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Plans move forward for New London community center

New London — A community center task force got its first glimpse this week of what a $30 million facility might look like.

Project architects from Silver/Petrucelli + Associates on Wednesday presented several options for what is expected to be a 62,000-square-foot regional recreation center to be constructed on a nearly 7-acre Fort Trumbull parcel.

The plans are still preliminary and subject to change but they did give task force members a sense of the scale of the buildings, and pros and cons of a one-story versus two-story structure.

Architects have recommended a two-story building, which offers a more compact design that is more energy efficient, cost effective and would allow for more outdoor space or a future expansion.

Silver/Petrucelli was hired to develop a master plan for the entire city-owned parcel but the outdoor turf fields, basketball courts, children’s playground, trees and other amenities envisioned for the property are outside the $30 million budget approved by the City Council. The cost of the so-called “add-ons” has not yet been discussed.

The building site is at the center of Fort Trumbull peninsula, an empty lot that has remained vacant since the city used eminent domain to seize private properties there.

The plans for the two-story structure has space for a two-court gymnasium, 6- to 8-lane swimming pool with seating for swim meets, locker rooms, changing rooms, classrooms, a fitness center and weight room, multipurpose rooms and space for the headquarters of the city’s Recreation Department and Youth Affairs. The two-story structure also would allow for an indoor track.

Design of the outdoor space prompted Dr. Stephen Smith, a member of the community center task force, to ask about not only the cost of the outdoor features but about the maintenance responsibilities.

“The Public Works Department is very stretched right now,” Smith said. “They aren’t able to maintain, outside of just cutting lawns, any of the other plantings in the city.”

He recommended that maintenance costs be incorporated into the operating budget during future planning.

Felix Reyes, director of New London’s Office of Development and Planning, said the question of outdoor maintenance has not yet been answered and acknowledged it would be a heavy lift for the city to maintain the plan as presented.

“It’s nice to have nice things but only if we can maintain them,” Reyes said. “In the long run, I really think it's going to be a partnership with whoever is hired to maintain the facility. That partnership doesn’t exist right now.”

Reyes said the city will continue to seek outside funding sources, state and federal, to be able to fund the outdoor spaces “broader vision for the property.” He said he expects these newest conceptual plans to be presented to the community and various city committees for further input in the coming weeks.

“This is a good starting place to have a discussion, to let the community know where we’re at,” Reyes said. “Before we go into a schematic design, we want to take a pause and do some community outreach to get a consensus.”

The idea of a community center has been talked about for decades as a needed amenity in the city, especially with the sale last year of the Martin Center. The city initially hired the firm Brailsford & Dunlavey to explore potential sites and later to oversee the development of the center.

The City Council approved the funding for the construction. Operating costs, an estimated $2.1 million per year, are expected to be funded through membership fees and rental income.

g.smith@theday.com

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