Westbrook, CT (Credit: Google Map Data, 2021)

Westbrook Selectmen Form Committee to Study Building a New Community Center

WESTBROOK — On Tuesday, the Board of Selectmen discussed a survey commissioned by the town demonstrating support for building a new community center, still unresolved are questions regarding the cost of the project and the source of funding.

In February, the Board of Selectman commissioned the consulting firm GreatBlue to survey residents for their views on a new community center. Out of a pool of 712 residents, 57 percent of surveyed expressed interest in the center, compared with 38 percent who said they weren’t interested. Residents over the age of 65 expressed the greatest support. 

Courtney Burks, the director of Westbrook’s Senior Center, said that a community center would help alleviate a lack of space that has grown since the pandemic has started to wind down.

“Just since we’ve reopened, the number of people participating in our programs has tripled,” she said. “The need for exercise, socialization and learning is definitely on everyone’s mind right now.” 

Burkes said the senior citizens are looking for a place where they can take classes, learn technology and host a bereavement group. 

Rich Annino, the director of Parks and Recreation, echoed Burks’ comments about the need for space, and also expressed support for the center.  

“It would be improving the quality of life in Westbrook,” he said. 

The survey suggests that residents are most interested in creating a space for meetings and arts and entertainment events. Westbrook residents also expressed interest in a space for community support services and fitness courts, and local parents showed interest in offering youth activities.

At the same time, 64 percent of the residents said they would not support a tax increase to pay for a new center, compared to 17 percent who would support higher taxes, and 18.6 percent who remained undecided.

The Westbrook Foundation, a local charitable organization dedicated to helping “meet the medical and educational, social, welfare, cultural, recreational, and civic needs of the citizens of the town,” has agreed to pay a portion of the costs.

In its report, the firm recommended that the town conduct additional outreach to convince residents of the value of the center.

The report spurred a number of questions and concerns.

Selectman John Hall expressed concern about the number of people who weren’t willing to pay for the center with tax money. 

Selectman Hiram Fuchs said he felt they needed more information about how the center would be used and what the costs would be. Fuchs said he was concerned that the center would take members away from the Valley-Shore YMCA. 

“Are we looking for classroom space or a first-class facility for recreation? I still don’t know exactly what the goal of this is,” he asked.

Fuchs also said that the building should serve a dual purpose as a facility that Emergency Management could use in the case of a disaster. 

The Board of Selectmen voted to create a five-person committee to review the survey, select a potential location for the center, estimate the cost of building the center and draw up a business plan showing the potential revenues and operating costs. The committee will include Burks, Annino, First Selectman Noel Bishop, Zoning Board of Appeals Staff Coordinator David Maiden and Paul Winch, chair of the Board of Directors at the Westbrook Foundation. 

Bishop said that forming the committee was a commitment to building a center. 

The committee will bring recommendations to the Board of Selectmen no later than August 10.

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