Year In Review: A New Community And Senior Center Rises At Fairfield Hills
Note: Portions of this story include reporting by Associate Editor John Voket.
A new community and senior center rose from the ground on Simpson Lane in Fairfield Hills during the last year.
As the 45,000-square-foot building’s footprint took shape, former Newtown Youth and Family Services operations and development director Matt Ariniello in May told The Newtown Bee he was “ready to hit the ground running,” after being named director of the Newtown community center.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal had said Mr Ariniello has more than 13 years of experience in marketing, fundraising, and community outreach, which he will incorporate as he begins his role in managing and leading the staff at the newly built center.
“We were fortunate to have had a large group of strong candidates apply for this position,” Mr Rosenthal said. “Matt stood out for his commitment to the town through his involvement in many community projects and volunteer organizations, and most notably, for his vision for the community center.”
In addition to his marketing and public relations experience, Mr Ariniello has served as a member of many local agencies, including the United Way of Western Connecticut. He also served on the Newtown Prevention Council and organized several runnings of the Newtown Road Race 5K and Newtown Prevention Council Kids Runs.
By July, Public Building and Site Commission (PBSC) Chairman Robert Mitchell said he was excited to learn that the steel “bones” of the new community and senior center were going up Monday, July 9. As a former high-altitude steel worker himself, Mr Mitchell had said that once work is complete, residents will clearly be able to envision the true size and scope of the building.
Mr Mitchell said the project was on track, and equally important, he said that the project is still on budget, although current budget parameters are, in a word, “tight.”
The project is funded through a 2013 gift from GE of $15 million for the development, construction, and operation of a community center. From GE is $10 million to design and build and another $5 million to underwrite at least five years of operating expenses.
The town is bonding an additional $5 million approved in the year’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to supplement the initial $10 million capital gift. Another $3 million of CIP money is funding the senior center.
Mr Mitchell had explained that one of the reasons why the community center component is progressing both expediently and efficiently, to the extent that it has, is because, like the Sandy Hook School project, it is being designed and constructed more like a commercial building than a traditional municipal initiative.
During a site visit, also in July, Community Center Committee Chairman Kinga Walsh had asked, “Isn’t this exciting?” Stepping from her car, she paused to stare at the bones of a new building rising from the concrete pad, which defines the footprint of the new community center and senior center structure at Fairfield Hills. The committee had elected Ms Walsh as chairman.
Beam by steel beam, the community center skeleton took shape Tuesday morning, July 10. With Caldwell Walsh Building Construction Inc Project Superintendent Salvatore V. Spadaro that afternoon were Ms Walsh and the facility’s new director, Matthew Ariniello.
Walking the site, they pointed to the outline of the senior center component. Adjacent to it was steel outlining what will be art rooms, classrooms, and more at the community center.
The steel is opposite central cinder block walls between the senior and community center space where locker rooms off of a pool area will stand. Beyond the locker rooms, Mr Spadaro stepped down toward a large depression, explaining that the pool will be in that location
The Newtown community center senior center project is “big,” said Mr Ariniello, who walked across the concrete and around the site where in approximately a year’s time, residents will fill its walls.
Able to see the progress from his office window, Mr Rosenthal on July 17 visited the rising steel. Beams traced the building’s outline.
Mr Ariniello joined the first selectman. Walking around to the back of the facility, Mr Ariniello noted that it spanned roughly an acre of ground. Residents passing the construction in Fairfield Hills could begin to see its size.
By the time August’s heat and humidity descended, builders had reached a milestone. Setting their names in indelible ink on Wednesday, August 1, were town officials and various board members who signed a steel construction beam that morning, which was later set in place over the main entrance.
Among those leaving their permanent mark on the final construction beam were former First Selectman Pat Llodra, under whose eye much of the new Newtown community and senior center planning took place; First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, who now watches over the project; Mr Ariniello; Senior Center Director Marilyn Place; Community Center Committee Chairman Kinga Walsh; Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia; and many others who spent time on the centers’ planning and development in past years.
