Pond will dry up without repairs

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BEACON FALLS — Town officials fear Carrington Pond at Matthies Memorial Park will become a swamp if hundreds of thousands of dollars are not invested into repairs of the artificial canals that help feed it.

The architecture of the network of sluiceways, which carries water from a settling pond to the larger Carrington Pond, dates back to the 1930s. To clean the sluiceways and ready them for much-needed repairs would cost about $80,000. The stonemasonry repairs themselves would cost up to a half a million dollars.

The structure maintenance budget of all five town parks is $15,000, and the grounds maintenance budget for the same is $20,000. Much of that money, park commissioners said, is spent maintaining the Pent Road athletic complex.

A view from a sluiceway of the Matthies House on the island in Carrington Pond, which officials say will dry up without repairs to the manmade canals and settling pond.

The maintenance budget for the sluiceways and settling pond at Matthies Park is $4,000 annually, which park Commissioner Joe Rodorigo said is “kind of like putting Band-Aids on [the settling pond’s deteriorating] wall. Our mason, who’s been very good about working within our budget, which is $4,000 or $5,000 a year, comes up and he does $4,000 or $5,000 worth of work and he packs up and he goes home,” he said. “$4,000 at a time just takes its toll. [Estimates for repairs] are big numbers, and we just don’t budget for it.”

The Parks and Recreation Commission held a public hearing this week to inform residents of the problem and solicit suggestions and opinions regarding a study from TPA Design Group, a New Haven firm specializing in landscape architecture, civil engineering and planning.

That study recommends almost $2 million in repairs, maintenance and improvements to the park, including the aforementioned structural repairs and a new restroom structure—there is currently one portable toilet at the site—a swimming beach, new hiking trails and improvements to the park entrance including curbing and new signage.

The study did not address the house on the island in the middle of Carrington Pond, which officials said is in serious disrepair. The manmade island itself, they said, is actually sinking. The cost of renovating the uninhabited structure may pale in comparison to the cost of razing it, as it most likely contains lead and asbestos hazards. Officials said “nobody knows” what to do about the house or island and that TPA was not asked to study either.

Some recommended the town and commission tackle long-overdue structural problems with the settling pond and sluiceways—and get more information about the potential cost of repairing the house and island—before considering recreational and aesthetic improvements.

Others worried about the potential liability of a swimming beach and the annual cost of maintaining what may be a $2 million investment—which could involve hiring a full-time maintainer for the park.

But the foremost topic of discussion at Monday’s hearing was whether state and federal grant money should be used to fund repairs, maintenance and improvement at Matthies Park. If public grants are used, the facility would have to be opened up to the general public; when Bernard Matthies gifted the park to the town in 1972—Beacon Falls spent about $150,000 on the land transfer, most of which was applied to legal fees—he stipulated that it must be reserved for residents.

If the town decides against pursuing state or federal money in order to honor Matthies’ wishes, taxpayers would need to approve a bonding package to pay for the repairs and, conceivably, other improvements at the park.

The TPA study officials presented to the public Tuesday did not recommend anything for the manmade island, which is slowly sinking into the pond, or the house that sits upon it.

“I have no problem with people from out of town,” said Beverly Krenesky, a resident and former commission member. “We go into every other place in the state and walk into it as responsible people. Yes, there are irresponsible people, but there are responsible people who appreciate things like this. I am not against outsiders.”

Leonard D’Amico, a former Beacon Falls first selectman, disagreed.

“If you open this up to everyone, you’re opening Pandora’s Box. You’d have a serious problem,” he said. “I do not think this would be good. I think the proposal is excellent; everything that you’ve shown I think is needed. But can we proceed in a measured way over a period of time using grants without stipulations, and bonding?”

Rodorigo said private foundation grants are hard to come by these days, but that the commission has been “very aggressive” in pursuing them. They are also, generally, considerably smaller than state or federal grants.

The Katharine Matthies Foundation, for example, contributes several thousand dollars a year to the park—but its donations, as is the case with many private grants, can be used only for improvements, and not for structural repairs or maintenance.

The only other option, besides taking federal or state money and opening the park to the public, or funding the project through private donations, would be to go out to bond. And to some, honoring the agreement with B. M. Matthies—which, incidentally, is not legally binding—would be worth the cost of borrowing investment capital against municipal bonds.

“It would be the moral obligation we met when we made the arrangement with Mr. Matthies,” said Dave Scott, another former park commissioner. “Legally, maybe, the agreement doesn’t hold any water. But morally—I know morals today aren’t as important as they used to be—but morally, if we want to be correct, [bonding is] the road we should be looking at taking.”

Beacon Falls First Selectman Susan Cable said the Board of Selectman and the Board of Finance are “in the process of considering a very large bonding package, because just as we have a lot of people here who are passionate about Matthies, we have other people who are passionate about things that need to be done at the firehouse; we have the passions of those that are concerned about the library. So we’re trying to take all of those into a long-range plan with all this incorporated and put it in a bond package.”

She noted that Beacon Falls is poised to borrow money on the cheap because of a strong bond rating, and said she’d support fully funding TPA’s recommendations—which would cost an estimated $1.92 million—as well as some kind of repair or remediation project on the island. The time to borrow, she said, is now.

Gerard Smith, vice chairman of the finance board, said the commission or TPA needed to provide the town with an estimate of what it would cost to maintain a renovated park annually.

“If it’s going to be a sizable amount of money, that needs to be known,” he said. “That’s as big a portion as asking the public for $2 million—to protect our $2 million every year. You have no idea what that’s going to cost. … That’s a really important number to have.”

Resident Liz Falzone suggested many Beacon Falls taxpayers would be willing to roll up their sleeves and volunteer their time and energy to help restore and maintain the treasured park and keep it exclusively theirs.

“I think, personally, Matthies Park is a vital part of what Beacon Falls is. It’s like a secret, a hidden, beautiful secret. I wouldn’t want to turn it over to just anybody. If we have to be out there with cement and whatever, I’m sure under supervision we would do it if we had to do it. A lot of people here in town love the park.”