Last year, $400k. This year $44.3M from city coffers proposed to help outside agencies due to COVID.

Photo of Verónica Del Valle

STAMFORD — When the pandemic shut Stamford out of office buildings and gyms, restaurants and movie theaters, people turned to the city’s nonprofits.

Outside agencies — organizations that are not operated by the city but receive municipal allocations — saw an influx of visitors after the pandemic closed residents’ usual haunts. After a year of increased traffic and scant fundraising, a financial boon for these nonprofits may lie in the city’s annual capital budget.

The Stamford Planning Board last month approved its annual capital budget recommendation, which is just the first step in funding Stamford’s projects for the year. The board recommended $44.3 million in projects to Mayor David Martin.

More than two million dollars would go to outside agencies — including the Stamford Museum & Nature Center, Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens, and the Ferguson Library — under the Planning Board’s proposal.

A cow greets visitors during the Maple Sugar Festival at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center in Stamford, Conn. on Sunday, February 21, 2021.

A cow greets visitors during the Maple Sugar Festival at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center in Stamford, Conn. on Sunday, February 21, 2021.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

“The Planning Board concurs that, as in previous years, the Outside Agencies, which provide critical services to the City and special services to all residents of Stamford, continue to bear a disproportionate burden of deferred Capital Projects,” the board said in its message to Martin.

In the previous fiscal year, outside agencies receives just under $400,000 in the planning board proposal. Because of that burden and the pandemic, the board wrote, outside agencies received more consideration this year.

Suggested recipients include:

$200,000 for renovations to the Ferguson Library;

$180,000 for repairs to the Stamford Center for the Arts;

$95,000 for site improvements to the Stamford Museum & Nature Center;

$185,000 for a pavilion at the Bartlett Arboretum;

$115,000 for a chiller replacement at Scofield Manor;

$285,000 to repair projects at Children’s Learning Centers of Fairfield County.

Ferguson Library

A $200,000 allocation to restore part of the main library building downtown isn’t the most glamorous capital project, but Ferguson Library President Alice Knapp said that it’s imperative for long-term growth.

“Our request is really to replace the roof, where we know that there’s water penetration, before any damage is done,” Knapp said. “The beauty of it is, once our roofs are solid, then we can look … to write grants to put in solar panels.”

Library President Alice Knapp shows the plexiglass windows and line dividers at the check-out counter at Fergsuon Library in Stamford, Conn. Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. Outside agencies got a cash infusion from the city's planning board in this year's budget recommendation, and the Ferguson Library was one of the organizations to reap the benefit.

Library President Alice Knapp shows the plexiglass windows and line dividers at the check-out counter at Fergsuon Library in Stamford, Conn. Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. Outside agencies got a cash infusion from the city's planning board in this year's budget recommendation, and the Ferguson Library was one of the organizations to reap the benefit.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

But the library’s needs don’t stop at the roof renovation. Pandemic-related costs cut into the annual operating budget; Plexiglas barriers went up at tables, and staff wiped down surfaces more frequently.

“If we didn’t have the dollars from the city Capital Budget to offset the really big, expensive projects that you can’t fundraise for, and it’s inappropriate to use your operating budget for, we would really not be a great library,” she said.

The roofing project is a prime example of that.

Bartlett Arboretum

“We have always been known as a hidden gem,” said Jane von Trapp, CEO of the Bartlett Arboretum, the 93-acre site tucked away in North Stamford.

When the rest of the world closed because of the pandemic, the arboretum stayed open through the spring and summer. Soon after, visitors from far and wide took respite in the among the trees and flowers.

“We are no longer a hidden gem. We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of thousands of visitors result,” von Trapp said.

Bartlett CEO Jane von Trapp shows plants starting to bloom in the greenhouse at Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens in Stamford, Conn. Thursday, April 4, 2019.

Bartlett CEO Jane von Trapp shows plants starting to bloom in the greenhouse at Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens in Stamford, Conn. Thursday, April 4, 2019.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

Like the library, the arboretum saw its operating costs go up during the pandemic. More visitors meant more trash strewn around the paths, explained von Trapp. Because of the closed indoor facilities, they had to bring in port-a-potties to the parking lot.

The arboretum asked the city for $185,000 to build an outdoor pavilion as an extension of this influx.

“It’s been on our list of capital projects for several years. It moved to the top of our requests as a result of COVID,” von Trapp said.

The pavilion would have movable walls and would serve as an all-seasons shelter for the agency. Summer concerts could happen there, and it could partially house the arboretum’s annual summer camp program.

Even after the pandemic, von Trapp expects the increased momentum for the arboretum to continue.

“I see no reason why this won’t,” she said. “It’s sort of a silver lining in the big cloud.”

A waiting game

Even after the initial allocations, outside agencies have more hurdles to overcome.

The planning board recommendation is only the first step in establishing Stamford’s annual budget. The board sent its proposed budget in mid-February to the mayor, who has the last word on some budget items.

Martin, for example, makes the final call on how much money some lower-priority projects will receive.

The mayor is required to submit his budget to the Board of Representatives and Board of Finance on March 8. He will meet with board leadership the following day to discuss his proposed budget, said Arthur Augustyn, the city’s communications director.