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A Chat in Hamden

March 29, 2007

Photo/Sharon Bass
Chris Marchand, 42, town grants coordinator, environmentally correct, very pacific, very cool

By Sharon Bass

Keefe Community Center’s new energy-efficient solar panels.

Filters for school buses that trap diesel emissions.

A farmers' market on Meadowbrook.

Hybrid town cars.

That’s some of what grants coordinator Chris Marchand has been busy doing since he was hired last July 17. He’s secured grants for the above projects. And more. So far he said he’s brought in about $200,000 worth and there’s another million dollars pending.

Marchand earns $48,000 a year. He works in the Economic and Community Development Office under director Dale Kroop procuring grants for virtually any town department. His other charge is to oversee the U.S. Housing & Urban Development grant.

Marchand moved to Hamden over two years ago from San Jose, Calif., to take a job at the Yale School of Forestry as a grants administrator. He lives off State Street in Hamden with his wife and two young children.

Hamden Daily News: You said Hamden is an entitlement community and therefore qualifies for the yearly federal block grant. Would you explain that?
Chris Marchand: Sure. Municipalities over 50,000 throughout the United States can receive entitlement funds. We don’t have to apply for it in terms of a competitive grants process.
HDN: Is it based on the poverty rate?
CM: There’s some factors in the formula.
HDN: And the amount changes each year. It’s going down, huh?
CM: Yeah, it is. As more communities grow over 50,000 the pool of money gets smaller. And also there’s unnamed presidents that may want to cut that budget because they’re financing things such as wars.
HDN: I hear you.
CM: So needless to say we have been cut the last few years. The peak, we were in the mid $600,000 and now we’re down to about $520,000.
HDN: What is expected for the next fiscal year?
CM: $529,000.
HDN: So it went up.
CM: Just a little. Because the new Congress has a Democratic majority, so rather than keep it at current levels they wanted to give a slight increase.
HDN: How is the money divvied out in Hamden?
CM: The main components are the rehab programs. We have a target area in southern Hamden. There are federal census tracks that comprise the target area as 1655, 1656 and 1651. Census track 1651 is the State Street corridor. And 1655 and 1656 are the areas known as Highwood and Hamden Plains.
HDN: How is the money spent in those neighborhoods?
CM: Essentially the priority is doing [home] rehabilitation programs for people with what they call low to moderate income. Things like roof repair. Furnace repair. They could possibly upgrade their windows if they qualify.
HDN: Do these homeowners get a check to pay for the upgrades?
CM: No. They fill out an application and we actually go out to bid for a contract and we do all the paperwork. It’s called a five-year declining lien so if they’re able to stay in their home at least five years they would not have to repay any of this grant opportunity.
HDN: What else does the HUD grant cover?
CM: That’s the largest piece. We also have down-payment assistance where we offer first-time homebuyers in the target area matching funding to help with their down payment. And there’s other components. Infrastructure improvements in the targeted area, things like improving sidewalks, curb cuts for ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance. Anti-blight where we’re cleaning up the southern Dixwell corridor. And nonprofits in the area can apply [for money from the grant].
HDN: Examples?
CM: The New Haven Legal Assistance because they provide legal assistance to low-income folks. There’s anything from rape crisis centers to substance-abuse programs, elderly nutrition programs.
HDN: Many of those social agencies are in New Haven. Do they have to have a certain percentage of Hamden clients to qualify for money?
CM: Correct.
HDN: Tell me about all the loot you’re bringing into Hamden via grants.
CM: There’s quite a few I’ve applied for since I’ve been here and we’re still waiting on quite a few of those. There’s a CAMA grant for the assessor’s office. There’s also been applications out now that we’re waiting on for brown-field remediation for the whole Newhall remediation project for the parks. [Hamden is only on the hook to clean up contaminated soil from Rochfield Field and Mill Rock Park, according to a 2003 consent order decree; the state and Olin Corporation are responsible for the homes; and the Regional Water Authority for the old middle school.]
HDN: How much did you apply for for the two parks?
CM: $400,000, $200,000 for each parcel.
HDN: So what else are you working on now?
CM: We have an application in to upgrade the trail system in Brooksvale Park. So we have that. Dale and I are now looking into getting additional funding through the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development for more rehab because as the CDBG funds are getting cut, we’re looking at other ways to continue the rehab.
HDN: You also look for money for environmental improvements. Like with the school buses and hybrid cars.
CM: I do grants across the board from police and fire, Planning & Zoning, engineering. Any department that has identified the need for a grant opportunity we look for funding options.
HDN: Why did you take this job?
CM: My previous job I was working at a nonprofit in New Haven doing grant administration for a large federal grant. And I am a Hamden resident so it looked like a nice opportunity to have an impact on the local issues.

January 5, 2007

Photo/Sharon Bass
Cindy Simell-Devoe, 46, community theater producer/director, Hamden High class of ’78, vivacious, energetic and zany

By Sharon Bass

If you caught “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Thornton Wilder Hall last August, you undoubtedly developed an appreciation for what Cindy Simell-Devoe and her Whitney Players bring to this community -- if you hadn’t already.

Great theater.

The lifelong Hamden woman, who lives with her husband on West Helen Street, said she never intended to get involved with theater. It was during her college days, as an older student, at Albertus Magnus when the bug bit her. Simell-Devoe eventually became the assistant director of the College Theatre Act 2. During that time, she also ran the Rabbit Hutch Day Care from her home while raising a son.

