Town looks to future in State of East Lyme event

East Lyme - A trolley along Main Street, a rebuilt boardwalk, rental units at Gateway Commons and an initiative in which students from China would attend the district's schools could be in the town's future.

First Selectman Paul Formica and Superintendent of Schools James Lombardo spoke on the current state of the town and school district - as well as future possibilities - at a State of East Lyme event held Friday at Town Hall by the East Lyme division of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.

The town plans to rebuild the boardwalk from $3.1 million in legal settlements after damage from previous storms and could receive additional funds from a Superstorm Sandy settlement, Formica said. Town officials plan to build a concrete pathway to match Amtrak's.

The town aims to add parking spaces at Cini Park, funded by a potential grant and reimbursement from a Connecticut Light & Power easement. One of the ideas Formica is proposing is for a trolley to run up Main Street from Cini Park. The town will also look at ways to generate revenue, as it opens the new beach.

In his speech, Formica addressed the difficulties of the current budget, especially with decreased state revenues, but suggested that some money could be taken from the undesignated fund balance to offset the changes.

Lombardo addressed the district's security actions following Newtown, including a recently completed security audit and a proposal for $110,000 in next year's budget for security measures. He also mentioned the frequent school patrols by police.

The district will implement full-day kindergarten next year, he said, despite a $650,000 cut in the education budget from the Board of Finance.

"It'll be tight, but there will be full-day kindergarten in every one of our schools," he said.

Lombardo further emphasized that "entrepreneurial opportunities" will be an "integral part" of the school district, such as a Chinese language curriculum, a culinary program with a new kitchen facility and an athletic complex.

Explaining that the school system can no longer solely rely on real estate taxes, he presented new measures such as a new policy to allow sponsors to advertise in places such as scoreboards. He is also negotiating with a school in China to bring students to the East Lyme district on a tuition basis - which could bring $150,000 to $200,000 in revenue, he said.

In response to a question from an attendee, Formica said the economy had stalled the Gateway Commons project, for which the zoning commission approved a master plan in 2008. He said there is a plan to first develop residential rental units there and Costco may be interested.

He said the state Department of Transportation has looked into a Niantic train station and State Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, is working on transportation options.

Other issues included:

• Construction bids on the regional interconnection project to carry water between East Lyme and New London came in nearly $1 million less than expected.

• The town will soon deliberate uses for the Darrow Pond property, which it purchased along with a 200-acre conservation easement.

• The school district has reconfigured its special education program which has resulted in students returning to the district and reduced costs. Lombardo said the new program cuts down on student travel time and allows students to learn with their peers in the community. It also features a program for 18-to-21-year-olds

• A committee formed to come up with plans for the aging elementary schools will present its recommendations at the next school board meeting

• The school district faces implementing a state-mandated teacher evaluation program. Lombardo said challenges include a lack of funding from the state for the program, a need for additional resources to manage the evaluations and no proven research to show the evaluations are beneficial to students.

k.drelich@theday.com

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