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    Thursday, March 30, 2023

    New London revises community center plans to meet $30 million budget

    New London — The city has redesigned its Community Recreation Center to keep it within its $30 million budget and adjust to changing market conditions.

    The building’s footprint is smaller and, because of the skyrocketing costs of steel, designers have opted for a brick and concrete structure rather than a steel curtain design.

    Felix Reyes, director of the city’s Office of Development and Planning, presented the changes for the first time publicly at Monday’s City Council meeting. He is part of a special task force meeting regularly with the project’s design and construction teams.

    Reyes said the changes are a natural part of an evolution of the project that has moved from conceptual to design phase and come amid volatile market conditions. The downsized structure comes without sacrifice of any community needs, he said.

    “We have to truly understand what we can design and what we can build,” Reyes said. “We can design the Taj Mahal … but are we designing what we can afford and are we designing what the market can provide as far as materials?”

    The center is being designed by architectural firm Silver/Petrucelli + Associates under the guidance of construction manager Downes Construction Co. The management firm Brailsford & Dunlavey oversees the project.

    The community center will be located on a portion of two city-owned parcels totaling nearly 7 acres on the Fort Trumbull peninsula — parcels 3B and 3C.

    Plans call for the center to be situated on one parcel and separated from a 100-space parking lot by an existing roadway. It’s a change from initial conceptual plans that would have altered the course of the roadway to create a new entrance to the property. Keeping the road where it is now saves on costs of relocating utilities that already follow the roadway, Reyes said.

    What had been a 62,000-square-foot two-story building is now a 58,000-square-foot building.

    The downsizing was accomplished by a decrease in the size of three multi-purpose rooms, tightening of corridors and by slightly shrinking the size of locker rooms, fitness rooms, office spaces and the gymnasium, documents associated with the project show.

    Outside amenities are not included in the $30 million budget.

    The total project budget of $30 million had anticipated hard costs of construction to be roughly $22 million, leaving $8 million for soft costs and a contingency fund. The current hard cost estimates put the price tag closer to $26 million. The goal, Reyes said, is to get to a guaranteed maximum price of $25 million for construction costs.

    The state has contributed an additional $1.2 million toward the project for site work and environmental remediation through a Brownfield Remediation Program. That money is in addition to the $30 million approved by the City Council.

    The community recreation center will still have a two-court gymnasium, eight-lane pool, indoor track, workout and games rooms and a wing of the building dedicated to the headquarters for the city Recreation Department and its associated programs. That wing will include a community lounge, classroom space for early childhood program, instructional kitchen and other amenities.

    “We’re still delivering what we promised to the community,” Reyes said.

    There is also space for the future facilities manager, an outside firm expected to generate the programmatic requirements and memberships needed to meet the operational costs of the center.

    Early estimates put the costs of operating the community center at about $2.1 million per year. Council member John Satti, who was against the use of Fort Trumbull for the center, said about $500,000 annually is needed to cover the pool upkeep alone and questioned the city’s plan for generating what amounts to $175,000 per month to meet operational costs.

    “How do you plan to come up with that $2.1 million a year? Is that something you’re going to expect taxpayers to pay or that something this facility will be able to generate itself? If so, please explain how,” Satti asked Reyes at Monday’s meeting.

    Reyes reiterated that its has been a goal from the beginning to have a business plan with memberships, rental fees and sponsorships generating the needed revenue while providing an affordable income-based membership plan for residents.

    It may take up to four years, Reyes said, for the building to reach a point where its revenues match costs. The city will look to operate the center without a burden on taxpayers though the city does plan to pick up some maintenance costs associated with things like snow plowing and garbage pickup.

    “It’s a new way of doing things, a new business model for the city,” Reyes said.

    Final details of how the money will be generated have not yet been finalized.

    Reyes said the city expects that revenue to exceed operational costs in the future which will allow to chip away at debt incurred with the construction of the center.

    “It’s important for the city to go after every dollar to help with debt service,” Reyes said.

    Further updates on the progress of the community center planning are to be provided to the public at every other council meeting. Planning for another public meeting is also underway. Construction is slated to start later this year.


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