New London group offers idealized image for community center

New London - Joe Bargmann flashed on an overhead projector the image of a 53,000-square-foot community center that incorporated several swimming areas, a gymnasium with a second-floor walking track, fitness rooms with workout machines, meeting spaces for teens and seniors, and places for nonprofits to conduct business.

He called it a "cartoon" because the plan, while professional-looking, is just a picture of ideas.

"This is an ideal, a conceptual floor plan,'' said Bargmann, of Bargmann Hendrie & Archetype Architects, who was hired by the New London Community Center Collaboration as a consultant.

The idea of a community center for this city, which has not had such a center since the YMCA closed in 1981, is still in its infancy. There is no funding, and no site has been selected. But more than two dozen city and community leaders gathered Thursday morning to continue discussing making a community center a reality.

"These are some of the possibilities of what it could look like,'' said Betty Sugerman Weintraub, an assistant vice president at Liberty Bank Foundation and one of the leaders of the group. "We want something to serve the entire community, from birth to seniors."

"These are all very conceptual. This is just to give us an idea, to give us a sense of reality as to what it could look like,'' added Laurel Holmes, director of the Office of Community Health, Outreach and Partnerships at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, who is heading up the collaborative.

Bargmann, along with Darin Barr and Jeff King of Ballard King Associates, was hired earlier this year to conduct market analysis, garner public input and bring a conceptual drawing to a group that would incorporate everyone's idea of what such a center should offer.

They gathered information from a computer survey and community meetings with high school students, seniors, city officials and others. They received 650 responses to the survey and said there was a consistent theme: most respondents were not using an indoor recreation facility, and most recognized the need for one.

Residents also wanted a pool, gymnasium, weight/cardio equipment area, multipurpose spaces, banquet facilities and areas for arts and crafts.

The consultants concluded that for a community center to be successful in New London, a third party should operate and maintain it. And it should draw from a population of about 81,000 people who live within 5 miles of the center of New London.

Maureen Fitzgerald, president and chief executive officer of Ocean Community YMCA, which has Y's in Westerly and Mystic, told the group Thursday that they were headed in the right direction.

"This can become a reality if everyone keeps the focus,'' she said. "It's all part of the process."

Specific information about the needs and wants of the community can help when the group starts looking for funding, she said.

The next meeting is expected to take place in January but has not yet been scheduled.


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