Gazing into the crystal ball; Town officials talk about the new year’s issues

By Lisa Capobianco
Staff Writer
With 2014 in full swing, Southington officials look forward to continuing their priorities from last year, while addressing new ones.
For Southington Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Mike DelSanto, the new year means continuing the work his department started last year while starting the ground work to address new issues.
“We are ready to hit the ground running,” DelSanto said. “There is still a lot of work to be done.”
DelSanto said commission’s top priority list for 2014 include continuing the work of various subcommittees, including the West Street Subcommittee and the Continuous Improvement Subcommittee.
He also said Planning and Zoning plans to look into establishing a subcommittee on signs.
“We need to revamp our regulations on signs,” DelSanto said, adding that regulations on home garages and sheds should also be revised as more residents want to expand their property. “They may not fit the times.”
Vice Chairman Paul Chaplinsky agreed that taking a comprehensive look at the town’s regulations on garages and signs serve as a top priority for Planning and Zoning—he said some regulations are unclear or outdated. He also hopes to look into completing the plan of conservation and development.
Chaplinsky added that the new year will bring continued plans of the development of West Street.  He said Planning and Zoning will continue its work on the interchange commercial zone, which is the area in the vicinity of Interstate 84 up to Curtiss Street, making that area more “harmonious” by ensuring that there remains a lot of open land and redevelopment. Chaplinsky also said the West Street Subcommittee will work on regulations from Curtiss Street to Spring Street as well as from West Queen Street to the Bristol town line, where a combination of business use and residential use exists, to ensure that the level of activity does not become too intense.
“So far so good,” Chaplinsky said. “The area is progressing.”
For Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback, the new year means seeing more advances in technology. Brumback said he would like 2014 to mark the beginning of a “virtual” town hall. Besides offering more professional development in the area of technology, Brumback said he would also like to see the Southington’s website become more “virtual,” featuring online job applications that could be submitted automatically, for instance.
Brumback added that his other priorities involve continuing the accomplishment of existing goals from last year, including renovations in town hall, improvements in infrastructure, and the relationship between the town and the Chamber of Commerce. Calling 2013 a “good year in road improvements,” Brumback said Southington will have a similar plan this year.
“We are going to continue to work hard to make sure that it is on time and on budget,” Brumback said, adding that the renovations in town hall will focus on improving the heat and cooling systems as well as adding a new front door.
The improvements in infrastructure also serve as a top priority of the Southington Town Council, according to Vice Chairperson Cheryl Lounsbury.
“Those are significant expenses,” said Lounsbury, adding that she would also like to see improvements in the town’s sewer treatment. “If we do not take care of it now, it will cost more in the future.”
Lounsbury added that the Council would like to take a close look at Southington’s network of social services. Besides working with Southington Community Services, Lounsbury said the council also plans to meet the needs of the Calendar House as its membership continues to grow. In just a few years, 40 percent of the adult population in Southington will be of senior citizen age, according to Mark White, the vice president of the Calendar House. With the growing number of senior citizens come the growing needs of more space in the Calendar House’s facility as well as more activities and classes.
Both Brumback and Lounsbury also hope to continue focusing on the economic development of Southington to recruiting a strong business community while creating a high quality of life. They also hope to continue the town’s plan of sharing services with the Board of Education. In December, the Board of Education announced its partnership with the town in the areas of technology, human resources, purchasing and finance to work more efficiently.
“That is a win-win,” Lounsbury said.
Besides sharing services with the Board of Education, the town also plans to ensure that the renovations of both DePaolo and Kennedy Middle Schools get completed on time and within the budget. Southington Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski said he feels proud of the collaboration between school and town officials on the Middle School Building Committee, and hopes residents will see rapid changes of the project, which is expected to be completed by fall 2015.
“We need to finish the project and show people what we are getting,” Goralski said. “The more we work together, the more our community will put their trust in us.”
Completing the Middle Schools Building Project also serves as a top priority for Southington Schools Supt. Dr. Joseph Erardi. During the new year, Dr. Erardi said he hopes to continue other goals that the district has worked on, such as completing the long-term plan for technology and professional development and bringing to life the Vision 20/20 Plan, which focuses on critical thinking, individualized learning, partnerships with business and community organizations, communication, and training teachers how to be facilitators.
Dr. Erardi added that he also plans to look into finalizing the next steps for the potential redistricting of elementary and middle schools to balance the number of students in each school. He also hopes to work with the Board of Education in examining why students leave the district to attend magnet schools, and how the district can replicate the same offerings in Southington’s schools.
During the new year, Dr. Erardi also said extensive professional development for the new Common Core State Standards will continue. Adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010, the Common Core State Standards will help improve achievement for students in grades K-12 to ensure that they become college and career “ready.” The Common Core focuses on providing higher-level standards for students by going deeper into each unit of English language arts and mathematics.
With these new standards come new standardized testing, called the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which will replace the math and English language arts Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMTs) and the Connecticut Academic Performance tests (CAPT). By the 2014-2015 school year, every public school district in Connecticut will administer the new Smarter Balanced Assessment System. Southington has decided to administer the tests this spring to get a head start. Dr. Erardi and the Board plan to ensure that the schools have enough computers and upgrades in technology so students and teachers can transition smoothly into the new assessments.
“It is terrific that we are ahead of the curve,” Dr. Erardi said. “We believe we are ready.”
But with the start of a new year also means budget time for the town, and members of the Board of Education also have that on their mind this year. Goralski said that although he hopes the Board of Finance will accept the proposed budget as presented, he feels proud of the level of communication between both boards. For the 2014-2015 budget, the Board of Finance plans to have earlier discussions with the Board of Education about its spending plan in order to improve communication.
“We are at a place where we have never been before,” said Goralski, adding that the Board of Education and the Board of Finance have developed a sense of trust over the years.
Board of Finance Chairman John Leary said this increased level of communication serves as way for his board to change its philosophy and budget process. The Board of Finance plans to have a more “collaborative process” by communicating even before any numbers are proposed.  Leary said the purpose of this “collaborative process” is to discuss the Board of Education’s goals so surprises will not emerge during the time of budget approval.
Leary added that although more communication does not guarantee approval of the budget as proposed, it does provide more understanding and allows the Board of Finance to examine any issues that the Board of Education may face.
“We would rather collaborate up front,” Leary said. “We are more informed and better prepared to sort out priorities.”

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