Proposed New London community center gets some support

New London - A public/private collaborative looking to bring a community center to the city was given a conditional go-ahead Monday to keep working on details of a proposed center.

After hearing from a handful of residents who raised numerous questions about a community center for city residents, and another hour of discussion, the City Council approved a resolution by a vote of 4-3 to endorse the New London Community Center Collaborative's search for a potential site for an indoor recreation facility.

Although the collaborative had asked that Veterans Field off Cedar Grove Avenue be named as a "potential site," the council took the location out of the resolution.

The council also endorsed negotiating a possible partnership with the Ocean Community YMCA, which operates facilities in Mystic, Westerly and Richmond, R.I., to develop and run an indoor recreation center somewhere in New London.

Council President Michael Passero and Councilors Adam Sprecace, Anthony Nolan and Donald Macrino voted in favor of the resolution. Councilors Wade Hyslop, John Maynard and Marie Friess-McSparran voted against it, saying they are in favor of a community center for the city, but were not ready to commit to a site.

After the vote, Maureen Fitzgerald, president and chief operating officer for the Ocean Community YMCA, said the council vote was a step in the right direction.

"Now we can start getting answers to some of the public concerns raised here tonight," she said. "It will be up to the collaborative to get people the information they need."

All the councilors and a handful of residents had questions about the proposed center and about a collaboration with the YMCA. They wanted to know the cost of memberships and if any other groups were contacted about opening a center. Many also objected to using Veterans Field, which until recently was the location of portable classrooms for the school district.

Friess-McSparran, who lives on Elm Street near Veterans Field, said the city and the state promised nearly 10 years ago that after the portable classrooms were removed, the area would go back to being recreation fields.

Maynard said the city should be looking at an all purpose facility that would include a recreation center, a new police department and fire station. The city should look at using a city owned piece of land known as Parcel J on the corner of Bank and Howard streets. Then the current police station and fire headquarters on Bank Street could be sold and put back on the tax rolls, he sad.

Passero, who brought the collaborative together three years ago, argued that the resolution was not a commitment to any one site or any specific proposal.

"The collaborative does not want to move forward unless they have a consensus in New London," he said. "They're seeking the council's endorsement ... to work on a development agreement."

The collaborative is made up of more than 20 representatives of businesses, social services, nonprofit groups, senior citizens and educators. Several members, including the president of Liberty Bank Foundation, The Williams School, the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, Writers Block Ink and the city's Economic Development Commission wrote letters supporting the initiative.

The proposed construction budget for the center is estimated at $15 million to $20 million, depending on how big the center would be and what kind of amenities it would offer. The group said a center that includes a wellness center, gymnasium, sports courts, 90-seat theater, multipurpose rooms, lockers rooms, pool, along with equipment, would cost about $16 million.


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