Access to Korn Elementary School, Coginchaug Regional High School, District 13 Central Office, and Allyn Brook Park will be much more difficult from April to November of 2014, according to construction projections discussed at the Nov. 13 Board of Education meeting and the Nov. 18 Durham Board of Selectman meeting.
Major construction repair to a culvert at Allyn Brook Park will close Pickett Lane during that time period. With Pickett Lane closed, buses, parents, students, and staff will only have access to the school facilities by way of Maiden Lane.
“It has to be done. It is going to be inconvenient,” interim Superintendent of Schools Ernest Perlini said. “We have to deal with it, but it’s going to be better when it’s done.”
In July, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced a $500,000 STEAP grant for Durham to help prevent flooding on Pickett Lane. The grant, which is the largest STEAP grant awarded, adds to STEAP grants previously awarded to Durham — $200,000 in 2010 and $150,000 in 2011 — for a total of $850,000 in state funds for Pickett Lane.
The Small Town’s Economic Assistance Program is designed to help small towns with major projects. When the grant was originally awarded, both Malloy and Durham First Selectman Laura Francis, who lobbied for the grant, called the project a priority because of access to the schools and the emergency shelter at CRHS.
The project will go out to bid in December with the construction, and the road closure, beginning in April. Noting the number of end-of-year activities at the schools, Perlini has asked the state to hold off on closing the road as long as possible.
At the BOS meeting, Francis said, “Clearly it’s going to be a huge interruption of operations not just for the school district, but the summer rec program, Little League, football, soccer, the pet fair and general usage of that property.”
The construction site also is on the course of the annual Memorial Day Durham/Middlefield Exchange Club Washington Trail 4K/10K run.
In an interview with Town Times, Francis agrees with Perlini’s assessment that the project is an inconvenient necessity.
According to Francis the road, “one of the busiest spots of our town,” will be completely closed from about halfway up the hill on the west to the last three parking lots at Allyn Brook Park on the east. The site will be enclosed with fencing, but pedestrians, including Strong School students in physical education classes, will have access to the park by a walkway.
The current culvert is both undersized, which has led to flooding, and corroded, which could lead to a costly failure. The project is also complicated because of the interruption of utilities such as data lines, electricity and water in the area.
“It’s a very large watershed and it’s a regulated watershed,” Francis said of the complexity of the project. Any construction costs above $850,000, according to Francis, will have to be handled by the town.
Ironically, the closing of Pickett Lane will coincide with the scheduled installation of a light at the intersection of Main Street and Pickett Lane.
School district business Manager Ron Melnik noted that if the road has to be closed, there will be some value to experiencing the difficulties during the school year instead of facing them for the first time on the first day of school.
According to Park and Recreation Director Sherry Hill, the Summer Camp program will not be at Allyn Brook this summer. “It’s not going to be a good situation. It’s going to be an extensive construction site,” Hill said.
Hill said she is beginning work on moving the summer programs. “My pick would be Brewster, if we could have it there,” said Hill, who said the elementary school grounds would be a good fit for the Summer Camp program, which is popular among the first, second, and third graders.
Hill said she is looking forward to expanded and safer pedestrian traffic over the bridge at the park’s entrance. Although most of the improvements will be underground, current designs also call for a walkway on one side of the bridge connecting the park with Strong School’s rear parking lot.