A group hoping to bring a community center to New London says they have a long way to go before the vision becomes a reality, but that it is now looking for input on the details of that vision.
The New London Community Center Collaborative has been meeting with seniors, high school students, and other groups to get input on what services a community center should provide. This week, the collaborative held a pair of public hearings to get input from residents as well.
Michael Passero, president of the City Council and a member of the collaborative, said the group recently made a presentation to the Connecticut General Assembly requesting $8 million. He said the plan calls for the city to match this state contribution if it is approved, with an additional $4 million coming from community partners. The request has survived a committee vote and is now one of several matters that will eventually be taken up by the full legislature.
“We’re not under any illusions, but we think we’ve made great strides in getting where we are,” said Passero.
Passero said the community center should be a public-private enterprise with a plan allowing it to be self-sustainable. He said there has not been a community center in the city since the YMCA closed in 1981.
Consultants Jeff King and Darin Barr discussed the planning process and some of the features that have appeared in other centers. King said one function of a community center would be to provide a common entity for scattered non-profit groups to cooperate with fundraising.
“It’s like everybody’s knocking on the same doors for funds,” said King.
Barr said community centers have incorporated numerous features, including fitness venues such as gyms and pools. He said they have also offered child care services, meeting rooms, computer labs, and other services, and sometimes serve as a site for a police substation or senior center.
George “Bud” Bray said any community center should be accessible to the more impoverished residents in the city. He warned that this will not be possible if there is a significant cost assigned to programs and services.
“New London will have an enormous body of children who will not be able to pay an annual fee, to be part of the revenue stream as you put it,” he said.
Rita Whitehead, who runs the youth group B Tru 2 U, said she thinks the center should be youth-driven. She also said a skate park should be part of the plan, saying children often go to Groton to use park there.
Whitehead said she thinks the process of establishing a community center has been moving slowly, but that she is optimistic for the future.
“Maybe now is the time to start this planning…I’m going to hang in there regardless,” she said.