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Public Comment Sought; Community Center Planning Has Been 'Cautious'



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After several months of meetings, the Community Center Commission is “still being very cautious and not voicing too much of an opinion” about specific ideas for the facility’s use, said Commission Co-Chair Andy Clure.

The group awaits feedback from the public, for which there are several upcoming opportunities, including a survey, and open forums, he said.

“After we get data back,” he said, “we will begin discussing where interests are and hone [ideas] and talk about features, a business model.”

They may not be “voicing” their opinions yet, but Mr Clure said, “I think we have an idea” of what types of uses the center will serve.

He hopes to host open sessions, and welcomes residents to question-and-answer style meetings.

“People can ask questions of us; it will be a give and take,” he said. This form of a meeting would be different than regularly scheduled commission meetings, which invite brief public comment, but the board is not obligated to enter a discussion regarding those comments. During regular meetings, “there is not necessarily a conversation,” Mr Clure said. The open forum sessions could take place as soon as October, but that timeline “may be aggressive,” he said.

Committee members also intend to hear from stakeholders — those components of the community that would have an interest or need in using the future space for programming.

He hopes the group’s eventual recommendation will fill needs “from toddlers to seniors; that’s the goal, to reach a broad demographic.”

“I would be thrilled if it’s a place where people can meet and just hang out,” said Mr Clure, who said he also hopes the facility is somewhere that people simply “want to be.” Some people maybe not be interested in sports or swimming, but will want to visit, for “maybe a video arcade, art classes, a theater room, dance, who knows.”

Committee members have discussed the concept that the center could serve as “a destination place encompassing everybody.” He wants the building “to be open and inviting,” and possess a “wow factor,” and be “great at Fairfield Hills with an awesome view.”

Following the events of 12/14, the GE Foundation gave $15 million to the town for use in building a new community center. In late April, the Board of Selectmen chose commissioners who would research, survey the community, and, after review and planning, render a recommendation on how to use the GE funds for a community center project.

This new commission, seated in early May, comes on the heels of the prior task force that had presented a proposal for an aquatic center, senior and community spaces, which could include additional phases and expansions. First Selectman Pat Llodra chose to pause that planning when the public voiced concerns about the proposal’s scope and direction.

The current committee is “tasked with coming up with features and programming and to maximize that budget” of $15 million, Mr Clure said.

Recently, postcards went out to residences announcing the committee and its goals, and another will remind residents to take the survey. The postcard is an awareness vehicle, Mr Clure said, adding, “Once we get feedback from the survey I think we’ll have a better understanding of a direction to go in. We are asking broad questions to get a feel, and have left room for comment.”

Outreach Through Surveys

Communications/PR Subcommittee member Kinga Walsh this week sent out an announcement: “The Newtown Community Center Commission (NCCC) wants your input.” She said that on August 24, NCCC launched a public relations effort with a postcard mailer. More than 10,400 postcards went in the mail, and additional outreach efforts include Facebook, Twitter, newspaper articles, an e-mail alert through the town’s e-mail system, and an Edmond Town Hall movie preview on-screen message.

“We, all of Newtown, need to work together to create a community center that fulfills the GE and residents’ goals as best as possible. This month, an online resident survey will be launched asking for direct feedback on what should be considered for inclusion in the final center,” the announcement continued.

The survey will include eight questions along with areas for comment. Mr Clure hopes it will be out shortly after the Labor Day Parade. It will be offered online and in hard copies.

“We will have multiple ways to take the survey and we will make it as accessible as possible,” he said. “We are hoping for feedback from the public. That’s my goal — what would people like to see? This is the time to speak.” He wants “features for all demographics.”

“Ultimately, we don’t want to compete with businesses in town,” Mr Clure said.

Look for another postcard or sign up to receive town e-mails at newtown-ct.gov/subscriber.

An Ice Rink/Pool/Community Center

Newtown High School hockey coaches Paul Esposito and Kris Kenny in recent years had pitched a concept for a Newtown Ice Arena to Fairfield Hills Authority. The funding would come from fundraising and financial backers, they said at the time.

The pair recently visited with NCCC, and in late August presented a community center/ice rink/pool facility concept of their own, which was adapted from original ice arena plans to include community center concepts. Although the commission did not solicit the visit, Mr Esposito offered a brief presentation during the meeting’s public comment portion, and submitted a document titled “Newtown Community Center ice rink and swimming pool proposal.” The one-page document notes recreational opportunities, the “marriage” of an ice rink and pool, financial benefits, and use of the ice rink surface during off season.

Commissioners listened to and spoke briefly with Mr Esposito before the cochairs “drew their discussion to a close,” said Mr Clure. “It was not the time or place or meeting procedure to entertain a Q&A. Their concept was submitted to us and we thank them for the time and effort for their ideas.”

Mr Clure said the presentation was from “a local resident presenting an idea. It is not a proposal from our group.” However, Mr Clure said, he is “thrilled that they have ideas and interest.”

The commission is “open to any ideas, we are open and would be thrilled for any residents to come” and talk with members about ideas.

Mr Clure also clarified: “We are not designing the community center. We are tasked with coming up with features and programming and to maximize that [GE] budget.

“We welcome any and all ideas, and anyone can submit ideas,” he added. “This in no way will influence our suggestion of how to use this generous gift. It’s up to the whole town to decide what they want.”

In a recent e-mail exchange, Mr Esposito described his recent community center submission saying, “Yes, we generated our own design based on some very successful community centers.”

His original ice arena concept was adapted to include a pool.

“We removed our gym area and replaced it with multiuse rooms that were included in the original proposed community center plan.”

“Our plan was to incorporate everything that’s been proposed and adding the skating rink. A rink would support a pool,” he said. He believed the committee “seems interested and had great questions about the facility.”

His design has been “in the works” since 2011. “We know it will add a much-needed missing recreational component to the town.”

The ice rink concept will be included in the upcoming survey.

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