By JOHN GORALSKI
It’s been a few months since worried whispers began to infiltrate local discussions. Could our downtown festivals be in trouble?
The current state building code prohibits temporary structures being placed within 15 feet of any overhead wiring, and that could threaten three downtown activities from Music on the Green to the Apple Harvest Festival (AHF) and Italian Festival.
That’s why Town Councilors Tom Lombardi and Victoria Triano joined State Representatives David Zoni and Joe Aresimowicz to address the Public Safety and Security Committee on Tuesday, March 8 in Hartford. They were speaking in favor of a proposed House Bill, HB-5545. The bill, sponsored by Zoni, gives towns the ability to waive the code for town festivals.
“There’s no danger that we won’t have the festivals,” said Lombardi, AHF co-chair. “We’re just trying to work with the state to make sure that they are comfortable with our safety procedures and we are working within their rules and regulations.”
Lombardi said that there’s no need to worry about the festivals yet. The local contingent was just trying to be proactive.
Zoni said that this is more than just a local issue, but Southington’s use of the town green for three separate events made it an even bigger issue for him.
“Once my colleagues learned about this, you could see their minds going. ‘Hey, wait a minute. We have this in our town, too,’” said Zoni. “They immediately grasped the importance of this.”
Town officials are already working out contingencies to ensure that the festivals and music continues regardless of the bill’s passage.
Southington Director of Recreation David Lepreay has already settled on a work-around for the Music on the Green series since that will be the first event impacted by the regulations. Lepreay said that the stage will have to be moved off the street a little bit to comply with the code, but visitors will hardly notice the difference.
“We have to move a storage container to make room, but that isn’t a big deal,” said Lepreay. “It won’t affect Music on the Green at all.”
As for the Apple Harvest Festival, the wiring could affect the placement of a few tents in front of the American Legion and the street in front of the First Congregational Church, but the town green falls safely outside the range of any overhead wiring.
The Italian Festival, with its line of tents on the north side of Center Street, would be the most affected, but Lombardi said that a plan will be in place if the waiver isn’t granted.
“We don’t want to put a damper on such good events,” he said. “We just want to make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure that safety is in place.”
Lombardi pointed to the extensive list of inspections that the town already conducts for the festivals and events. The tents are all fire rated, installed professionally by a local vendor, and inspected by the fire department and building officials. Smoking is prohibited near the booths. Fire extinguishers are provided, and the town has installed electrical outlets over the years to supply electricity safely to the tents.
That’s why the local contingent chose to speak out during public comment.
“This isn’t our first rodeo doing fairs,” said Lombardi. “We’re not interested in violating any codes. On the other hand, we have to state our case. Safety has been and always will be our No. 1 priority for any public event that we put on.”
Don’t worry, he said, the show will go on.
“It got voted out of committee on Thursday, so now it will go into the pile of things coming out of committee,” said Zoni. “It will be screened with the other boards, and I’m going to push for it.”