She’s just started rehearsals for “High School Musical,” slated to open Feb. 28.

Hamden Daily News: So you had no interest in theater when you were growing up.
Cindy Simell-Devoe: No. I had never had any exposure to it. Never took an acting class at Hamden High, and at the time this wonderful director was at Hamden High and I really could have benefited from that, but I was a business student. I wasn’t going to college. I took secretarial classes. Thought that was going to be my direction. And I had this great job in radio, and I was 18, 19 years old. I was working at WPLR in women radio. It was sort of a new innovative thing.
HDN: Do you act in college?
CSD: Yes, but I never really liked the acting side of it. My favorite thing is to produce. I like directing.
HDN: When did you form the Whitney Players?
CSD: Officially, we started five years ago. It’s a nonprofit organization.
HDN: Who else is involved?
CSD: There are four of us. Four women. Jen Clap, myself, Joan Christensen, who’s my choreographer, and Sarah Vaughan.
HDN: Is your focus on children?
CSD: It’s always been about educating the young people by working with the older people on stage. Our mission statement is that we teach young people music, dance and theater while entertaining the community and offering quality theater for an inexpensive fee.
HDN: And you’ve always used Thornton Wilder?
CSD: We have been. We’re trying to get the [new] middle school for next summer because [Thornton] is really small and it limits how many people you can have in a cast. And it also limits what shows you can do. Mostly we have done musicals. “Odd Couple” female version was our first comedy. And now this show, ‘High School Musical,’ will be the first teen program.
HDN: Do the kids audition?
CSD: They all audition. They pay a registration fee [of $175]. And for this show we cast about 50.
HDN: How many are Hamden High students?
CSD: A good chunk and a good chunk of the leads.
HDN: You seem to like working with kids. The daycare center. The theater company.
CSD: There’s always a young-people following around me. No matter how hard I try to have an adult cast, there’s something about me and young people that gravitates back to each other. They love the craziness of it. In my daycare, my kids thought of me as a crazy daycare provider. My actors think of me as the crazy director. But it’s how kids feel comfortable to learn. If they have somebody acting crazy then they have that comfort level.
HDN: What do you get out of it? When I’ve watched you at rehearsals, you seem so in love with what you do.
CSD: I love what happens when a bunch of people come together. And I think it’s an energy thing, when you have young people and that energy and that exuberance and everybody’s got a common goal, miracles occur. You know, I have seen shows that have been in bad shape. That you thought there’s no way it’s going to be audience-ready, and when everybody works together and has the same excitement, I call it a miracle. Miracles really occur. It’s the magic of theater. It’s what people don’t get enough of anymore. It’s so different from film. It raises that human element that’s in the room.
HDN: What size audiences do you typically draw?
CSD: For ‘Joseph,’ we had 300 a night and we did five shows and didn’t have a problem selling tickets. ‘Odd Couple’ was a harder sell. You have a smaller cast so therefore less people know you're doing it.
HDN: And people love musicals.
CSD: People love musicals and these days to go to some of the bigger theaters, you break the bank. You take two people to Oakdale, you’re dropping a hundred bucks easily.
HDN: How do you fund the performances?
CSD: That’s the hard part. Being nonprofit I’ve tried to go after corporate sponsors, which has been completely unsuccessful. The kids raise funds. They pay a registration fee.
HDN: And that pays your salary?
CSD: My very lousy salary. A lot of people don’t like that we have to charge a registration fee and what I keep saying is, I’d love to get to the point where we didn’t need to. My explanation to them is this is what it costs. We hire professional sound people. We hire professional musicians. The set cost money. The costumes. The last two shows, ‘The Wiz’ and ‘Joseph,’ what I spent in costumes.
HDN: And this is the first Whitney Players year (summer to summer) that you are producing three shows instead of the usual one. How do you pick the plays?
CSD: We have five women on the board. We decide on a show based on what we can afford to do; who we think we’re getting cast-wise. You don’t want to pick a show that has six high sopranos if you only know one. But you never know who you’re going to get. We have open auditions. I don’t have time for them to do scene work, because I’m auditioning about 100 people in two nights. They sing a little piece for the music director. They learn a dance step from the choreographers. And we cast the show. We had about 62 auditions for ‘High School Musical,’ and we cast about 48. And that was in December. Right before Christmas. Then we go into rehearsal. Last night [Jan. 4] was our first rehearsal. Usually two, three nights a week. And we do this for two months, and God willing, we’re show-ready.
HDN: Do you have to pay rent to use Thornton?
CSD: No, no. The Hamden Arts Commission cosponsors us and they don’t give us money, but they give us the space. The reason we never could use Hamden High was the service fees. Even if you could get the Board of Ed to waive the rentals -- because we are doing it for the community and it’s educational -- we still have to pay service fees. [Phone rings; it’s the mother of a cast member in the new musical; she says her daughter is too busy with sports to stay in the play.]
HDN: How often does that happen?
CSD: I usually call it 5 percent. For this show, the cast is smaller. Rather than 70 people [as in the summer musicals], I’m in the 40s so I wouldn’t want to lose 5 percent of this cast, and so far I haven’t.
HDN: Well, good luck with the show. Can’t wait to see it.


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