September 23, 2019

Chester Town Meeting Vote on Accepting Grant Funds for Main St. Project, Tuesday

Voters will be asked at a town meeting Tuesday to formally accept two state grants totaling $783,000 for the Main Street East reconstruction project. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the community room at town hall.

The required town meeting action comes after the board of selectmen and the Main Street Project Committee approved a change in the long-planned project that would limit most improvements to the section of the street from the intersection with School Lane west to the Laurel Hill Cemetery, while eliminating plans for a continuous sidewalk on the north side of the street that had drawn opposition from some residents. One factor in the now deferred plans for a north side sidewalk was a preliminary plan to construct a new library in North Quarter Park, a plan for which the town was recently awarded a separate $1 million state grant.

But when the board of selectmen discussed the project at a meeting Tuesday, some residents voiced continuing objections to both the revised Main Street plans, and the idea of building a new library at North Quarter Park. Christopher Moore raised concerns about town costs for both projects, while Caryn Davis questioned the need for a library. “It’s not as if we don’t have services,” she said.

Cary Hull, a library supporter, responded to the comments by noting the award of the state grant, which must be directed to a town approved library building project within three years, is only the first step. ” We realize our work is just beginning for a library that is accessible to everyone in the community,” she said.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan said plans for a library project are in the early stages, and would require both private fundraising and possible town bonding because the $1 million grant would cover only a portion of the cost of a new library. But Meehan added that failing Tuesday to accept the two state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grants awarded for the Main Street Project would likely mean a loss of the grant funding and leave town taxpayers responsible for all of the expense of any improvements to Main Street. “If we keep delaying this we have a high risk of having that money pulled back,” he said.

Michael Joplin, chairman of the Main Street Project Committee, said the panel needs to complete the revised plans for the Main Street East Project soon to allow the project to be put out to bid for a start of construction by the spring. “We have to move this along,” he said. Joplin, at a Nov. 25 meeting, had urged the committee to scale back the project plans out of concern that controversy over the north side sidewalk would delay the project and lead to a possible loss of the grant funding.

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