Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon council springs for downtown study, railing replacement

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, July 16, 2008 2:13 PM EDT

VERNON — The Town Council gave downtown Rockville a financial shot in the arm Tuesday when it decided in unanimous votes to spend $20,000 on a feasibility study of rehabilitation of the decaying and historic Citizen’s Block building and another $4,000 to replace railings in Central Park destroyed in June by vandals.

Town Administrator Christopher Clark says it could take up to a year to complete a study once a contract is awarded, and the scope would consider if the three-story building on Park Place could house a state Music Hall of Fame.

The study will cost a total of $40,000 and be partially funded with a $20,000 matching grant from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism. Vernon’s share will come from the town’s economic development fund, Clark said.

The 15,000-square-foot brick structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and renovation costs are expected to be significant.

But Vernon officials are hoping the General Assembly can be convinced it’s the perfect spot for the state music museum, showcasing local rock ’n’ roll legend Gene Pitney, who died in Cardiff, Wales, two years ago at age 66 while on tour. Also known as the Rockville Rocket, Pitney grew up in Vernon and was the only Connecticut resident to be inducted into the national Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Meanwhile, in other business, the council had vandals to thank for having to replace aluminum railings that were installed during last summer’s renovation of Central Park. The vandalized railings will be replaced with sturdier rod iron.

Steve Krajewski, Parks and Recreation assistant director, said the aluminum handrails along the sidewalks surrounding the veteran’s memorial were removed two weeks ago as they were either sagging in most areas or severely bent in others.

Clark said the damage appears to be the work of vandals or skateboarders jumping on to the railings.

And the inferior material used didn’t help.

“They were so flimsy — all it took was for someone to lean against one and it bent,” Krajewski said. “They should have been made out of steel. It’s just a good thing that no one got hurt.”

Rod iron, which will enhance the downtown’s Victorian-era environs, is much stronger and significantly more expensive than aluminum. As such, railings will be installed only on the stairs leading up to the memorial area, but not along the walk, Clark said.

Clark said that the contract specifications called for aluminum railings and as such, the contractor likely isn’t liable. Officials will investigate to see if the cost can be recovered from the contractor or architect, however.

“The contractor built exactly what was called for,” Clark said, adding: “The cost is due to vandalism, but the kids will have a tougher time with the rod iron.”

Work on Central Park took years to get off the ground and finished months late after contractor H.M. Nunes & Son Construction of Ludlow, Mass., stalled and dragged its feet for much of last summer. Town officials levied fines for missing deadlines and the work was finally completed.

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