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Newtown Community Center Commission mulling recommendations

The Newtown Community Center Commission has held their final public information forums and then met for several hours last weekend to firm up recommendations for the Board of Selectmen.  The Commission is working on recommendations to include a 50 meter pool, a zero entry pool, a community facility, which would include dedicated space for legacy groups created by families of those killed on 12-14.  Another proposal being considered is to use funding from the town's Capital Improvement Program for a second phase of building for a senior center or ice rink.


Some residents expressed concern about how long this will take to build, since it's already two years out from the award of the gift.  Others were skeptical of claims that this facility would be a draw for people to move to Newtown when businesses are moving out, including the benefactor of the donation.  One public speaker proposed asking GE for a variance to buy an existing building for this specific use. 


The head of the Hockey program at Newtown High School made the argument for including an ice rink, noting that there's a need among high school hockey teams, collegiate teams and others.  If it's regulation size, one resident said it would get plenty of use so that these teams don't have to travel as they do now.


There was several hours of discussion on if more research is needed on what features people want to see in a community center.  One Commission member said that they are putting forth an adult vision, and that perhaps youth should be surveyed about whether they want a pool, an ice rink, or both.  Another questioned that if this is meant to be an all encompassing hub and there is just one large room, would younger people make use of it.


According to fire marshal regulations, if the space is 5,000 square feet and has seating and tables, only about 260 people are allowed in the room at a given time.


Commission member David Wheeler called for the center's rooms to be flexible space.  He says the room that's going to be right for an exercise class is not going to be right for a group to come in and do crafts.  He says there are different basic necessities for the center's needs.  If there are two rooms, and one has a kitchen and plumbing attached, Wheeler says science, art and banquet space will be served.  If one has a small flexible performance area such as a blackbox theater, that would suit the other needs.


The group mentioned that they don't want to box themselves in, making it so things can't change in the future especially if new donors come forward.  They discussed possibly leaving the design open to add an ice rink or to have a designated senior center when there's more money, and to focus now on creating a multi-generational space.


With most of the discussion surrounding whether or not there should be an ice rink, Commission member Nicole Hockley noted that not all kids are sporty.  As someone with contact with teens in the town, she says the group is doing a disservice to them by not offering private areas for therapy, addiction services, substance abuse services and other services.

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