New Kent town center almost finished

(Original publication: July 25, 2004)

KENT — Two pink flamingoes are perched atop a rock outcropping at the rear of Kent's new Town Hall. Put there by construction workers, the plastic figures overlook the buildings of the town's soon-to-be-ready government center.

"We should leave those there," Supervisor William Tulipane said as he toured the new town offices, library and police station. "They're right outside my office."

Work on the police station and library should be completed by Aug. 13 and on the Town Hall by Sept. 29, Tulipane said. Those achievements come 10 years after Putnam County gave Kent the 80-acre parcel off Route 52 and about three years after construction started. The town, however, needs to cover the project's budget shortfall of a little more than $1 million.

Since 1990, the town has rented office suites in a Route 52 shopping center. The new facility will replace those offices, provide the library a much-needed larger space and remove the Police Department from trailers it has occupied since a March 2000 ceiling collapse in its headquarters. The site could include a senior citizen center if the county uses an empty building site that already includes sewer, water and electrical hookups.

With no downtown — businesses are strung along Route 52 — and town departments in several locations, the clustering of municipal services and a town green will give Kent a focal point.

"It's going to be three different spots in one, which would be wonderful," said Robert Schwartz, 57, of Kent. "I'm definitely looking forward to its opening. It's nice, it's ours, and it's not rented space."

With the end in sight, so is the final price tag — $11,737,774. That figure, Tulipane said, is $1,242,038 over budget — a sum the town will have to borrow.

"Now that we're getting to the end, it's going to stabilize," Tulipane said of the overrun's amount.

In July 2001, voters approved borrowing $5 million for the project. Other planned and secured funding sources include state grants, county money and $250,000 of the library's sale price of about $370,000, Tulipane said.

Tulipane said he whittled down the overrun by finding about $700,000 in unused capital budget lines. A new referendum, which probably will be held on Election Day, would ask voters to borrow about $1.4 million over 20 years. The extra money — about $200,000 — would be used to turn the old Town Hall into a recreation center.

The cost of the new bond to homeowners is still unknown. Borrowing the original $5 million was projected to cost the average homeowner about $52 a year for the length of the 30-year bond.

The new Town Hall will increase municipal office space from about 3,600 square feet to 11,000 square feet. The new meeting room can hold 120 people, compared with the current room's capacity of 57.

On Wednesday morning, blueprints were draped over a divider inside the new tax receiver's office. A yellow stepladder and a metal tool bin stood in the new meeting room amid dusty boxes of wall tile. Tulipane said the town would appropriate the needed $1.4 million from the town's budget surplus of $1.7 million if voters failed to approve the bond.

"If we do that, though, we can't use that money to reduce taxation," he said.

The library's space would more than triple to 10,600 square feet. The Police Department would move from its useless office to an 8,400-square-foot facility. The department's trailers sit in the old Town Hall's parking lot.

Kent police Lt. Alex DiVernieri said the new building would give the department a "functional area." Officers, he said, now must interview witnesses and others at their desks, with no privacy. The records room, he said, is overflowing.

"The guys here are excited," DiVernieri said. "It's going to be a pleasure doing business there."

The Kent Public Library, director Dona Boyer said, needs room for its collections and patrons. The children's room will be apart from the adults' area, and separate rooms will house computers, local history materials and study tables. At some point, Boyer said, the library will close for about two weeks while everything is transferred.

"The collection will slowly be able to expand," Boyer said. "It's going to be wonderful."

Outside the library on a recent afternoon, Kathy Hassan, 41, lugged an armful of children's books to her car. She said she was looking forward to the town center's opening.

"All of the services will be in one place," she said. "Plus, in here, there's not enough space to move around."


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Sunday, July 25, 2004