The renderings are impressive. The plan is enticing. The end result has a chance to re-imagine an area of Cheshire that’s already well established as the central hub of activity in the community.
If the Bartlem Park South project moves forward as designed, it will provide residents with everything from new fields to an entertainment venue that will be home to music and stage productions. It will mean a legitimate town center, one that will likely be in high demand for some of the community’s biggest events.
This is likely what officials envisioned when, back in 2016, they asked residents to approve the purchase of the land known as the Chapman property. This is what the end-goal was all along — to turn those acres of land into a-little-something-for-everyone multi-use area that would be of benefit to countless future generations of Cheshirites. And it’s exciting to see that the project is finally moving forward with a workable concept and a cost associated with it.
But that bottom line may create some issues.
All-in, Cheshire would spend approximately $14.8 million to take the Bartlem South renderings and make them a reality. That would come, of course, in phases, so the community wouldn’t be on the hook for the entire project all at once. Phase one, according to the plan submitted recently by Weston & Simpson, the design firm hired to conceive this proposal, would cost approximately $5 million.
Yet Cheshire is staring down the barrel of another major project, one that will see its schools modernized over a period of years. As of now, the School Modernization Committee has a March 1 deadline to present its recommendations to the Town Council, and then a decision will be made as to which portions of the proposal, if any, will be sent to referendum this November.
Whatever the Committee recommends and the Council decides, it will come with a cost. A big cost. And it must be the priority of Cheshire moving forward.
Of course, this isn’t to say that the community can’t do both. Cheshire voters could decide to move ahead with the Bartlem project and the first phase of school modernization. Residents will almost assuredly be provided the opportunity to vote on exactly that.
Cheshire has survived the brunt of the pandemic, so much so that, while other towns may be reeling due to a number of business closures, this community is actually seeing a spike in business interest. New ventures—from Starbucks to a duo of restaurants to yet another brewery—are looking to possibly set up shop in town in the coming months.
That’s excellent news. What’s not so great is that COVID-19 has not gone away, and there are conflicting predictions as to how long it will remain in our lives.
It’s possible that by the beginning of the spring our world will begin to return to normal in rapid fashion, thanks to the administration of the vaccine coupled with our continued safety protocols. A nationwide rebound could follow close behind.
It’s also possible that our current state of limbo, with businesses opened, but only partially, and people remaining inside more often than not, lasts long into 2021.
When Cheshire residents turn out to vote on these high-priced initiatives, they may feel that a choice needs to be made. Circumstances may dictate that jumping into multiple large-ticket projects may not be prudent as we enter our post-pandemic future.
If that’s the case, then it should be — must be — the schools that receive the funding. If plans for Bartlem have to wait, then they’ll have to wait.
It may be that Cheshire decides at some point this year to move forward with all of its ambitious agenda items, but priorities may have to be set. And those should point in the direction of the schools.