Signs, shirts and social media are just the beginning – Newington residents are doing everything they can to protect a piece of Mill Pond Park from a $30 million project to build a town hall and community center.
For many, the biggest concern is the destruction of open space. The plan is for the center to go up on the site of two soccer fields.
“It just feels wrong inside to do that, to take away from nature,” said Newington resident Stacy Partlow.
Partlow has taken her fight to Facebook. The page “Save Mill Pond Park” has more than 1,100 members. Partlow is seen asking members to post their park wedding photos or images from a favorite trip.
“I just want them to realize why they love that park,” she said.
But Deputy Mayor Clarke Castelle welcomes new construction. By removing and replacing “ugly and obsolete structures,” he said, more space will actually be created.
“My position is that, inevitably, we will have more good improved dedicated open space even though we use this corner of the park,” said Castelle.
Space is not the only concern. Jason Webster lives right next to Mill Pond Park and wonders why the town doesn’t fix what already exists rather than building something new.
“I think they should renovate what they have and save some money,” said Webster.
But Castelle said that idea isn’t practical. He said the area of the park is in the worst shape and the cost to renovate on site would be nearly as much as the cost to build a much better center.
Renovations would also cancel a year or more of recreational activities from summer camp to winter sports, Castelle said.
When it comes to financing the project, Castelle said taxpayers aren’t on the hook. He did say there's a chance other projects may be deferred, but that “the mother of all deferrals has been town hall and the community center.”
“They are very quickly becoming unusable,” said Castelle, “and by unusable I mean it could happen tomorrow.”
The project is up for a vote during a Sept. 9 referendum. Until that day, critics say they will continue their fight.