5.0 COMMUNITY FACILITIES

Community facilities are defined as those buildings or public places that serve the general or specific needs of the public and are the responsibility of the town or public agency. Included are parks and recreation areas, schools, town owned buildings and land, police and fire services, public health and utilities, and highways. The information here was obtained through public documents, phone conservations, and interviews. A standout throughout this research was that all town agencies are pleased with the recent move to the Bethel Municipal Center. The increased space and centralization has facilitated communication between agencies and has enabled the expansion of old programs and the creation of new ones.

5.1 Parks and Recreation

Public recreational facilities range from volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball, and soccer (indoor and outdoor), to gymnastics, dance, and in-line hockey.

Table 7 inventories the available outdoor facilities at the municipal schools.

Table 7
Outdoor School Recreational Facilities
School Facilities
Berry School
1 Playground
2 Softball Fields
3 Soccer Fields
Johnson School 2 Playgrounds
1 Softball Field
1 All-Purpose Field
Rockwell School 1 Playground
1 All Purpose Field
Middle School 1 Softball Field
1 Baseball Field
1 Soccer Field
1 All Purpose Field
High School 4 Bocce Courts
10 Tennis Courts
1 Baseball Field
1 Football Field
1 All-Weather Track
1 Soccer Field
2 All-Purpose Fields
2 Basketball Courts
Educational Park Don Haddon Nature Trail
Total Acreage: 140  

Table 8 inventories the outdoor fields and facilities other than those at the municipal schools.

Table 8
Outdoor Recreational Facilities
Name of Park
Acreage
Outdoor Facility
Buildings
Utilities
Bergstrom Property
46.0 1 Soccer Field
1 Softball Field
1 Storage Bldg. Electricity
Water
Phone
Crowe Field 5.0 1 Little League Field
1 BMX Bike Track
2 Dugouts
1 Storage Bldg.
Phone
Meckauer Park
and
Bennett Property
38.0

7.79

1 Playground
All Purpose Area
2 Garages
1 Storage Bldg.
1 Storage Closet
Bathhouses
1 Winter Ice Pond Storage
3 Pavilions
Water
Electricity
Mitchell Park 18.32 4 Little League Fields
1 BMX Bike Track
1 Storage Bldg.
1 Garage
Water
Electricity
Phone
Overlook Park 15.088 Passive Recreation 1 Storage Bldg. None
Parloa Field 7.0 1 Playground
1 Little League Field
1 Baseball/Multi-Purpose
1 Storage Bldg. Water
Electricity
Phone

According to the Director of the Parks and Recreation Department, the recent move into the new Municipal Center eliminated many of the problems cited in the 1984 Plan of Development. The following list enumerates the accomplishments subsequent to the 1984 plan:

  • One additional multi-purpose field, with lighting has been added on the Bergstrom Property.
  • A centralized storage area has been created in the new Municipal Town Hall.
  • Increased indoor facilities including a gymnasium, all purpose room, and locker room have been provided in the new Educational Park facility.
  • Classroom and instructional space has increased.

Currently, the Parks and Recreation needs are:

  • An outdoor swimming facility, particularly since the pond in Meckauer Park is no longer fit for swimming. This has been the subject of much discussion in the town, and was defeated in a referendum in 1995. However, the idea of a municipal swimming pool still has its proponents.
  • Accommodation for new sports - like skate boarding and roller blading.
  • A town-wide trail system (currently a "work in progress")
  • Larger gymnasiums in the Middle School and Bethel Downtown Gym.
  • Lights at the Little League field.

According to the Director of Parks and Recreation, a significant increase in population would not significantly affect the facilities now being offered.

5.2 Schools

There are five public schools in Bethel, all of which are located in the Educational Park facility (140 acres). As of April 1, 1996 there were 3,229 total students enrolled. The Rockwell School, K-3, has 512 students enrolled and the Berry School, also K-3, has 516 students enrolled. The Johnson School, Grades 4 and 5, has 555 students enrolled. The Middle School, 6-8, has 800 students enrolled. Finally, the High School, 9-12, has 810 students enrolled. Thirty-six students are out of district, but are enrolled for special educational purposes. There is also one Parochial School in Bethel -- St. Mary School (K-8) -- which is operated by St. Mary Roman Catholic Church.

