If you’re at Coginchaug High School’s new athletic complex and looking for a bathroom, better hold that thought if you don’t like Port-o-Lets. Last night, Durham’s Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) granted the Regional School District 13’s request for a 24-month extension to complete construction of permanent restrooms.
Under the new timeline approved last night, the Board of Education will have until September 19 to present the PZC with a written cost estimate, a plan and timetable for appropriations, and a proposed construction schedule for final approval. After that, the district will provide the Commission with written progress reports and send representatives to PZC meetings in April, June, October, and February of 2013 with updates on the budget process.
Currently, there is no money in the budget for bathroom construction and there isn’t any allocated in the proposed budget for 2012-2013, which residents will be voting on next week in the May 8 referendum.
“It was pretty clear to us that we’ll have to go to a phased implementation,” said Board of Education finance subcommittee chair Kerrie Flanagan. “There’s no time to put this new phased plan into the budget.”
Flanagan said the board will include funding for new restrooms in the budget it prepares in December but board members are still holding out hope that they’ll be able to raise money from private donations before then to offset some of the costs. District 13 School Superintendent Susan Viccaro, however, assured the Planning and Zoning Commission that constructing permanent bathrooms is a top priority.
“The board recognizes the importance of putting in permanent bathrooms,” said attorney Tim Hollister, speaking on behalf of District 13’s Board of Education. “It is imperative that we fully fund this.”
Indeed, from a legal standpoint, District 13 has little choice in the matter. In 2009, Durham resident Karen Cheyney sued the school district and the Planning and Zoning Commission in an effort to stop the athletic complex from being built. The resulting settlement which allowed the project to go forward requires construction of permanent bathroom facilities as part of the athletic field complex.
At last night’s meeting, the Board of Education offered an apology for failing to comply with the terms of the judgment. The settlement stipulated that all construction be completed no later than 18 months after the settlement date. However, under the new timeline, the bathrooms won’t be completed until April 30, 2014.
“Why couldn’t it be completed before April, 2014?” Planning and Zoning Commission member Joe Pasquale asked.
Flanagan said that, based on the number of unforeseen delays that have held up the project thus far, board members wanted to set a deadline they were sure they could meet, although she added they are optimistic that construction may be completed before then, ideally over the summer of 2013.
Cheyney and her attorney John Corona, both of who attended the meeting, said they weren’t thrilled about the plan but wouldn’t oppose it.
“It’s really hard to say we endorse it,” Corona said. “I’m dubious it will work.”
Bill Currlin, chairman of the Building Committee that was formed to oversee the athletic complex development, was notably absent from the meeting. However, the Board of Education told Planning and Zoning commissioners that its own Building and Grounds Committee would now be
overseeing the development and construction of the phased building plans and all future building projects.
“We will take this over and do it ourselves,” said Board of Education Chairman Tom Hennick.
Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Richard Eriksen said he was pleased to hear that.
“I’m satisfied there’s some commitment,” Eriksen said. “All the parties are here. Let’s have a plan.”