property was put since the discovery of copper in 1705, a copper mine, a colonial prison, a military prison, a State prison, renewed mine activity, tourist attraction under private ownership and a historic museum and tourist attraction under the State 1968 to the present". I put one other thing, if you live around Simsbury the biggest company that used to be there was Ensign-Bickford. They made time fuses. The reason for time fuses were mining. And it was the mining at Old New-Gate that inspired the time fuse so that people wouldn't blow their fingers off when they were playing around with it.
So what we're saying is, more than that over the years New-Gate has successfully operated as private enterprise. Over all those 300 years. We come before you today asking that you allow us the opportunity to implement our plan, returning New-Gate to private hands in order to fulfill its potential as a unique Connecticut historic site available to all. Thank you.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you, Mr. Vibert. Any questions? Very impressed the passion you folks all have for and the dedication you have to the prison. It's hard to understand how it would have been closed really in such a constituency that it has.
When I was there as a kid I remembered that there was a certain temperature underground there all year round --
WILLIAM VIBERT: 56 degrees.
REP. O'ROURKE: 56, thanks I was trying to remember, I thought it was in the fifties. That's in the dead of winter it's still 56. Hottest day of the year it's still 56.
WILLIAM VIBERT: And the color of my hair will tell you that the stairway I went down was the ladder. Going up and down.
REP. O'ROURKE: Any questions for Mr. Vibert? If not, than you very much for your testimony. Next up is Richard Wheatley. And then I've got somebody here is it Ed from a magazine -- or you're not going to testify -- oh, okay all right, you can testify if you want to. Mr. Wheatley, good afternoon.
RICHARD WHEATLEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thank you members of the Committee for hearing my testimony. My name is Richard Wheatley, I live in Hamden, Connecticut. My son, Jason Wheatley who I'm representing in front of this Committee is a resident on the Undercliff property. I am here in disapproval of the H.B. 5648, Section 12 in transferring of the property to the City of Meriden.
In looking at the bill there's absolutely no provisions for the people who have residence there on the Undercliff property. My son's been there for the past four years. He has -- he is severely autistic and is in part of one of the units. My wife and I had kept him at home up until that point. Our home was a virtual New-Gate Prison. He has a tendency to wander at night, and we were looking for a 24-hour facility. That facility on Undercliff is the only facility in the New Haven -- greater New Haven County.
I was really taken back by Representative Gaffey in representing most of the use of that as being warehousing. Almost to the point of saying that the people there are like those warehoused items we can just move them up the hill. There's absolutely -- you know, I'm incensed to that kind of attitude.
I open all of my writings to any of the legislators with a quote from a wonderful play and movie by Hallmark called "The Boys Next Door". And in that movie there's a soliloquy in front of a Commission very similar to this. And the character makes a statement in that "Civilizations are judged by how they treat the weakest of citizens." The people living in Undercliff that make their home there are those weakest of citizens. For this Committee to allow that section to go through would be a travesty to civilization.
Thank you. Any questions?
REP. O'ROURKE: Any questions for Mr. Wheatley? I'll just tell you I think we got a good message from you folks. We understand and take it all into account when we do the bill.
RICHARD WHEATLEY: Thank you very much.
REP. O'ROURKE: Thank you very much and for taking your time and joining us today.
Brian Anderson here? Brian? Is there anyone else who wishes to testify here today who isn't on my list? Or who is on my list and hasn't been called? I think I got everybody. Going once, going twice, going three times, if not I'm going to call the Public Hearing of the GAE Committee to a close and I thank you all for participating and have a great weekend.
(WHEREUPON, THE HEARING WAS ADJOURNED.)