Stonington Community Center undertaking three major projects this spring

Stonington — The Stonington Community Center, a institution in the community for 70 years, is about to undergo a transformation.

This spring, the center, better known as the COMO, will undertake three major projects, including a $700,000 renovation of its 47-year-old main building, the $300,000 installation of new DecoTurf tennis courts and the addition of two courts to its popular paddle tennis facility.

The driving force behind the renovation project, according to Executive Director Beth-Ann Stewart, is the need to update security and handicapped access, two items she said are long overdue.

“It’s a significant concern. We want our facility to be accessible to all,” she said about the handicapped improvement issue.

While the center has taken some steps in recent years to upgrade security, Stewart said the new design of the entrance will centrally control access, much like what is done in the town’s schools. The center houses a preschool from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day as well as before- and after-school care, and year-round programs for children including summer camps.

Stewart said the center completed a strategic planning process that identified both areas of need and potential growth with the assistance of Jacunski-Humes Architects, a Berlin firm that has designed many school projects across the state including ones in the Stonington public schools. She said the strategic plan also prioritized the COMO’s needs.

In addition to the security and handicapped access upgrades, plans calls for the installation of air conditioning. The project also calls for renovating the front section of the building including the creation of a development office, renovating two classrooms including an expanded preschool classroom, and bigger bathrooms. No work is being planned for the gym at this time.

Separate from the upcoming project, the COMO recently renovated its auditorium, and moved its pottery and art studio from a nearby off campus site back into renovated storage and locker room area, thus saving on rental income.

Stewart said the decision was made not to renovate the entire building at this time and to not undertake a capital campaign to fund the work. She said supporters are already donating to the paddle and tennis projects, while the Ocean Community Center YMCA is trying to raise the remainder of the $7.2 million it needs for the renovation of its Mystic branch.

Instead, Stewart said the center has obtained a 40-year, low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the project.

She said center officials also decided not to expand the size of the building and work to be more efficient within the current footprint. She said the work being proposed now would mesh with any future building improvements.

Bids for the project are due April 13, and Stewart said she hopes to begin work May 1. The center will remain open during construction while doing the work in phases. The project is estimated to be completed in 6 to 8 months.

The paddle and tennis court projects are being funded by private donors.




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