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    Thursday, March 30, 2023

    New London approves contract to build $40 million community center

    A digital rendering of the exterior of the planned New London Community Center by architectural firm Silver/Petrucelli + Associates.
    A digital rendering of the planned New London Community Center by architectural firm Silver/Petrucelli + Associates.
    A digital rendering of the pool in the planned New London Community Center by Courtesy of architectural firm Silver/Petrucelli + Associates.
    A digital rendering of the New London Community Center by architectural firm Silver/Petrucelli + Associates.

    New London ― Construction on the city’s long-awaited community center is months away from becoming a reality.

    The City Council Tuesday voted to approve a $30 million construction contract and $2.9 in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the first phase of what now is a $40 million project. The project totals three phases.

    “This is about us,” Felix Reyes, director of the city’s Office of Development and Planning, said. “This is about investing in ourselves. You see a lot of developments in New London but the question is ‘what’s for us?’ This is that investment.”

    Reyes said there have been many approvals before Tuesday for architects, bonding, engineers and construction managers, but the council vote was to build the center. He projects construction to start in the next two months and for the building to be finished Nov. 2024.

    The site plan for the community center includes a two-court basketball/sports gymnasium, conference rooms, multi-purpose rooms, classrooms, a fitness center, community room, kitchen and a swimming pool.

    For the past two years, the city worked to keep the budget for the building at $30 million. Reyes said he didn’t want to put blame on the COVID-19 pandemic, but cost factors today are just not the same.

    Downes Construction Company, LLC, the firm managing the construction of the center, sought bids for the project in the fall of 2022. Reyes said the city averaged five to seven bids per vendor, which he said shows the city maximized its ability to get the best price from the most qualified vendor.

    “The project is still $40 million,” Reyes said. “It came in at a lot more than we planned. However ... we continue to operate in the mindset that we will build what we promised at the beginning.”

    Reyes said the city already has $35 million, including the $30 million approved previously by the City Council, ARPA funds and grants from the state government. He said the city would raise funds for the remaining $5 million.

    Under the new budget, hard costs of construction are roughly $34.5 million, leaving the remainder for soft costs, contingency fees and more.

    Reyes said the revenue for the center would be driven by membership fees, which will be on a sliding scale based on household income for city residents, rental fees and program fees. He said the city also anticipates revenue from naming rights and philanthropy.

    During public comment Tuesday, city resident Keith Dagenais said $40 million is a ton of money for a shell of a building.

    “We have zero money in place currently for phase two or three,” Dagenais said. “Nothing should be voted on until we know exactly where the money is coming from.”

    Others that spoke about the community center asked that it be named after Tommie Major, the city’s parks and recreation director, who retired Tuesday after 34 years. Major spoke against the notion at the meeting.

    Councilor John Satti said he was a bit uncomfortable voting in favor of the motion, because the city has borrowed $30 million for the project and now the project is in the range of $40 million. He said his concern was that in the first phase, there is no money allocated for work such as carpentry, tiling, bathrooms, landscaping and more.

    Satti asked whether the money for the first contract is appropriated and the rest is not raised, would the city need to appropriate more funds through debt service.

    Reyes said the phasing is not uncommon and the city decided to lock in a price for 85% of the building now, because it will not get any cheaper. He said filling the $5 million gap in the magnitude of the project it is not a big feat.

    Reyes said there would be time to raise the money from now until the end of the project for the furniture and finishes that come after.

    Councilor Efrain Dominguez said he thinks 99.9% of New London is ready to build the center. Dominguez said when he hear things that are not positive he is reminded of when the city bonded $160 million to build the schools.

    “These are not expenses. These are investments,” he said.

    Dominguez said the city has talked for the past 15-20 years about building a community center, and now has a chance to make it a reality.


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