School Funding

Meriden panel recommends funding school transition program and court resurfacing

MERIDEN — The panel reviewing requests for federal coronavirus relief funds put forward two more proposals Monday night.

One such request is for $105,000 to fund a multi-year program proposed by local non-profit group Change the Play Inc. to ensure at-risk fifth and sixth graders do not become academically disengaged during of their transition from primary school to college.

The second request the U.S. Bailout Steering Committee has voted to advance is a request for more than $2.2 million from the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation to resurface existing basketball and tennis courts in the city with a new post-tensioned concrete that would extend the life of the surfaces well. beyond the three-year expectation of the asphalt pavement currently in use.

The proposal would also include installing a mini football pitch at Columbus Park and new pickleball courts at Hubbard Park.

Jason Teal, founder of Change the Play, described the transition from elementary to middle school as a “crucial transition period.” The wellness program, called “Untapped Potential”, would target students entering middle school.

The Change the Play application described improved outcomes – including increased employment, reduced risk of incarceration and dependency – with a focus on student engagement during these transition years.

The program, if implemented, would develop over a three-year period. It would start with four elementary schools and 48 students participating in a 14-week program. The following year, it would be extended to eight elementary schools, serving 96 students. By year three, program organizers hope to reach 144 students.

Mayor Kevin Scarpati, a member of the steering committee, told Teal he praises the work his organization is doing. “It’s necessary – targeting students most at risk,” Scarpati said. “From a mental and social well-being perspective, there is a need for these types of programs.”

Scarpati answered a question – whether the organization had presented Meriden School officials with a similar proposal.

Teal replied no.

“I would like to see if there is an opportunity for funding from the school board as well and use some of the funds they receive as matching funds,” Scarpati said.

Scarpati, during the discussion, later noted that the program was not run by the school board. He said the city had “an obligation to support our students.”

City Council Majority Leader Sonya Jelks, although not a member of the committee, listened. She, too, spoke favorably of the funding for the proposal. She said if the scheme is successful, the Board of Education would seek to expand it, ensuring continued funding beyond the proposed three years.

During the Parks and Recreation demand discussion, Chris Bourdon, the department’s director, described how the city’s parks and outdoor recreation facilities have seen attendance soar during the pandemic. He said attendance was up 700% in 2020 alone.

It turned out to be an outlet when young people and adults had nowhere to go because other places weren’t open, Bourden said.

“What this shows is that the courts were a major outlet for exercise and socialization,” Bourdon said. “We strongly believe that being outdoors, exercising and recreating is just as important in the fight against COVID as wearing a mask and social distancing.”

The proposed improvements would extend the life of courts that would be resurfaced, reducing the need to apply for resurfacing funding through the city’s capital improvement program, Bourdon said.

The steering committee, during that same meeting, considered a request for $50,000 from ShowLab Events LLC, the company that operates Silver City Ballroom on Colony Street. The committee initially rejected the proposal – with the caveat that the applicant, Joseph Florio, submit a revised proposal with an updated outline of the intended use of the funds.

The proposal, as submitted, listed costs incurred during the pandemic that had been covered by other COVID-19 relief funds received by ShowLab, Florio told the committee.

Steering committee members spoke favorably of Silver City Ballroom and its impact on the downtown area, while encouraging Florio to resubmit the application.

The two proposals put forward by the steering committee have yet to be presented to the city council, which has the power of final approval. As of Monday, officials had committed more than $11.1 million of the nearly $36.36 million in ARPA funds allocated to the city.

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