Noting all of the “work and effort and number of people involved,” in the community center project, Mr Rosenthal said, “This truly will be a center for all ages.” The center will be a gathering place for the community, he said.
Ms Llodra handled the “heavy lifting” for the project in past years, Mr Rosenthal commented. Acknowledging the many people gathered for the brief ceremony this week, he said, “There are a lot of folks who care very much about this project. I know it will be a wonderful place when it is done.”
In the minutes before crews raised the final beam into place, Mrs Llodra said, “Remember why we have this place and what can rise from depths of grief.”
By late August, a committee formed to oversee the center’s future. The new Community Center Committee is a permanent committee in Newtown.
Its current, short-term goal in August was to work with Mr Ariniello to create policies, organizational structure, membership, financial overviews, and fundraising options, according to Ms Walsh.
At a meeting Tuesday, August 21, committee members adopted the following mission statement: “The Newtown Community Center is a multi-generational hub that enhances our community by promoting social interaction, health and wellness, creative opportunities, and personal growth.”
Director Ariniello said, “The goal of the committee was to develop a mission statement that reflects inclusiveness for all. In addition, we hope to establish a foundation in the community and continue to address the current needs while preparing for the future.”
The Board of Selectmen had recently appointed the panel: Chairman Kinga Walsh, Brian Hartgraves, Bill Buchler, Bill Manfredonia, Nancy Doniger, Doria Linnetz, Jeff Tousignant, Fred Taylor, and Cheyanne Wirtz. Also participating on the committee in a nonvoting capacity is Ian Hockley, whose son, Dylan, was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting.
Appointed Community Center Committee members have a two-year term.
Late Year Progress
By early October, Mr Ariniello had planned several site walks offering residents a chance to look at the new facility and answer any questions from the public.
In mid-September, Mr Ariniello and Mr Rosenthal joined members of Caldwell & Walsh Building Construction Inc for a quick site tour.
“The walls are up,” along with roof decking and framing, Mr Ariniello said. Stepping across poured concrete slabs, past a locker room area, and then through a space where rooms are taking shape, the group arrived at the aquatic space where pools will go.
Concrete blocks formed a wall defining the shape and size of the aquatic space. Large windows lined the walls.
Early October saw the center’s logo unveiled. The logo — which incorporates the silhouette of a flagpole and steeples — “reflects an icon and symbol of our town that is recognizable and represents a sense of community,” said Mr Ariniello.
Also that month came another construction update. On October 13, Mr Ariniello said, “You’re going to be excited; I was.”
Crossing the lot gouged with heavy machinery tread, he entered an enclosed space where portions of walls will eventually support a brick façade. Above them was the beginning of a roof. Toward the back of the building was the aquatic center that will house the pool area.
Stepping through the main entry and pointing to where a front counter might be, Mr Ariniello said, “Things are moving quickly.” Work is “on target” for framing and roofing. “By the end of November, we want to be fully enclosed,” he said, so interior work can take place.
December arrived, and planners gave the town an early Christmas present. “Centered Around You” is the official slogan for the community center, Mr Ariniello revealed December 3 during a Board of Selectmen’s meeting. Also, earlier in the month, the brick façade was under construction and window installation had begun. Throughout the year, center proponents had maintained that the new build would open its doors in the summer of 2019. Estimates earlier in 2018 had projected the center could open sooner.
The community center’s facilities, totaling approximately 35,210 square feet, will include an arts and crafts room; six multipurpose activity rooms to accommodate activities ranging from music to group gatherings; a commercial kitchen; an approximately 5,000-square-foot banquet room; a six-lane, 25-yard pool; a zero-entry activity pool; and outdoor connections to the surrounding area of the Fairfield Hills campus.
The separate senior center of 9,450 square feet will cater to seniors’ programs and activities and strive to enhance and expand the current program offerings.