WINSTED – Thanks to a federal grant, the town can start seriously thinking about building a new public works garage.

Town Manager Joshua S. Kelly said the town will receive $2.53 million, or 55%, of the projected $4.6 million total cost, including planning and construction, for the garage. This is the "maximum allowable allocation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant fund that the congressional earmark was made from," he said.

Kelly said he believes the new garage will take four or five years to be completed.

"This congressionally directed spending grant was really the kickoff to this project being viable with the town's current budget conditions," he said.

U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., came to town Thursday to announce the grant and take a tour of the current public works garage. Murphy said the $2.53 million is part of the $1.7 trillion 2023 fiscal year omnibus appropriations bill Congress announced in December 2022.

Public works Director James Rollins led Murphy on the tour and shared some of the ideas his department has for new facilities. He said the age and history of the garage is "uncertain" because it was constructed in several phases. The first phase was the mechanics shop, probably built in the 1940s or early 1950s, Rollins said. The offices likely were built in the 1950s or early 1960s.

Rollins said the garage bays "may date back to the 1970s or 1980s." He said six bays were upgraded in 2008 and are "still in very good condition." He said the other 14 are showing "significant deterioration caused by use and age."

After that, Murphy went to Town Hall where he met with new Police Chief Chris Ciuci, schools Superintendent Melony Brady-Shanley, Selectman A. Candy Perez and Economic Development Commission Vice Chairman Dennis Dressel, along with Kelly and Rollins. The town also is receiving $850,000 in federal aid to buy new radios for police and emergency services.

Kelly said the $850,000 should cover the entire cost, "but everything is an inflation game right now."

Police Sgt. Kevin Kinahan, who was not at the meeting with Murphy, said the current radio system is 22 years old and operates on a very high frequency. Consequently, "there are many areas in town where officers have had either poor or no reception," he said.

Upgrading to an 800 megahertz frequency will provide police interoperability with other agencies on the state's network; a clear signal and enhanced voice quality; increased radio coverage; a longer battery life on portable radios; and greater flexibility in programming radios in the field over the network as opposed to scheduling a technician for an onsite service call.

Because the state owns a portion of the network, Kinahan said it would be responsible for system upgrades and repairs, while the town only would be responsible for its equipment.

Murphy also was invited to speak at Gilson Cafe and Cinema by the EDC. He spoke for about a half hour on the state’s need for more affordable housing; mental health and social media, especially among children; artificial intelligence; the opioid epidemic; transportation and the need for high-speed internet service in the Northwest Corner. He then took questions for the next half hour.