First selectman addresses fiber-optic questions

Three months after the results of a Parks and Recreation Department audit stirred up questions regarding the town’s fiber-optic project, the Board of Finance finally got some answers during its Feb. 5 meeting.
During its Nov. 18 meeting,
the finance board reviewed the Parks and Recreation Department audit report, which indicated the town is “in the process of updating the network for the Comstock building and will be updating the network feed.”
This surprised board member Al Alper, who was unaware the town had put in conduit under Route 7 and up to Comstock Community Center on School Road at the same time Eversource — formerly Yankee Gas — was putting in its own conduit. He said he was also “surprised” the town was fiber-optically connecting to Comstock after the Board of Selectmen previously pulled a $1.6-million fiber-optic project from a bonding vote in 2013.
According to Chief Financial Officer Sandy Dennies, the plan is to “solidify the connection” between the Parks and Recreation and Finance departments, as well as a connection with New World, Parks and Recreation’s funds and fees recording system.
“For the last 16 or 17 years, we’ve been putting in conduits whenever we get a trench open because [trenches are] the most expensive aspect of putting conduits in — conduits are relatively cheap,” First Selectman Bill Brennan told the board on Feb. 5. “We put in the conduits to prepare for the connectivity.”
In November, Mr. Alper questioned how it cost only $120,060 — as approved in the fiscal year 2015 capital budget — to run conduit and fiber to Comstock when it cost the town close to $300,000 — although not all of it was spent — for the same type of project for Miller-Driscoll School.
Mr. Brennan said the answer to Mr. Alper’s question is “very simple.”
“The Miller-Driscoll project was a longer stretch. It’s almost 7,300 feet and the cost was $219,125,” said Mr. Brennan. “That was approved by the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance and we have charter authority.”
Because the conduit and fiber for Miller-Driscoll was “vendor-installed,” Mr. Brennan said, it cost the town more because it had to pay that vendor.
“The sewer was also being put in, so we had inspections because we [the town] weren’t putting it in,” he added, “and there was traffic control and paving and all those costs, so it was obviously more expensive to put that in — and it was a greater distance.”
Mr. Brennan said the distance to run conduit from Center Street to Comstock was 3,800 feet.
“We had conduits in all the way up to Center Street and we ran them down and under the bridge near Portofino’s. The reason we did that was because it was the easiest way to get across and over to the fields, and eventually, that was the route that Yankee Gas was going to go,” said Mr. Brennan.
“It’s a very narrow area underneath there, so getting that pipe in [and] getting the conduits in — and there was also a sewer there — it was very important to do all this at once so we didn’t have to go re-digging that up.”
The Comstock project was “town-installed,” which kept the cost down, said Mr. Brennan, and since it wasn’t done on a road, there were no traffic control or re-paving costs.
One important aspect of the project to note, said Mr. Brennan, was the fact that it was all done prior to the energizing of the natural gas pipeline.
“Why that is so important is that once the pipeline is energized, you can’t dig next to or put any mechanized equipment in the area, because if it hits it, you could have a catastrophic effect,” he said.
“It was important to get the pipeline installed, obviously, but we wanted to get these conduits in when we could use mechanized equipment to get them installed.”
If the town hadn’t laid the conduit at that time and wanted to do it in the future, said Mr. Brennan, the trenches would have to be dug up “by hand,” which would have been “very costly.”
“These decisions, all of which I made, were important because it’s saving us money in the future,” Mr. Brennan told the finance board.
“It was very cost-effective to do it and it worked very well and in a sequence that made a lot of sense.”
Telephone system
With the solidification of its new connectivity, said Mr. Brennan, the town plans to install a new townwide telephone system to serve four schools, the Board of Education office, Comstock Community Center, and four main town buildings, including the police and fire headquarters.
The town is currently seeking proposals for a new telephone system, which must:

  • Easily support the relocation of town departments.

  • Be redundantly designed in order to be highly reliable and able to operate during emergencies.

  • Be capable of central administration, but also allow the education board and the town to manage their own segments of the system.

  • Be able to take advantage of the town’s broadband connections between buildings, but be able to operate in the absence of such connections.

According to the town’s request for proposals, the new telephone system “may be implemented in phases,” the first of which “must be operational” by Sept. 1.
The deadline for submitting proposals is Friday, March 6, at 4 p.m.