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Planners Reach Out For Community Center Ideas

Consultants and community organizers look to identify community needs in establishment of center

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.

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Ken May 04, 2012 at 12:26 PM
I am glad the collaborative has taken steps to ask the community what kind of community center it wants. Too often, those steps are skipped resulting in a square peg being forced into a round hole. As this article points out, there are a wide variety of community center types. Getting community input into the center's development not only increases the likelihood it will be well-used, but also buys the community's ownership. That ownership can be very useful when it comes to raising funds to build the center. Congratulations to Michael Passero and the rest of the 'collaborators' for starting this process on such strong footing.
David Irons May 04, 2012 at 01:16 PM
The big question facing anyone should be, Can NL afford a community center? The answer would appear to be "No." Even with state funding, the balance of cost is unaffordable for NL, at least at the present time. Beyond that, maintenance must be closely looked at and funding insured. NL once had a fine pool for its citizens in the NLHS. Lack of maintenance on the pool, as well as the high school itself and other municipal buildings, has resulted in deterioration and, in the case of the pool, its being closed.
William MacDonald May 04, 2012 at 02:04 PM
I'd rather see funds for our library restored and this issue shelved until we get out of our current emergency funding state...
Bud Wizer May 04, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Council President Passero remains the catalyst for this discussion and its carry forward into the planning stages. The remarkable public/private cooperation he has fostered, particularly from our region's YMCA, L&M, and Liberty Bank, lifts the propsect from the muck of "tax and spend," an especially apt logic now. It would appear indefensible to oppose a New London Community Center fostered by such cooperation between the private and public sectors. Pragmatism, the essential attitude for these times, appears to be the emphasis. A very able sailor, Councilor Passero can be expected not to ignore shoals, overlook hazards, or let his sails luff. He's provisioned the crew with encouragement and caution and they've positioned themselves as a team. Whether the political weather will prove "fair," remains to be seen, as does the re-emergence of a robust economy to buoy our hopes for an old craft refitted to better fit the realities of our city's needs with its available resources. Perhaps those councilors, present and past, who assisted Councilor Passero's advancement of this planning, might get aboard?
Thomas Cornick May 04, 2012 at 07:57 PM
We have cold patch in our sidewalks, buildings currently lacking proper maintenance, roads overlayed with so much blacktop that they are flush with the curbs making the sidewalks the gutter, drainage sufficient to handle the amount of paved surfaces that existed decades ago, and are threatening to cut the public works budget by 25%. I would love a community center but we cannot maintain existing structures and infrastructure with current revenue, now is hardly the time to add another structure that we can watch decay before our eyes.

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