May 26, 2022

WALLINGFORD — A plan to renovate the historic train station could move into the next phase with the Town Council voting on whether to hire a design firm for the project during its meeting Tuesday.

“It’s a complete evaluation of the building,” Economic Development Specialist Tim Ryan said. “So it’s a structural evaluation and then it’s a determination as to what we could do with (the train station) and what we would need to do to the building to convert it to be an adaptive reuse of the building.”

The project would renovate the 13,480-square-foot building to bring it up to modern standards and would include concepts of possible uses for the building once the work is complete. It was constructed in 1871 and is currently home to Wallingford Adult Education and New Haven Society of Model Engineers, which occupies the basement.

Since the train station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Connecticut Register of Historic Places, any work done to the building is limited and could affect bringing the station up to modern fire, safety and American Disabilities Act compliance codes.

Though he didn’t want to go into the details of the lowest qualified bidder before it was presented to the council, Ryan said it was “a very thorough and complete process that was shepherded by the town purchasing department.”

According to the town purchasing department, six bids were received, three of which were disqualified for not meeting the qualification standards. The three remaining bids were then evaluated by a group of department heads and residents. The Town Council approved putting the request for proposals out to bid during its Jan. 18 meeting.

Bids were evaluated based on applicants’ technical proposals and a cost proposal for the project, with a maximum of 70 points for the technical proposal and maximum of 30 points for the cost proposal. The applicant with the highest scoring composite bid will be presented to the Town Council.

The town is also applying for a Connecticut Communities Challenge Grant through the state Department of Economic and Community Development, which could cover as much as half of the design and construction cost of the project.

Councilor Vincent Testa said there’s endless potential for the old train station and he’s glad the process is open-ended with room for a multitude of ideas for the future of the building.

“I want to hear anything and everything that people have to propose. I don’t have all the answers, I don’t have all the ideas and I want to make sure we have a wide open discussion about any and all possibilities for that building,” he said.

The project opens up the possibility of improving walkability downtown, with the sidewalks and gazebo also being in the scope of the design process.

“People love walking into the downtown. We can have further development in the back, utilize that parking better and that’s right there in the center of Wallingford,” Testa said.

Displacing adult education

Testa noted that the process would mean the Board of Education would need to find a new home for the school district’s adult education program, ideally one which is also in the center of town to keep it convenient for students. The school board’s budget proposal for the 2022-23 included $198,000 to cover the possibility of renting a space for the program, with a recurring cost of $148,000.

Ryan said there’s been steady communication with Superintendent Danielle Bellizzi and the director of the adult education program.

Councilor Autumn Allinson said the biggest challenge for her is going to be having a strong grasp of where the adult education program could be located before relocating them from the train station. She does support moving forward with the design phase of the project so long as an eye is kept on ensuring that adult students continue to have a quality place to learn.

“We can go into a design and we can go into all this, but adult ed is going to be the highest priority for me, moreso than renting out the space and finding a reuse for the space. If we don’t find something for adult ed … something that will enable them to expand and continue to be central then in my opinion, I don’t think we should continue down this path,” she said.

The advantage of having it held at the train station, Allinson said, is that it’s easily accessible for those on public transportation, both for those taking bus lines that converge in the center of town and those riding the train into Wallingford.

‘Pivotal location’

Ryan said there are examples across the state of municipalities renovating key publicly owned properties and leasing them out for the sorts of commercial uses that attract people to the area, such as restaurants, breweries and food markets. Given its location, he said it could become a gateway to the lower downtown area.

“It’s always easier to just leave it as is and so the Economic Development Commission is taking I think a leap to make our town center even more special than it already is,” he said.

Since the building has historical significance and is in a pivotal location for stimulating economic activity downtown, Ryan said the Economic Development Commission envisions leasing space in the building out for commercial use while retaining town ownership of the site.

“The Economic Development Commission feels very strongly that owning a building in such a pivotal location in our town center is a significant opportunity for us and we don’t see ourselves ever suggesting that it be sold,” he said.

Reporter Devin Leith-Yessian can be reached at [email protected] 


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