Community center pitched for New London; $8 million in state bond funds sought

New London - Civic leaders are asking the state to contribute $8 million for a proposed community center and full-service recreation facility in the city.

As envisioned, the building would contain an indoor pool, gymnasium, track, meeting rooms and a senior center, and finally would fill a void left by the closing of the New London YMCA on Meridian Street. The former Y shut its doors in 1981 after the roof over the pool collapsed.

"There's been a need in this community ever since that closed down, and we're trying to replace that," said Michael Passero, president of New London City Council and liaison to the New London Community Center Planning Collaborative.

The planning group has yet to determine a location for the center, but their lead candidate is a portion of the city-owned Bates Woods Park near New London High School. The second choice is Veterans Field by Edgerton School.

Passero recently asked local legislators to make a formal request for state bond funds for the project. Construction costs are estimated at $15 million to $20 million, with potential contributions from the city, private partners and federal grants.

On Thursday, the Commerce Committee agreed to propose legislation this session that would provide up to $8 million in state bond funds for the community center. The bill still needs to clear the committee and both legislative chambers.

Leading the effort is state Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, and state Reps. Ernest Hewett, D-New London; Ted Moukawsher, D-Groton; Elissa Wright, D-Groton; and Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford.

"I think every community should have a community center," said Moukawsher, whose district includes about one-quarter of New London. "I hope we can get it."

Plans for a community and recreation center in New London have been discussed on and off for at least three decades.

Passero said the city's youth are in desperate need of a place for healthy recreation, particularly somewhere with basketball courts and an indoor swimming pool. The pool at New London High School has been closed since May because of serious maintenance problems.

The new community center would take over the role of the Martin Center and senior citizens center, he said. Local nonprofit groups also could be invited to take up residence.

The City of New London should not be the center's sole operator, Passero said, and organizers are seeking an organization such as a health care institution or YMCA with whom to partner.

Organizers hope that within a year they can find a partner and get the financing in place to start building, Passero said.

j.reindl@theday.com

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