The square footage and student capacities of each public school are as follows:

Table 9
School Capacities and Square Footage
School
Square Feet
Student Capacity
Bethel High School 179,000 1,200
Bethel Middle School 140,000 868
R.M.T. Johnson School 61,000 727
F.A. Berry School 57,000 625
A.H. Rockwell School 57,000 600

According to the Superintendent of Schools, the school district feels that Bethel population is increasing very slowly, so current facilities, such as classroom size, are adequate to provide for future generations of students. Furthermore, since there has not been a significant increase in primary school enrollment, facilities for future High School students will be satisfactory. The educational complex, coupled with the way in which the grades are organized, has facilitated the maintenance of proper class size, the scheduling of transportation, and the implementation of new technology.

Recently completed projects and current programs include a new 866 seating capacity auditorium in the Middle School, a distance learning program with Danbury and Richmond Schools, a Continuing Education program and an MBA program with Teikyo Post University in Waterbury, CT.

On the agenda for future is the implementation of new technology for the schools. The goal is to provide all the schools with computer on-line facilities.

According to the Superintendent of Buildings, the Berry school needs to be updated, as there are not enough outlets in the classrooms, and all school roofs need to be replaced. Asbestos removal has also been a major project.

5.3 Library

The Bethel Town Library building occupies approximately 9,200 square feet, approximately half of the space recommended for the current population of Bethel, and about one-third of the space that will be needed by 2010. According to the Director of the Library, 0.9 square feet of library space is recommended per capita. Based on a current population of 17,000, 15,300, square feet are recommended, significantly more than at the present time. Comparisons with neighboring town libraries (Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Redding, and Ridgefield) reveal that Bethel ranks last in population to square footage and square footage to book stock ratios. The library has decided that expanding into the vacated town hall would not make sense for their operations, and so plans to expand are in the exploratory stages.

The parking problem has been significantly reduced due to the recent vacancy of the town hall, and the availability of parking in the old railroad station area. Since the move, the parking lot is usually half full during regular hours and completely full during special programs. The library offers several programs including preschool story hour, summer reading, an adult book discussion series, and a concert series.

On average, the library adds 4,200 books a year, but withdraws 2,000-3,000 a year because of lack of space. Other space issues affect both adult and child patrons:

  • Adult materials are found on all four public floors, making it frustrating and time-consuming to study or conduct research.
  • Access to children's books is limited during any story hour or class visit because there is no programming space in the building. The children literally block the shelves.
  • A simmering issue for the library is its after hours use: the library parking lot has become the hang-out for teenagers after 10:00 p.m., leading to vandalism and other security problems. This may be alleviated by the recently announced plan to convert part of the old town hall into a community center.

5.4 Social Services

The Bethel Social Services Department was founded in 1968. Its purpose is to administer a general assistance, information, and referral program for financially struggling individuals and families. The Municipal Agent for the Elderly helps seniors to pay their hospital bills and apply for benefits and entitlements. Social Services also coordinates holiday programs for Thanksgiving and Christmas, provides year-round food assistance, and funds a fuel bank for utility purposes. The recent move to the new Municipal Center has alleviated their need for additional space. As an example of their mission, the department is currently redesigning, in conjunction with Danbury Hospital, hospital bills so they are easier to understand.

Current issues affecting the groups served by social services are:

  • The lack of affordable housing for lower income families.
  • The financial difficulty seniors have with pharmaceutical bills.
  • The General Assistance Program may be taken over by the state next year. This will radically alter the duties and responsibilities of Social Services; however they will still be able to certify medical applications.

5.5 Senior Citizens Center

The Senior Citizens Center has moved to the basement of the new Municipal Center. The much needed enlarged space has enabled the center to expand popular programs and add new activities. Some of the programs offered include: cards, pinochle, scrabble, bridge (two tables), poker (three tables), pool table, arts and crafts (with instructor), ceramics (two rooms), line dancing, "seniorsize" exercise classes, 55-Alive driving program, trips to Atlantic City and Westchester theaters, and swimming classes at the Danbury Ramada Inn. Other programs offered include long-term care classes, computer classes, dental checks, and genealogist visits.

