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De Smet says town needs more business opportunities

By MICHELLE FIRESTONE

Chronicle Staff Writer

WINDHAM/WILLIMANTIC — Green Party mayoral candidate Jean de Smet said she feels the Town of Windham needs more businesses and more employment opportunities.

One way to revitalize the local economy, according to the former first selectman, is to hire local workers and companies for town construction projects.

“If we spend millions of dollars hiring people who live outside of our region, none of that money comes back to Windham,” she said.

De Smet is running for mayor in the municipal elections Tuesday.

De Smet, a retired union electrician, said people come to Willimantic to shop at the “very unique little shops there.”

“We should really treasure how special these places are,” she said.

De Smet said the town needs to be “emphasizing” its assets, including Windham Community Memorial Hospital, the Willimantic River, local hiking trails and Eastern Connecticut State University.

“These are the kinds of assets that businesses are looking for when they want to move their companies,” she said.

De Smet also noted the town has a “wonderful quality of life,” affordable housing and preserved historic buildings.

“My role would be to keep promoting our town wherever I go so people’s perceptions change,” she said.

De Smet, a founder of the Third Thursday Street Fest, also spoke about the importance of the mayor being at events and gatherings “to represent our community.”

“I’ve organized many of the events myself or been part of the organizing,” she said.

De Smet said community members often indicate more council members need to attend town functions.

On another note, while de Smet is supportive of the Windham High School renovation building project, she said she feels the project can be done for less money.

“I think we can do it better,” she said.

The high school is considered outdated and is only at about half its capacity, which is around 1,200 students.

The $112.3 million project, which voters will vote on during a referendum Tuesday, involves renovations to the high school building to accommodate the school, central offices and Windham Early Childhood Center, the latter two currently housed in the Kramer building.

The town has instructed the school system to move out of the Kramer building by Aug. 1, 2018, with plans to sell the building.

De Smet said by approving the project at referendum, reimbursement rates will be locked in and, at that point, town officials can come up with a more detailed plan.

“It’s a backward process,” she said.

Under current reimbursement rates, the town is expected to pay $43.6 million of the project cost and the state is expected to pay about $68.7 million.

 

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