Media center committee put on hold

The committee charged with developing a plan to build a community media center on the Tracey Lewis house property on Wolfe Avenue, above, has been put on hold until town officials can determine what direction the project should take. –FILE PHOTO

BEACON FALLS — The plans for a new library and community center have been placed on the shelf.

The Board of Selectman voted to suspend the Community Media Center Committee at its meeting Monday night until the board decides what direction the committee should take.

“I want to suspend it to be fair to them so they don’t meet and spin their wheels and waste a whole lot of time,” First Selectman Gerard Smith said.

Last year, the committee asked for $25,000 in funds for a preliminary design of the community media center to be built on Wolfe Avenue. The plan was to build a center that would serve as the hub of the community, with space for parks and recreation activities, the Historical Society, various municipal needs, and meeting rooms.

The idea to tear down the former home of local entrepreneur Tracey Lewis to build a new, state-of-the-art facility faced intense opposition from historic groups.

Since the new Board of Selectmen took office in November, several alternative ideas have been floating around.

Without funds for the study and with no clear direction to go, the committee hasn’t done anything since the election, according to committee Chair Sue Dowdell.

“We couldn’t go forward with all the different talk going on,” Dowdell said.

She came before the board at its Feb. 13 meeting seeking reconfirmation of the committee’s mission.

“You need to make a decision which way you want us to go,” Dowdell told the board.

The committee was put on hold until further notice.

Even though the committee is suspended, Smith said he is keeping the committee’s budget request of $30,000 to be brought up during budget discussions.

“We’re considering everything before we start cutting anything,” Smith said.

Smith said he didn’t have a timeline of when the committee might be reconvened.

“I don’t want a gun to my head. Sooner than later,” Smith said.

Selectman Chris Bielik concurred that he would like to see the project move forward sooner rather than later.

Smith said he would like to renovate the Tracey Lewis house to use as a municipal building and open up the rest of the Town Hall to the library.

Others want to build a library in the commuter parking lot on Main Street, and idea that was put forth in the town’s 2003 plan of development.

Library Director Marsha Durley said she was not surprised to learn that the committee had been suspended.

Durley said she was disappointed, not for herself, but for the residents of Beacon Falls.

“I think they deserve a better facility. But, like everything else, I guess it’s going to be a while longer,” Durley said.

Durley said the idea to renovate the Tracey Lewis house and turn Town Hall over to the library would double the current 1,200 square foot space, but would take a long time.

“We’re still talking quite a ways down the road,” Durley said.

Durley said the library’s current space is inadequate to meet the needs of residents and accommodate everyone who wants to use the library. The library rolls out carts of books into the hallway during the day and squeezes them back into the main room at night.

The other day, Durley said she had someone teaching a computer class in the children’s room while one tutor worked on a fold-out table in the adult room and another tutor worked on a bench in the hall.

“It’s not anywhere near an ideal situation,” Durley said.

Last year, the library served 17,500 patrons.