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Fort Trumbull is preferred site for future New London community center

New London — Fort Trumbull has emerged as the most practical place to build a community recreation center.

That is the opinion of Brailsford & Dunlavey, the firm hired by the city to explore potential sites and develop an actionable plan for a regional recreation center. The company performed a market analysis and ranked five sites, finding Fort Trumbull to have the most available land, fewest construction hurdles and lowest projected costs.

Brailsford & Dunlavey envisions a 67,000-square-foot facility located on a 7-acre city-owned waterfront parcel that the city has marketed for years to developers without success. Details of the facility, along with choice of a final site, are still under development but could include a two-court gymnasium, a 6- to 8-lane swimming pool, fitness center, multipurpose rooms and other elements that could include an outdoor ropes course, tennis courts or ice rink.

The city also has expressed its interest in using the facility as headquarters for the city’s recreational departments and its programs.

Representatives from Brailsford & Dunlavey presented its finding to the City Council earlier this week and to residents at a town hall-style virtual meeting on Wednesday. More than 60 people attended Wednesday’s meeting. Suggestions included a community garden, outdoor lounge area, amphitheater and eatery. A completed plan is expected to be presented to the city by year’s end and will include input from a community center task force and community members.

One of the criteria for the project is “every New London resident should be accommodated regardless of their ability to pay,” said Brailsford & Dunlavey representative Andrew Lieber. “We want to make sure that New London residents come first, and we’re going to be thinking about how this facility operates in a way to ensure that happens.”

One of the biggest priorities expressed by Mayor Michael Passero, the City Council and residents has been sustainability and affordability. The recreation center is being designed as a regional draw with standard membership fees to help subsidize fees for low income residents.

Projected costs of the project have not yet been discussed publicly, but Passero has said that finding a regional partner is key to funding such an ambitious project.

Fort Trumbull, in documents presented to the city by Brailsford & Dunlavey, ranked first in a list of five potential sites. None of the other sites met the 4-acre minimum size needed to accommodate the complex and parking.

The city-owned municipal parking lot at 126 Green St. ranked lowest among the five contenders and is not considered to be a viable option. Also considered was a 2.4-acre parcel at 234 Bank St., home to Coastal Digestive Care Center, and a 3.4-acre wooded section of city-owned Bates Woods Park adjacent to the high school.

Rounding out the list of contenders was the 3.4-acre former Edgerton School property on Cedar Grove Avenue, which was once owned by the city and the proposed site of both a community center and housing complex. The 120 Cedar Grove Ave. property, along with three adjoining properties, are listed for sale for $800,000.

The Edgerton property ranked highest outside of Fort Trumbull because of its accessibility and size. Fort Trumbull, considered to be the lowest cost option, “has a clearer path to timely development,” said Brailsford representative Katie Lutton. On the downside, the Fort Trumbull site is harder to get to than other sites and sits in a flood plain.

Councilor John Satti said he favored the Bates Woods site, calling Fort Trumbull “prime real estate,” and not in a central location.

“New London already has enough non-taxable land,” Satti said.

Felix Reyes, the director of the city’s Office of Development and Planning, said the community center could be a companion to other developments at Fort Trumbull.

Other residents have suggested Ocean Beach Park and Crystal Avenue as places to consider.

g.smith@theday.com

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