Lynn Villency Cohen Stamford’s cracked infrastructure
From the top of a new high-rise building in Stamford is a dynamic image of a city in motion with a myriad of cranes dotting the skyline from the South End to the downtown, and another new tranche of apartments and hotels that have arisen in the past five years. It is one that comports neatly with Stamford as the economic engine for Fairfield County and the state at large. The building activity is a healthy sign, but look closely; there is much more to this picture. Zoom in on a number of our public buildings, schools and roads — many are in dire need of attention. Years of neglect and basic maintenance of schools, public buildings and roads loom large like a shadowy cloud over those construction cranes.
Think back; there is little denying that Stamford has scantly cared for preserving its historic buildings. By some estimates, half of its historic buildings were bulldozed decades ago; long gone in a city where developers reign as queen bees and residents have been all too tepid on preservation issues. Even during the past decade when many cities value historic preservation, here in Stamford we have witnessed the demolition of significant examples of city history. From the tearing down of the stately Bedford Hall, the lovely Gothic style St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church rectory, a mid-19th century home dating from the Civil War on Summer Street, to the 18th century Dogherty house on High Ridge Road, and the presently threatened First Congregational Church across from Latham Park; local developers have replaced them with box-like, architecturally bland apartments and commercial buildings.
But it is not merely the historic buildings that have suffered the indifference of Stamford’s elected leaders; the focus has turned to the city’s non historic infrastructure of aging schools and municipal buildings. We have learned that some have asbestos problems and some infested with mold and fungus brought on by severe rains and leaking water into their aging structures.
This administration, the operations, building and health departments, as well as members of the Board of Education and Board of Representatives, having turned a blind eye to decaying buildings, one with health implications for students, teachers, and municipal workers, owe us an explanation. When there is a forced closure of an elementary school building along with an acknowledgment that the mold problem is present throughout public buildings, you know that a dangerous precipice has been crossed.
In the past few years, a strategic plan put forward to avoid this predicament has all but been absent from any public pronouncement, essentially leaving residents in the dark. Inquiring minds want to know if there was any testing of air quality and mold spores throughout the past years. We do know that it is not merely a health issue but also a financial pitfall, as years of neglectful maintenance will add a crushing $25 million — only an estimate — to the city’s budget, along with an increase in the city’s debt limit to remediate the mold, asbestos and overall air quality.
Municipal maintenance of public buildings is one thing, but equally vexing is the crumbling condition of Stamford roads with a growing proliferation of potholes making every day driving difficult and in some cases dangerous. Prior to the heavy rains and frigid air this winter, Stamford’s streets, rife with potholes, have suffered from inattention for months. Even the holes that have been patched up in past seasons have deteriorated to a state of disrepair.
Exiting my street in Stamford en route to the nearest shopping area — a mere 21/2 mile trek — I have counted more than 25 potholes. These crater-like holes have forced drivers to deftly navigate the road sometimes swerving from side to side to avoid tire damage. Many of us have clogged the operations department with complaints and repeated reports to the city’s website. We have been told our roads are on a waiting list or that the problem as been fixed, receiving automated replies. My complaints were followed by emails that the potholes were filled; but as I haven’t seen the fruits of any repairs, it must have been a phantom repair crew that “worked” the job (wink, wink).
Recognizing that the city’s administration is managing a number of critical building projects; the new police station and the Strawberry Hill school among them, they have a lot of balls in the air. But as taxpayers we expect a basic level of service that our current inventory of buildings — particularly the schools, libraries and municipal offices — are reasonably maintained to ensure a safe work and learning environment. At this juncture, we cannot say this has been done.
In the meantime I keep praying to the paving gods that the operations department will be out in full throttle early spring to repave so many of Stamford’s broken streets. I have been told that Domino’s Pizza — yes the pizza giant — is taking on the job of aiding cities with ailing pothole repairs. And as I haven’t yet heard of a new pothole task force taking shape in Stamford, they may just be the most effective resource out there.
Lynn Villency Cohen is a Stamford resident.