Stonington Community Center unveils renovated building

Stonington — Improved handicapped access and security features, as well as renovated classrooms and office space, new flooring, paint and an outdoor walkway are all part of an almost complete $800,000 project at the Stonington Community Center.

The center, better known as the COMO, will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

The project is just the latest undertaken at the center since the arrival of Executive Director Beth Ann Stewart five years ago. The COMO has refurbished its tennis courts, built and then expanded its paddle tennis facility, put a new roof on the main building, installed new fencing around its two athletic fields and playground, created a new pottery room, upgraded its kitchen and auditorium and reclaimed the weed-choked pond in its front yard.

“We had a 20th century facility and we needed to come in to the 21st century,” Stewart said Tuesday during a tour of the 49-year-old building. “It was time for the COMO.”

The work that led to the renovation project began five years ago with the creation of a strategic plan. That led to a space needs assessment that Stewart said was performed at greatly reduced price by Jacunski Humes Architects, the Berlin firm that has designed the town’s recent school projects, as well as the COMO renovation.

The project was completed in three phases over nine months as the center remained open. The COMO obtained an $800,000 loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that is available to nonprofit organizations making handicapped accessibility and security improvements. The loan, which can be paid off over 40 years, carries a 2.75 percent interest rate with no prepayment penalty.

The biggest change visitors will notice is the new entrance. In the past, visitors simply walked in an open door into a lobby area where there was a front desk to one side and easy access to a hallway, classrooms and the gym. Now they must stop in a vestibule, check in and then be buzzed through a locked door. Stewart said that security door was extremely important, as the center has many children inside, much like any of the town’s schools.

There are also enhanced security cameras, including inside the various classrooms.

The project did not expand the 14,000-square-foot footprint of the main building but made more efficient use of space. This created more space for offices, a conference room and renovated classrooms for preschool, middle school activities and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) programs.

Stewart praised her “A Team” for their work on the project. This included Building Committee members Norton Wheeler III, who owns Mystic River Building Co., former board member Deb Norman, who owns Grand & Water Antiques in the borough, David Preka of Advanced Improvements LLC of Mystic, attorney Eric Garofano of Conway, Londregan Sheehan and Monaco of New London, Brian Humes of Jacunski Humes, and G. Donovan of Lebanon, the contractor for the project.

Despite the completion of the renovation project, the COMO will not be taking a break from making improvements to its campus.

Stewart said the COMO is looking at upgrading the parking lot at its main building, is working with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to locate a rolling dock on its pond, currently is renovating its Children’s Garden, will be acquiring more playground equipment and will be working to finish upgrading its incubator kitchen, which is open for use by local entrepreneurs.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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