Meriden panel recommends funding school transition program, court resurfacing



reporter photo

MERIDEN — The panel tasked with reviewing requests for federal coronavirus relief money advanced two more proposals Monday night.

One of those requests is for $105,000 to fund a multi-year program proposed by local nonprofit group Change the Play Inc. to ensure at-risk students in fifth and sixth grade do not academically disengage as they transition from elementary school to middle school. 

The second request the American Rescue Plan Steering Committee voted to advance is $2.2 million for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to resurface the city’s existing basketball and tennis courts with new post-tension concrete that would extend the life of the surfaces well past the three-year expectancy of the asphalt surfacing currently used. 

The proposal would also install a soccer mini-pitch at Columbus Park and new pickleball courts at Hubbard Park. A soccer mini-pitch is a small, hard-court surface which, according to the U.S. Soccer Foundation, is “ideal for urban areas and other communities where finding a safe place to play can be difficult.”

“These small, customized, hard-court surfaces are perfectly suited for organized soccer programs and pick-up games,” the foundation website states.

Youth program

Jason Teal, Change the Play’s founder, described the transition from elementary to middle school as a “pivotal transition period.” The wellness program, called Untapped Potential, would target students entering middle school. 

Change the Play’s application described improved outcomes — including increased employment, reduced risk of incarceration and addiction — by focusing on student engagement during those transition years. 

The program if implemented would grow over a three year period. It would start with four elementary schools and 48 students participating in a 14-week program. The next year, it would be expanded to all eight elementary schools, serving 96 students. By year three, the program’s organizers hope to reach 144 students. 

Mayor Kevin Scarpati, a member of the steering committee, told Teal he commends the work his organization is doing. “It’s needed – targeting the most at-risk students,” Scarpati said. “From a mental and social well-being standpoint there is a need for these types of programs.”

Scarpati addressed a question — whether the organization had presented Meriden school officials with a similar proposal. 

Teal responded they have not. 

“I would like to see if there’s an opportunity for funding from the Board of Education as well, and to utilize some of the funds they’re receiving as matching funds,” Scarpati said.

Scarpati, during discussion, later noted that the program is not Board of Education run. He said the city has “an obligation to support our students.”

City Council Majority Leader Sonya Jelks, while not a member of the committee, listened in. She too spoke favorably of funding the proposal. She said if the program is successful, hopefully the Board of Education would look to expand it, by ensuring continuous funding beyond the three years proposed. 

Parks & Recreation

During discussion of the Parks and Recreation request, Chris Bourdon, the department’s director, described how the city’s parks and outdoor recreation facilities had seen attendance skyrocket over the course of the pandemic. He said attendance increased by 700% in 2020 alone. 

It proved to be an outlet when youth and adults had nowhere else to go, because other places weren’t open, Bourdon explained. 

“What that shows was the courts were a major outlet for exercise and socialization,” Bourdon said. “We firmly believe that being outdoors, exercising and recreating, is equally important at fighting COVID as wearing a mask and social distancing.” 

The proposed upgrades would extend the life of the courts that would be resurfaced, reducing the need to request funding for resurfacing through the city’s capital improvement program, Bourdon said.  

Silver City Ballroom

The steering committee, during that same meeting, reviewed a $50,000 request from ShowLab Events LLC, the company that operates Silver City Ballroom on Colony Street. The committee voted down the proposal initially — with the caveat that the applicant, Joseph Florio, submit a revised proposal with an updated outline of the funds’ intended use. 

The proposal, as submitted, listed costs incurred during the pandemic that had been covered through other COVID-19 relief funds ShowLab received, Florio explained to the committee. 

Steering committee members spoke favorably of Silver City Ballroom and its impact on downtown, while encouraging Florio to resubmit the application. 

The two proposals the steering committee advanced still need to be presented to the City Council, which has final approval authority. As of Monday, officials had committed more than $11.1 million of the nearly $36.36 million in ARPA funds the city has been allocated.

mgagne@record-journal.com203-317-2231Twitter:@MikeGagneRJ



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