NEW LONDON — Residents raised a variety of questions and concerns about conceptual plans for a 62,000-square-foot, $30 million community recreation center slated for the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, at the first of two public forums Tuesday night.
The forum was held at the Multi-Magnet Secondary School lecture hall at New London High School. A second public forum will be held tonight at 6 p.m. in the same location.
The conversation about building a rec center is decades long, but in February the City Council moved forward on a plan that includes $22 million in construction costs and $8 million in administrative and “soft” costs.
The 6.8-acre parcel located at the intersection of East and Chelsea streets is among the properties that the New London Development Corporation, acting under the city’s authority, seized by eminent domain in 2000 in preparation for the expansion of Pfizer’s campus, which never materialized. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the taking in Kelo v. City of New London in 2005, which held that the transfer was a permissible public use and did not violate the 5th Amendment.
As conceived, the 2-story building would house a gymnasium, indoor track, an 8-lane swimming pool, locker and changing rooms, a fitness center, multipurpose rooms and offices for the Recreation Department and Youth Affairs.
Out of the 30-member audience, a resident asked about how the building design would accommodate sea level rise since the site is in a flood plain.
“The finish floor will be set at an elevation of four to five feet to raise the building out of the flood zone,” answered Dean Petrucelli, principal architect with Silver Petrucelli Associates, who worked on the masterplan for the building and site, located at the corner of Chelsea and East Streets, and bordered by Walbach St. and Goshen St.
A resident asked how “green” and energy efficient the building will be.
Petrucelli said the project goal was LEED silver certification, requiring 50 to 59 points on a rating scale that ranges from bronze to platinum.
“This is not a net-zero building but LEED Silver is an aggressive objective,” he said.
Another resident asked if LEED Silver included cleaning the air of mold and VOC’s (volatile organic compounds).
“In this day and age and still living in the middle of the COVID and the pandemic, we’re virtually designing all of our buildings with a system to scrub the air with HEPA, with UV lighting, to scrub that air as we redeliver it back to the spaces — so that’s almost becoming our norm and no longer a LEED point criteria just because we’re living in this world that we’re now living in, that is now the base,” said Petrucelli.
When a resident asked about operating costs for the building, including the pool, electric, and heat, Petrucelli said specific numbers would be available at a future stage of the design process.
“We modeled this building three dimensionally and we will be able to analyze it from an energy standpoint, but tonight we have not even begun to build those systems or run those simulations in our model because we have just begun to build the model and we are probably months away before engineers will dive in and analyze how they’re going to heat and cool and plumb and fire extinguish this building.”
In 2020, the city sold the Richard R. Martin Center at 120 Broad St., which housed the city recreation department as well as a gymnasium and auditorium. The 1930s building, which was once a school, is under renovation to become a 46-apartment complex for people 55 and older.
This year the city hired Brailsford & Dunlavey — whose representatives were available to answer questions at the public forum — to study potential sites for the recreation center. The firm ranked the five sites that met the project’s 4-acre minimum size. The parcels included: 126 Green St., 234 Bank St., Bates Woods Park and Edgerton School. Fort Trumbull was the lowest cost option but is considered less accessible. Edgerton was considered the most accessible to city residents.
At the public forum, one resident asked if the project was a “done deal” in the Fort Trumbull location and cited numerous objections.
“From my perspective, although it’s a beautiful building, it’s in the wrong place, it’s too big and it’s too expensive,” he said. “You’re taking property that was taken by eminent domain that is prime property, which should be taxable property and you’re turning it into nontaxable property and you have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers which you’re not holding to at all, or recognizing the taxpayers at all. I’m for a rec center — but this is the wrong place for it and the wrong cost for it and the wrong design for it.”
Petrucelli, who presented the project at the beginning of the meeting with Amanda Cleveland, a principal at the firm, said the location was chosen for its views of the Thames River and to maximize future potential development on the rest of the site.
He said the building was placed at the upper corner of the site because of underground utilities left over from the residential streets that had once occupied the site.
“It’s better not to locate the building over a utility corridor, they’re very expensive to move,” he said.
The conceptual plan showed a playground for children, an area for outdoor games like ping pong, bocce and shuffleboard, an outdoor fitness area, basketball courts, a small turf field, a community garden, but none of these are included in the $30 million, said Petrucelli.
The building plan included a main hallway that Petrucelli called a “concourse atrium” because of its two-story height and extensive use of glass that will allow visibility into the gymnasium, an 8-lane pool, three multi-purpose rooms and a weight room. About 5,000 to 8,000 square feet of the building will be used for about 30 office spaces as well as a professional kitchen.
An indoor track is suggested for the second floor above the gym, but Petrucelli said he wasn’t certain it could be included in the budget.
The building is designed as two stories because it is more economical to build than a sprawling one-story building of the same square footage, Petrucelli said. As designed, about 40,000 square feet of space will be on the first floor and about 20,000 square feet on the second floor due to the double-height ceilings in the gymnasium and pool.
One resident said the Community Center task force had discussed including a warming pool in addition to the main pool. “It would be a source of revenue and a resource for handicapped people, the elderly and young children.”
Another resident asked why the pool had been changed to eight lanes when the Community Center Task Force originally discussed six lanes.
Cleveland said that it would have been too difficult to add two more lanes to a 6-lane pool in the future, so the decision was made to build 8 lanes.
One resident asked why the turf field was designed so that it was not large enough for soccer or football.
“It’s a compromise,” Petrucelli said. “It would knock out some of the other amenities if we made that area larger.”
The meeting ran over by about 30 minutes, with residents continuing to ask questions.
Felix Reyes, director of New London’s Office of Development and Planning, encouraged residents to attend the meeting on Wednesday night and said that the city will arrange both in-person and Zoom formats in the future for receiving public input on the project.