Derby Should Sell Former VARCA Building, Committee Says

Photo from Facebook The city should unload the former VARCA building on Coon Hollow Road because it’s too expensive to repair for municipal use.

That was the word that came down last month from a subcommittee created to make a recommendation about what to do with the property at 5 Coon Hollow Road.

The place needs between $3.5 and $3.7 million in repairs, according to Johnson Controls, a consulting company.

“I certainly do not want to put this on the backs of the taxpayers,” said Carmen DiCenso, chairman of the “VARCA Building Future Use Ad-Hoc Committee.”

The City of Derby owns the property, but in 1968 had given it to VARCA, a nonprofit business that provided job training and a community spot for people with developmental disabilities.

The property reverted back to Derby when VARCA closed in April.

Both Derby and Ansonia governments thought the building would be a good spot for a combined senior center for the two neighboring cities.

However, things changed once the city started looking at the work that needed to be done.

The building is 50,000 square feet, according to the preliminary needs assessment from Johnson Controls. If the city was to take it over for public use, it would need sprinklers, a new roof and extensive repairs to its heating and air conditioning systems. The HVAC work alone would cost between $1.5 to $2 million. The company also recommended between $200,000 and $250,000 in security upgrades.

DiCenso recommended the city sell the building, a move endorsed by the other members of the ad hoc committee: Judy Szewczyk, Stephen Iacuone, and Ron Sill.

The city already has an interested buyer. In December DiCenso said Soccer and Rugby Imports LLC of Southport wants to use it as the company’s corporate headquarters, according to DiCenso. The company supplies equipment to a variety of soccer and rugby programs on the recreational, high school and university levels.

The building, if the city decides to sell, would have to be put out to bid. The Board of Aldermen controls city properties.

Sill, an Alderman who represents the Second Ward, said Derby seniors still need a new space, as the current space on Main Street is not adequate. But the VARCA building is too expensive.

“Here, with my voice for the people, I’ve got to say put it out for sale and let’s get the tax dollars,” Sill, a Democrat, said.

Szewczyk, a Republican, is also the chairwoman of the city’s Board of Taxation and Finance, the group that sets a Derby budget every year.

The city doesn’t have a few million dollars laying around to spend on an old building, she said.

“We just do not have that money. It’s not there,” Szewczyk said.

Borrowing the money probably wouldn’t fly in Derby, either. Residents are already paying down $31 million in repairs to the sewer infrastructure, and the city’s middle school is less than a decade old.

DiCenso also pointed out that money will also be spent to operate the field house under construction on Chatfield Street, making a VARCA purchase by the city even more unwise.

Iacuone suggested the city research whether the field house, which will primarily be used by Derby student athletes, could become an intergenerational community center as well.

“We’re building this brand new building . . . why don’t we see if we can make some room for the seniors?” he said.

The ad-hoc committee’s recommendation will be taken up by another subcommittee of the Board of Aldermen before making its way to the full board.