Transportation to the center is adequate. However, according to the Director of the Senior Center, another "half" a Sweet Hart bus is needed to pick up the slack. The Center would like to be able to use the full kitchen. If the full kitchen were operative, the Senior Center could accept offers from large groups who want catered meetings or parties in the cafeteria. Such groups have proposed to donate all profits to the Senior Center. As it stands, the Center has a kitchenette, which was installed with the help of the Friends of the Seniors, a private fund-raising group. The kitchenette is useful for providing sandwiches everyday and hot lunches on Friday; however, in order to offer on-site meals, the large, full kitchen is necessary. Also needed are new tables for the cafeteria.

5.6 Health Services

The Health Department's mission statement is "to protect and promote the physical and environmental well being of the citizens of Bethel through direct public health services, wellness promotion and active support of community efforts." The Department's goal is to serve as the main access point for Public Health service in the community, and to provide public health protection to all Bethel citizens. The role of the Public Health Director is to identify and address local health problems, community health needs, and the available resources that can be targeted to those areas.

As the number of infectious diseases continues to rise nationally, so does Bethel's awareness of the necessity to deal with such issues. The Bethel Health Department, thus, provides a number of public health programs to protect, promote and improve the quality of life for Bethel residents. These include:

  • Infectious disease control and surveillance including TB and viral infections.
  • Environmental services, including rabies, lead poisoning and septic repair.
  • Chronic disease prevention, treatment and control, including immunization.
  • Maternal and child health services.
  • Health education.

The Director of Health Services' long-term community health strategy for Bethel may be summarized as follows:

  • To continue the use and development of infectious disease surveillance/tracking tools, and to monitor, identify, and respond to infectious disease cases and situations quickly, efficiently, and effectively.
  • To continue to utilize public health statistics to provide a direct link between the taxpayers and health information on the federal, state, and local level.
  • To provide residents/businesses with public health data networks (through the Internet) that provide current, pertinent health information about problems they are facing.
  • To hire a full-time Sanitation staff with public health education experience.
  • To consider offering additional health education programs on relevant topics such as smoking cessation, exercise, nutrition, diabetes, Lyme disease, etc.
  • To provide training for local restaurants and other food service establishments in proper food preparation, handling and service.
  • To encourage litter control and clean and sanitary conditions on the streets and on properties.

Bethel Visiting Nurse Association

Bethel Visiting Nurse Association (BVNA) is a non-profit organization that provides community based, quality health care. Since 1927, the BVNA has provided in-home care to people with acute, chronic, or terminal illness, mental or physical handicaps, serious injuries or fractures, post surgical and short-term disabilities, and children (including newborns). In addition to in-home care, BVNA operates a Well Child Health Clinic every Tuesday. BVNA's move to the new Municipal Center has placated its need for more space and has centralized its services with those offered by the Public Health Department.

The services offered by BVNA include skilled nursing services, home health aides, maternal child care, physical, occupational and speech pathology therapy, social worker services, HIV therapy, and a hospice. Also offered are blood pressure clinics, mammography screenings, flu clinics, immunizations, physical examinations, counseling on child management, and health education.

School Nurse

Although employed by the Board of Education, the school nurses work in close conjunction with Health Services. There is one nurse in each of the five public schools and one floater nurse. The purpose of the school nursing program is to maintain the health standards for students.

5.7 Municipal Buildings

Public Works Garage. The public works complex, built in 1977, is approximately 28,520 square feet, and lies on 43.42 acres. The garage houses the Water, Buildings and Highway Departments; all offices and some storage materials have been moved to the new Municipal Center. Additional storage space is still needed for tires, salt and flammable items. Grounds maintenance is now operated out of the High School.

Figure 11a: Municipal Buildings

Figure 11b: Municipal Buildings

Grassy Plain School

The Grassy Plain School is currently leased to a daycare and nursery school program. It occupies 4,869 square feet and lies on 12 acres of land.

Old Railroad Station

The former railroad station is presently leased to the Boy Scouts. It occupies 2,066 square feet and lies on 0.805 acres of land.

