MERIDEN — The City Council earlier this week approved city officials’ request to apply for state funds to demolish the former Meriden-Wallingford Hospital building at 1 King Place.
The council during its meeting Monday night also narrowly approved the use of federal American Rescue Plan Act COVID-19 relief funds to support Community Health Center Inc.’s application to expand its current medical assistant training program. That expansion would enable up to 15 Meriden residents to become trained medical assistants over a two-year period, with funds covering the cost of the program itself and provide other support for students — including the potential costs of transportation, child care and Internet access.
The council’s vote, by a five-to-four margin, authorized $385,724 in ARPA funding for the program.
The council’s discussion of the program reiterated several of the points raised during the American Rescue Plan Committee meeting a week earlier.
Councilor Michael Carabetta, a member of that committee, said he felt the total sum was a “large ask of money” that would benefit a small segment of the population. Carabetta was among the councilors who voted against authorizing the funds.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati, who presided over the meeting but did not vote, spoke in favor of CHC’s application, noting the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the application’s potential benefits.
“People lost their jobs in COVID,” Scarpati said. “And this is going to help disadvantaged individuals who either are looking for an alternative for a better career, or a hand up, and also bolster our healthcare program.”
Council Majority Leader Sonya Jelks agreed, noting that one of the areas in which ARPA funding can be used is economic recovery and workforce development.
“One of the primary areas that I don’t think we’ve done enough in our ARP funding is to work on workforce development and employment issues. The whole ARPA program, if you look at the application, did give us a lot of authority to help employers and help people who are looking for job placement. I’m happy to see this, even if it only helps 15 people,” Jelks said, stating those 15 individuals would be lifted out of poverty.
City Manager Timothy Coon, in response to questions raised by Councilor Bruce A. Fontanella, said the CHC program is an existing one, and the agency noted it would pursue other funding mechanisms to continue the program after ARPA funds are exhausted. The program would be offered to city residents with limited incomes.
Coon also noted that CHC leaders had stated the agency would be able to immediately hire all 15 potential recruits in the program.
“It is a very significant need for the healthcare community to have medical assistants available,” Coon said.
Fontanella, who had concerns about the program being able to continue, stated he did not believe ARPA funds should be used for scholarships unless that was a way it would be able to continue.
“The parameters we started out with this money was a chance to be used one time, never going to get money again. This is not establishing a new program. I will vote against this also,” Fontanella said.
Councilor Bob Williams Jr. said he was initially going to vote against the application, but based on the information that surfaced during the meeting, he would support it.
Meanwhile, the council’s vote for another ARPA application, submitted by the organization Restore with the Arts, was unanimous. The organization sought $88,124 in funding to enable the group to continue and expand its annual Twilight Summer Concert series on the Meriden Green over the next several years. Hospital demolition
The council voted unanimously to support the city’s request to pursue CT Communities Challenge Grant funds, administered by the state Department of Economic Development, toward the demolition of the Meriden-Wallingford Hospital building.
The total demolition project is expected to cost around $6 million. If the city were to receive funding through the CT Community Challenge Grant program, the local funding needed would be 25%, or $1.5 million.
The resolution adopted by the council was amended — it removed previous language that had stated the site’s parking garage and nurse’s hospital would not be demolished. Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona introduced that amendment.
Council Majority Leader Sonya Jelks said she would vote in support of the amendment, as she is interested in applying for the full grant.
Jelks said she is “still interested in seeing if there is a way to save the parking garage and nursing hospital because we think there is historical significance.”
Scarpati said the grant application would include all current infrastructure on the program. If the city were to be informed that buildings, like the former nurse’s hospital, could not be demolished due to its potential historic value, that officials could reevaluate the demolition plans at that time, he said.
During discussions, Scarpati and other officials noted that applying for this particular grant does not preclude the city from seeking other grants to use for the project.
Holly Wills, president of the Meriden Council of Neighborhoods, thanked the council for the proposal to seek funding for the site’s demolition, in comments she made during the meeting’s public comment portion.
“This site has been quite an eyesore within the neighborhood for a number of years and is beyond the definition of disrepair. Efforts to demolish the building and revitalize the site will most certainly improve the appearance of the neighborhood and improve the quality of life in the neighborhood,” Wills said.
In other action, the council recast a vote it had taken during a previous meeting to opt out of a state law that had relaxed restrictions on the allowance of accessory apartment units in single-family homes.
Coon, the city manager, explained the reason why the new vote had been needed was because the result of the previous vote wasn’t posted as a legal notice in the Record-Journal within the state-allotted time.