A recent $15 million, multi-year grant through General Electric has brought the Parks and Recreation Department staff’s years-long desire for a community center within reach.
The announcement Monday was “a very big surprise, pleasant and exciting,” said Parks & Recreation Director Amy Mangold, noting that her department for years has envisioned a community center that would broaden its ability to meet the community’s recreation needs.
“This donation will help us meet our needs to get the project started sooner than it would have had it been done with just town funding,” she said.
A community center will serve as a way to bring the community — of all ages — together, she said.
“When GE identified that this is one of Newtown’s greatest needs, that thoughtfulness really placed the donation in the correct place,” Ms Mangold said, again mentioning the past struggles in both planning and funding. The funds, intended for the development, construction and operation of a community center, “will serve as a wonderful way to bring the community, all ages, together.”
The community center vision is to “connect people of all ages, which would most definitely include seniors,” Ms Mangold said. Past planning had encountered different points of view on whether seniors would be involved with a joint center.
“We had delays with the planning and funding in the past,” she said.
In part, not all parties or partners held the same vision, she said. The Commission on Aging had pulled out of the project four years ago when there were space constraints and design concerns.
Parks and Recreation had to start again planning without the seniors.
“We are all now focusing on the same goals and visions and this donation has created the synergy to get us there financially to benefit the community. We are so grateful for this generosity,” she said.
The donor’s intent was to include many partners in the community, Ms Mangold said, adding “This donation will help us reach those stages of development, and GE’s desire to meet community needs.”
On Wednesday, Mrs Llodra had said, the GE donation is “an extraordinary opportunity for us.” She also feels that Fairfield Hills is the “right location. It’s always been part of the planning.” Past demolition had cleared a footprint for the community center near the Newtown Youth Academy. Mrs Llodra sees the possibility of moving forward in several phases, with a standalone facility for seniors and indoor pools establishing the core.
She has in mind persons “to guide the process,” including representatives from the Parks and Recreation Department, Commission on Aging, and members of the community. The committee can consider needs, the grand vision for the community center. “The key thing is planning,” Mrs Llodra said.
A preliminary vision for a community center is for a new space and new construction at Fairfield Hills.
Parks & Recreation Needs
One of the recreation department’s biggest issues is programming space.
“We depend on the schools and do not have our own indoor facility to provide programming. While schools have been very generous, the after school activities take priority over recreation needs. A community center will help us broaden our programming ability and offer programming during the day for small children,” Ms Mangold said.
Past design phases had identified the need for two swimming pools — a competitive lap pool and a zero-entry therapy pool, classroom space, arts and crafts programs, a teen center for kids for after school programming, tutoring, or a place to gather.
The recreation commission had identified a need for kitchen space and culinary needs associated with community programming and classes, and gymnasium space.
A new facility could also meet staff needs for administrative space.
The funding will go a long way, Ms Mangold said. Past estimates for meeting just recreation department needs were around $18 million, which would have relied on town Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) funding.