Old Town Hall

Vacant - 4,720 square feet; 0.46 acres. May be partially used as a community center and teen hall. The town's intent is for reuse for community purposes.

Andrews Municipal Center

Vacant - 4,869 square feet; 1.495 acres. For sale by the town.

Bethel Municipal Center

Almost all town agencies and departments are now housed in the Bethel Municipal Center. The Center, which was converted from a school into an administrative facility, sits on 5.62 acres of land and occupies 90,958 square feet.

5.8 Police Service

The police station is located on 63.6 acres, and occupies 8,160 square feet. Since the 1984 plan, a new addition was added which included a storage bin, an employee lounge and a female locker room. According to the Chief of Police and the Superintendent of Buildings, however, lack of adequate storage space is still a problem.

The Chief of Police discussed the following needs:

  • Replacement of telephone system.
  • Need for lap-top computers in patrol vehicles.
  • Replacement of leaky roofs.
  • Need for a fence around the perimeter of the rear parking lot for impounded cars.

5.9 Fire Stations

There are two volunteer fire stations in Bethel: (1) the Bethel Fire House - 1.10 acres, 6,160 square feet, and (2) Stony Hill Fire House - 0.742 acres, 7,768 square feet. The following needs were described by the Fire Department:

  • Educational facility for fire fighting training, including a training house.
  • An additional fire house to serve southeastern Bethel.
  • Timely replacement of vehicles (some trucks are 30 years old).
  • Updated radio communication system.
  • Additional storage and office space.

The first two items above were also recommended by the 1984 plan.

5.10 Highways

According to the Director of Public Works, since 1984 road mileage has increased by 20 miles. Total road mileage in Bethel is approximately 85 miles.

Projects that have been completed since 1984 are as follows:

  • A 10 year paving program.
  • Sewers on Route 6.
  • Replacement of Shelter Rock Road and Rockwell Road bridges.
  • Installation of traffic lights on Whittlesley Drive at Plumtrees, and Route 53 at Beach Street; modification of traffic lights at Route 53 and 302.
  • Realignment of Benedict Road.

Potential future projects include:

  • Streetscape of the downtown area.
  • Sewer system in Chimney Heights/Stony Hill.
  • Drainage system on Cindy Lane, Maple Avenue, and Plumtrees Road.

According to the Superintendent of Highways, the following issues should be addressed:

  • Installation of drainage facilities to eliminate runoff and flooding problems, especially on Plumtrees Flats.
  • Reclamation of roads rather than overlaying which causes driveways and curbsides to be lost.
  • Additional equipment for maintenance and repair.

Road expansion on "cut-through" roads such as Wolfpits Road or Nashville Road is limited simply because there is no room to expand them. Also, the removal or drilling of the boulders along side Nashville Road would require large capital outlays.

Intersections prone to accidents are:

  • Greenwood Avenue and Chestnut Street
  • Greenwood Avenue and Library Place
  • Greenwood Avenue and Grassy Plain Street
  • Grassy Plain Street and Fleetwood Avenue
  • Route 6 and Old Hawleyville Road
  • Route 6 and Payne Road
  • Route 6 and Sky Edge Drive

Traffic congestion during peak hours continues to be a problem on Greenwood Avenue and on Route 6.

5.11 Potential Uses of Publicly Owned Land

To conclude, the municipality of Bethel owns 197 acres of parkland, 128 acres in school use, and 87 acres in passive open space. The expansion and upgrade requirements of town parks and playgrounds may be accomplished on existing parkland or may necessitate the use of other publicly owned land. Achieving other town goals may also require public land, such as the construction of moderate income housing, tax base expansion, and creation of more open space. According to the tax assessor, the municipality owns about 556 acres of vacant land. This total is made up of 61 parcels whose size varies from .08 to 255 acres (Francis J. Clarke Industrial Park.) Many of the parcels are waste, wet, steep, leftovers from road realignments, or dedicated open space. Usable vacant land can be found in the following locations:

  • Plumtrees Road: 0.5 acre
  • Putnam Park Road: 1.8 acre
  • Judd Avenue: 0.69 (three adjoining 0.23 acre parcels)
  • Nashville Road 3.29 acres (possibly sellable or usable)

The following recommendations address the general land needs of four municipal goals.

