SOUTHBURY — The Strategic Plan Commission, meeting on Thursday, April 8, listened to John Hirschauer, Jr., a volunteer with Southbury Training School and vice president of the Home and School Association, as he provided some information about the school, including what the facility means to him.
The school is an intermediate care facility, assisting the most profoundly disabled people; every state must offer an ICF.
After a lawsuit alleged overcrowding in 1986, a consent decree closed new admissions. Legislation following that stopped additional admissions so that the former school population of 2,000 is now at 147.
Mr. Hirschauer shared a conversation he had with a woman who has lived there for 60 years to note that prematurely closing the facility would cause a great deal of stress on people who consider the school to be their home.
He pointed out that anyone who could have been placed somewhere, has already been placed. There is nowhere else for these people to go.
The commissioners considered the implications of a long-term plan for the school that recognizes the assets of the facility, including the skill sets of the staff and their ability to serve a high needs population.
They noted the need for such a facility, for veterans with PTSD and other populations that are different from the people served in Southbury in the past, and the fact that creating one could be impossible if done from scratch.
The discussion questioned the need for 400 acres and how the operation of the facility has changed over time, now that there is an opportunity to talk with the Home and School Association about a future.
The commission noted the decaying buildings in addition to the acreage to ask what would be needed and further details of a vision.
Chair John Monteleone suggested that Mr. Hirschauer’s perspective should be shared with the Board of Selectmen, noting that Selectman George Bertram had attended the meeting and heard the presentation.
In other business, the commission noted that the April 15 Board of Selectmen meeting was canceled so they planned to present on May 6, when they would recommend the pros and cons of combining the Planning and Zoning Commissions.
They learned, during public participation, that state statute might preclude the combination of Conservation and Inland Wetlands Commissions, agreeing to research that possibility.
Commissioner Mitchell Goldburgh discussed the strategic plan priority regarding the Pomperaug Regional Community Center Project for next steps.
His draft recommended using the pandemic as a lens to perceive a need to gather as a community and showed what he’d learned by talking to members of the community.
He noted that churches are fighting for parishioners and youth clubs are seeing a diminishing membership, suggesting that existing resources could be refocused on these entities to see how they can be made more successful.
The town would need a group with experience in running a center to deal with issues such as liability, and many centers had been established with a lead donor.
The recommendation would be to avoid politics, creating a center as a non-profit organization that would not be run by the town.
The commission discussed the idea of a regional YMCA in town and decided to learn how many Southbury residents are members at the Newtown Community Center or go to Waterbury as that could demonstrate need.
Mr. Goldburgh said he would want to talk to other towns to see if there is interest in a regional effort, pointing out that the IBM facility is currently for sale with many attractive features.
Before the meeting adjourned, the commissioners noted that their original priority list is almost complete and they would discuss future goals at an upcoming meeting.