Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Town waiting for money for Central Park renovation

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
February 15, 2006

VERNON - Central Park may be under nearly a foot of snow, but the progress - or lack thereof - of its long-planned renovation remains a source of frustration for local officials.

Work on the $750,000 restoration project was scheduled to be finished by the end of last year.

But a sluggish federal approval process has left the town waiting for the green light to start the long-waited project to enhance the park, which is in front of Town Hall between East Main Street and Park Place.

Renovation plans include the installation of decorative lighting and the moving of the park's war monument to a more accessible location.

"It's show me the money," Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer said last week. "We can't do anything without the money."

Because much of the funding for the project is coming from the federal sources, such as the Federal Highway Administration, Shaffer said, all plans have to be approved by the federal government.

Once they sign off on the plans, federal officials will send funds for the project to the state Department of Transportation, which will pass on the money to Vernon.

But when the federal government will sign off is anyone's guess at this point.

Shaffer said he is hopeful that work on the project could start later this year, with completion by the fall.

Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said this week that any work would have to start after the annual "July in the Sky" celebration, which is held each year around the Independence Day holiday.

Using that schedule, work could be completed by the fall, assuming the federal government cooperates.

"Everybody is ready to go and has been ready to go," Marmer said. "It's an extremely frustrating project, frankly. The devil is in the details and the details can kill you."

Shaffer said the town already has a set of plans that could be put out to bid immediately, once the final approval is handed down.

Funding for the project is coming from federal and state grants secured by U.S. Rep. Robert R. Simmons, R-2nd, and state Rep. Claire Janowski, D-Vernon.

And although the grant funding has been lauded for kick-starting the project, it has also been the source of delays.

Before the federal government had its chance to look at the plans, the state DOT had its own turn at scrutinizing the project.

In its review, the DOT looked at a number of specific aspects of the project, including the color of decorative light poles and decorative crosswalks, which will be installed in East Main Street.

In addition to government approvals, the town also had to secure the approval of Connecticut Light & Power to relocate utility lines around the park.

When the Town Council approved funding for the project two years ago, officials expected that the park would be finished last spring.

The impending construction was cited as one of the reasons for the cancellation of the Rockville Festival in the fall of 2004.

Rockville Downtown Association officials also cancelled their 2004 summer concert series to accommodate the planned renovations.

Local officials were able to celebrate one milestone in the park's planned restoration last fall when they dedicated the restored Cogswell Temperance Fountain, which sits near the eastern edge of the park.

The Vernon fountain, donated to the town in 1893, was one of several donated to towns and cities around the U.S. by Henry D. Cogswell, originally of Tolland, who believed the availability of water from a fountain would keep people away from alcohol.

Some of the fountain renovation cost - $50,000 - was donated by Rosetta Pitkat, a lifelong Rockville resident.

©Journal Inquirer 2006