Parks, Playgrounds, and Open Space

According to the 1993-1998 final draft of the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP), Bethel has 412 acres in intensive and non-intensive open space use. The breakdown is as follows:

197 acres - Non-school intensive active use (park lands)
128 acres - School use
87 acres - Casual passive use
412 Total acres

A national group, National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), has issued benchmarks for the type and quantity of recreation facilities and acreage. The benchmarks are not minimums that a town should provide, such as four tennis courts per one thousand population, but rather are starting points for a community discussion on the town's unique recreation, park, and open space needs. Keeping this in mind, the plan provides here the following three tables as comparison points for Bethel to ponder. The data are drawn from the NRPA's latest guide Park, Recreation, Open Space, and Greenway Guidelines and from the State's SCORP. This latter plan compares the ten towns within the Housatonic Region. For purposes of comparison, there are three towns to compare to Bethel: Bridgewater, which has nearly identically the same land area as Bethel; Newtown, which has the closest population size to Bethel; and Brookfield, which has the closest density. Bethel has other recreational areas not enumerated in the SCORP and so not listed below. These are the new Don Haddon Nature Trail, four bocce courts, one winter ice pond, one BMX bike track, and two playgrounds.

Table 10
Comparative Park, Open Space and Athletic Facilities
  Bethel Bridgewater Brookfield Newtown
Size in Acres
10,880
10,432
12,672
38,643
1990 Population
17,541
1,654
14,113
20,779
1990 Density
1.61
0.16
1.14
0.54
 
Total Open Space
412
122
826
655.5
Park Acres
194
6
272
91
School Acres
128
0
90
145
Non-Intensive Acres
87
78
458
420
 
School/Municipal Athletic
    Multi-Purpose Fields
2
0
1
0
    Hardball Diamond
14
1
8
6
    Softball Diamonds
12
2
1
6
    Football Fields
4
1
2
2
    Soccer, Field Hockey
9
1
6
8
    Running Track
2
0
1
1
    Basketball Courts
9
1
3
2
    Tennis Courts
20
3
8
8
Source: Final Draft, Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan 1993-1998 (Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, September 1993)

Table 11
NRPA Classifications
Classification Location Criteria Size Criteria
Mini Park Less than a 1/4 mile distance in residential setting Between 2500 sq. ft. and one acre in size
Neighborhood Park 1/4 to 1/2 mile distance and uninterrupted by non-residential roads and other 5 acres is considered minimum size.
5 to 10 acres is optional.
School-Park Determined by location of school district property. Variable -- depends on function.
Community Park Usually serves two or more neighborhoods and 1/2 to 3 mile distance. Usually between 30 and 50 acres.
Natural Resource Areas Resource availability and opportunity. Variable.
Greenways Resource availability and opportunity. Variable.
Sports Complex Strategically located community-wide facilities. Determined by projected demand. Usually a minimum of 25 acres, with 40 to 80 acres being optimal.
Source: Park, Recreation, Open Space and Greenway Guidelines. (National Recreation and Park Association. December 1995)

Table 12
Selected Outdoor Facilities Not Found In Bethel
Activity
Recommended Size and Spacing
Service Radius
Golf
1. Par 3
(18 hole)
Average length varies
- 600 - 2700 yards.
50-60 acres 1/2-1 hour travel time
2. 9-hole
standard
Average length 2250 yards. Minimum of 50 acres 9-hole course can accommodate 350 people/day.
3. 18-hole
standard
Average length 6500 yards. Minimum 110 Yds. 500 - 550 people/day

Course may be located in community, district or regional/metro park.

Golf-driving range 900'x690' wide.
Add 12' width each additional tee.
13.5 acres for min.of 25 tees. 30 minute travel time.
Part of golf course complex. As separate unit may be privately operated.
Swimming Pools Teaching - min.
25 yds. x 45' even depth of 3-4 feet.

Competitive - min.
25 m x 16 m.
Min. of 25 sq. ft. water surface per swimmer.
Ration of 2 to 1 deck to water.

