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Commission Work Complete, Community Center Planning To Enter Design Phase



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Decommissioned as of Tuesday, April 26, with its charge completed, the Community Center Commission held its last meeting that night.

After nearly a year of twice-monthly meetings and much planning, community outreach, and research, the commission made a recommendation for a community center with common, multipurpose rooms intended for all ages, a 50-meter pool and zero-entry pool to sit on town-owned land at Fairfield Hills adjacent to NYA Sports & Fitness Center. The proposal recently passed at referendum, and planning can now move forward as another group including architects designs the structure.

A GE Foundation gift of $10 million to build, plus $5 million in town Capital Improvement Plan funds also to build the center, is available for the project in addition to $5 million from GE for the facility's operation after it is built. This money comes at $1 million a year for five years, but will not be lost if it is not all used, and would still be available.

On Tuesday, First Selectman Pat Llodra told commission members, "Thank you for staying with the process, and have faith even though it's hard to get things done; trust in the outcome."

What is the next step in the Community Center project? Mrs Llodra asked several commission members to stay involved with planning.

"I want to keep some of you in the discussion," she said. "You can be an anchor point along the pathway of decisions."

"After tonight you are no longer a formal group, but at some point you need an advisory group," the first selectman added.

Mrs Llodra met before the meeting with architects and a construction firm that were involved with the last, failed community center planning roughly a year ago and have been "on hold" since then.

The first selectman said, "What I'll ask you to think about is how much you want to stay connected to the project." Those who continue with an advisory role would be able to participate in design meetings, provide input and offer advice when making choices, she said.

The town's direction to the design team is to stay within the $15 million and come up with plans for the Board of Selectman's approval, after which the project will go out to bid.

Commission member Bill Buchler said he has been approached by "many people who want to get involved" in the project's next steps. He wondered if "certain people can help in certain ways," and was left with a lingering question of "who's going to run" the community center.

Member Sean Dunn then introduced Jason Clement, founding partner of Sports Facility Advisory and Sports Facility Management (SFA SFM) from Clearwater, Fla. He proposed a feasibility study in the beginning "to make sure you have the right business model" for a community center. His firm could come up with models that include staffing, fees, scholarships, and make a recommendation, Mr Clement said.

Kinga Walsh asked of they could develop a management structure and hand that over to the town.

"We provide data and details so you can make the right decision," Mr Clement said. "If you come out of the ground with the right plan, the community will come and adopt it for sure." Step one is understanding what the venue is for, he said.

In an advisory management role, he offered a $32,000 proposal for those services and a feasibility study. Following the meeting, Co-Chair Andy Clure said the feasibility study was a good idea. Mrs Llodra wants to discuss the idea with the Board of Selectmen, she said.

Although volunteers for an advisory committee to the project's next phase did not come forward Tuesday, Mr Clure asked that members e-mail them to express interest.

Two residents then spoke briefly, first in support of SFA SFM, and another to thank them for their work and advocate for a feasibility study, "because there has been a lot of criticism of how this will be funded."

Concluding the commission's work, Co-Chair Brian Hartgraves thanked the panel's membership.

"We finally got here; it speaks volumes of all our hard work," he said.

Mr Clure appreciated the enthusiasm they brought to the commission, despite the many "ups and downs and sideways," where their task took them.

Also attending the meeting, as he had attended many prior sessions, was Paul Esposito, who has been advocating for an ice rink in town. Including an ice arena was one of the several options considered for a final recommendation for a community center, but was ultimately not included.

Member Rob Cox found it "astonishing that hockey was here, and not the pool people." He noted in a follow-up email, that while the hockey rink did not make it into the first phase of the project, supporters of the plan came out to the commission's last meeting.

"It's shocking to me that the pool people are not here," he said. "I strongly suggest that someone from the group in town that most wanted a competitive level pool play a key role in the new advisory committee that is created."

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