The state Bond Commission met Friday, July 23, and approved funds to be used for the Town of West Hartford’s creation of a new Elmwood Community Center.
By Ronni Newton
Connecticut has strayed from Gov. Ned Lamont’s previously-imposed debt diet, and at a meeting of the State Bond Commission on Friday, July 23, approved $1 billion in bonding for a variety of projects, including the Town of West Hartford’s creation of a new Elmwood Community Center at 100 Mayflower St., the site of the former St. Brigid School.
Citing the strategic location of the vacant St. Brigid School property and the ability to not just meet a current need but also fulfill a vision for the future, and following the completion of due diligence, the West Hartford Town Council voted July 13 in favor of purchasing the 8.5-acre parcel at 100 Mayflower Street for $3 million. The town had already paid a $50,000 deposit for the property and conducted due diligence after entering into a purchase agreement in March.
The town became interested in the property for multiple reasons, including its location adjacent to Beachland Park and the opportunity to construct a more sustainable and energy efficient building for current programming that takes place at the 100-year-old Elmwood Community Center building and Faxon Branch Library, as well as for future needs.
In addition to expanding and enhancing programs and services for seniors and teens, Council members noted the site could provide the opportunity for space for a cultural center for the town – an amenity that is lacking.
Town officials worked with the legislative delegation to have the project added to the Bond Commission agenda. This is a “shovel ready community project,” state Rep. Kate Farrar (D-20th) told We-Ha.com, expressing optimism in advance of the vote to approve.
The property is in the district that Farrar represents, and she said the $2.5 million from the Bond Commission would complement the town’s willingness to also expend funds for the project. The town’s contribution for the acquisition of the property will be $500,000, and in addition the town expects to spend roughly $310,000 for functional program development by an architectural firm, a feasibility study, and pre-construction services. The studies are expected to be completed by the end of 2022, according to the bond funding request.
State and town officials expressed their appreciation Friday for the Bond Commission approval, and noted the value of the project.
“While the current Elmwood Community Center is a cherished space in our community, the building’s age and upkeep does not meet with today’s range of needs,” said Farrar. “This state funding will allow the town to complete the purchase and lay the groundwork for a new community center that will enhance services in a state-of-the-art facility. I am proud this once-in-a generation opportunity is coming to our Elmwood neighborhood.”
Mayor Shari Cantor said at the Town Council meeting on July 13 that purchasing the property will benefit the community for the next 50 years. The project, she said, is “not for yesterday … not for today, but really for tomorrow.”
In a statement Friday, Cantor said, “We are so grateful for the support of the state to purchase this strategic property in what we believe will be a transformational project of a visionary cultural and community center for our diverse and vibrant community.”
Following the acquisition of the property, expected to be finalized in August, the town will engage in community outreach to determine the programming that will be housed on the site. According to West Hartford Town Manager Matt Hart, it is likely that most, if not all, of the current building will need to be demolished.
“I would like to thank the members of our state delegation for advancing this important project,” Hart said. “The future Elmwood Community Center will enable the town to better serve our residents in a newer, more environmentally friendly facility. This project will also give us the opportunity to consolidate some of our assets into one building, reducing operating costs over the long term. We greatly appreciate the state’s support for this unique opportunity.”
Hart told We-Ha.com that he really does see this project as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to provide a new senior center and teen center, and hopefully a new library branch as well as other operations in a sustainable facility that better meets the community’s needs.
The town has already budgeted a total of $6 million for the project in the Capital Improvement Program – $3 million in the current fiscal year and $3 million in the following fiscal year – and thanks to the state funds a portion of the initial year’s allocation will not be needed, Hart said.
The Bond Commission also approved $150,000 for modifications/signal replacement at the Route 44/Route 218 intersection in West Hartford – also known as the intersection of North Main Street and Albany Avenue in Bishops Corner.
“I am thrilled that West Hartford is receiving the funding it deserves through the Elmwood Community Center and also for traffic signal replacement at the Route 44/218 intersection,” said state Rep. Jillian Gilchrest (D-18th), whose district includes the intersection. “The safety of our residents is one of my top priorities as a representative for the West Hartford community and this new signal is critical.”
Gilchrest also noted the importance of community engagement in recovery from the pandemic and the value of the Elmwood Community Center as a resource for the entire community.
“When the pandemic struck, not being able to go to a place like the Elmwood Community Center was hard on many families, and it showed just how much we all rely on it as a place for our community to gather,” said state Rep. Tammy Exum (D-19th). “As we return to normal, we owe it to our community to make sure the center modernizes in order to meet the growing needs of our neighbors for years to come. I am so grateful to the State Bond Commission for recognizing the importance of this community mainstay.”
State Sen. Derek Slap also praised the Elmwood Community Center project.
“West Hartford is always looking forward and moving forward, and this is one of those opportunities to re-make a community center, provide better programs for our residents, save some money on utilities, and free-up town space for some other use. Oh, and the state is covering 75 percent of the cost. It’s really an excellent opportunity,” he said.
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