Varies on size of pool and amenities. Usually 1-2 acres sites. 15 to 30 minute travel time. Pools for general community use should be planned for teaching competitive and recreational purposes with enough to accommodate 1m and 3m diving boards.
Located in community park or school
site.
Beach areas Beach area should have 50 sq. ft. of land and 50 sq. ft. of water per user. Turnover rate is 3. There should be a 3 - 4 acres supporting area per acre of beach. N/A N/A 1/2 to 1 hour travel time.
Should have a sand bottom with a maximum slope of 5%.
Boating areas completely segregated from swimming areas. In regional/metro parks.
Ice hockey Rink 85' x 200'
(min. 85' x 185')
Additional 5,000
22,000 sq. ft. including support area.
22,000 sq. ft. including support area. 1/2 - 1 hour travel time.
Climate important consideration affecting # of units.
Best as part of multi-purpose facility.
Source: Park, Recreation, Open Space and Greenway Guidelines. (National Recreation and Park Association. December 1995.)

It is interesting to note that the SCORP includes more categories than shown above. Neither Bethel nor its comparison towns have golf courses, spectator event facilities, Heritage acres, or public open space set aside specifically as public natural resource, preservation or environmental education lands. According to the SCORP analysis, the Housatonic Valley Region is deficient in overall publicly protected open space and outdoor recreation areas: these lands "occupy only 6.3 percent of its land mass or 13,696 acres. This is the fourth smallest percentage in the state. DEP owned open space and recreation acreage at 2.75 per cent is less than half the state average of 6.41 percent. At 13.2 percent, total government and private open space acreage is also well below the state average of 18.9 percent.... Consideration of all the foregoing factors has made the acquisition of public open space in the Housatonic Valley Planning Region one of the higher priorities of the state's planning regions." (SCORP, p. 102.) The report specifically recommends the creation of public swimming and better access to streams and rivers as two of the major goals for the region.

Bethel's growing population and housing stock have necessarily meant the loss of open land. Vacant developable acreage in the town is now at around 1,760 acres. Most of this acreage lies in the southeast where land is zoned R-80 (minimum two acre lot size). While this zoning enables the town to avoid sewering, it is also tremendously land-consuming. Conservatively, at the average rate of 100 new houses a year (the 1980-1990 rate of housing growth), the remaining developable 1,163 acres in R-80 could be converted to housing within another ten years. If Bethel wishes to create playgrounds and parks in the new population centers, the town will have to begin planning now to acquire the land or to require public open space from developers.

Given that there is no resource book that definitively quantifies the kind of recreation a town of Bethel's size should have, decisions will have to be based on an understanding of the town's particular needs and a determination of Level of Service Standards appropriate to the town. Also, there can be rapid changes in youth and teenage recreation: waning and waxing enthusiasms for model boating and airplanes, in-line skating, skateboarding, competitive jump roping, frisbee tossing, mountain biking, etc. The following are the steps for the community to take in discussing the upgrade and expansion of parks and recreation facilities:

  1. Study existing parks, their users, and their role in the region.
  2. Identify community goals and assess need.
  3. Identify several alternatives to achieve the goals.
  4. Determine visitor demand: who the visitors will be, how many will come, and when.
  5. Determine if the new activity can be accommodated on existing parkland.
  6. Quantify the operation and maintenance requirements, and their impact on town budget.
  7. Develop public/private partnerships to create and run recreation facilities.

Moderate Income Housing

At present, Bethel government has no definite plans to increase the supply of subsidized housing. A number of recommendations were made in the August 1994 Bethel Housing Partnership report to the state. These included the use of certain parcels for home construction to meet local housing needs. It should be noted that the larger proportion of housing recommended by the Partnership was to be rehabilitated housing (not new construction). The report stated that the highest priority was the construction or substantial rehabilitation of 69 new rental units available to low and/or moderate income households. The report also developed a list of properties available at the time which could serve as low/moderate income housing sites. The two which were town-owned are no longer listed by the Tax Assessor as municipal properties.

Given that there is currently no plan to create additional subsidized units, the plan cannot estimate the amount of town-owned land that could be made available. However, subsidized housing is a reasonable use of publicly owned land. Preferably land would be made available which is within walking distance of mass transportation, such as the train station or bus routes. This enhances the affordability of the units as household reliance on car ownership is decreased.