A proposed New London community center remains in its infant stages, but planners said ideas are coming together for proposed features and locations of such a facility.
The New London Community Center Collaborative met on Thursday morning to discuss the initial findings of the consulting and architectural firms working on the project. Ballard*King Associates has considered 663 survey responses, completed a demographic profile of the region and feasibility study, and met with stakeholders such as community groups, nonprofits, and local officials.
“This is still very conceptual,” said Laurel Holmes, director of Lawrence & Memorial Hospital’s Office of Community Health, Outreach and Partnerships. “There have been no decisions made whatsoever.”
Darrin Barr, a consultant with Ballard*King Associates, said 71 percent of the survey responses were from New London residents. He said the survey identified a leisure pool, gym, group exercises, and space for cardiovascular workouts as among the most popular suggested features. Barr said there was also a general consensus among stakeholders and survey responses that a community center is needed in the city.
“Many folks thought it was very important and that it should be part of the city’s capital campaign,” said Barr.
Barr said one constraint of the project would be the initial capital investment. Earlier this year, the collaborative made a presentation to the Connecticut General Assembly requesting an $8 million investment in the project from the state. The city would have to match the amount, with an additional $4 million coming from community partners.
Barr said other concerns include upkeep of the building and the ability of residents to pay. He said New London’s demographics show a median income below the national average as well as low spending rates. Joel Bargmann, an architect with Bargmann Hendrie & Archetype Architects, said a pool and fitness program would drive membership from the city as well as the region.
“People will come from surrounding areas and pay a premium for a good aquatic facility,” he said.
Barr said the initial suggestion would be to build a 53,700 square foot building. He said this would allow for indoor aquatic activities, a gym, space for senior and teen activities, multipurpose meeting rooms, and areas for cardiovascular exercise and weightlifting.
Bargmann said the firm is considering 25 factors in analyzing potential locations, including zoning, parking, whether demolition of existing properties is required, abutting properties, and the ability of the site to serve as a refuge in the event of an emergency. He said a minimum of five acres would be needed to support the building, parking for 200 cars, and required setbacks.
Bargmann said one potential location for the community center would be Bates Woods Park. Holmes said the Edgerton School has also been suggested, as well as Ocean Beach Park. She said the latter location would probably not be feasible due to the risk of flooding in the event of a major storm.
Jeff King, also a consultant with Ballard*King Associates, said the center would be a way of enhancing the community and drawing people and businesses into New London. He said the collection of information and survey responses will add credibility to the process when the group begins to approach donors.
“You can show a donor that you’ve done due diligence,” said King.
The collaborative will hold their next meeting in January.