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Official: New Canaan High Could Be Used as Shelter

NEW CANAAN, Conn. – Could New Canaan High School be a temporary home for residents displaced by massive power outages in the next major weather system? Mike Handler says townspeople should think about it.

Handler, the town’s emergency management director, says the town should consider creating a larger shelter to accommodate residents if they have to endure another weeklong power outage as they did after Hurricane Irene in August and the freak October snowstorm. Handler broached the topic Thursday during a joint budget meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and Town Council.

“All of us share the same concerns, and I want people to think about it,” he said. “We have learned there is a need for sheltering. We are not prone to tornadoes, but we are vulnerable to (outages).”

To make the high school a large-scale shelter, Handler said the town would have to buy a larger generator. A larger generator, which may cost more than $1 million, would allow the high school to remain fully functional, key for feeding people and accommodating those with special needs. It would also allow the town to host as many as 500 people there. The current shelter, Lapham Community Center in Waveny Park, can host up to 35 people. The overflow area would be the Waveny House mansion, which would be able to house only another 50 people.

Saxe Middle School has enough space to be a shelter, but Handler said it’s probably not as suitable because it has so much glass at the main entrance.

Although many New Canaanites survived the aftermath of Irene and the snowstorm in their homes, Handler said the town has an obligation to be ready to house residents in town during an outage. “You could convince people to go to Stamford or Bridgeport. But if they’re unable to do that, we have to shelter them in town,” he said.

First Selectman Robert Mallozzi III applauded Handler for considering the topic, especially with thoughts about those storms still fresh in the minds of many residents. “It’s absolutely worthwhile to consider,” Mallozzi said. “If we determine that the high school is the right place, we have to find a way to make it a place to handle an influx of people.”

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