Building Committee Unveils Plans for Community Center
The public had a chance to see conceptual plans for renovations to the old firehouse at the intersection of Newton and Center roads, giving it a new life as a community and cultural center. The presentation took place in the library meeting room on January. 25, with architect David Stein and Building Committee chairman Sandra Stein (no relation).
The building has been unoccupied since a 2006 fire damaged the upstairs. The fire department has since moved into a larger new building across the street, although some equipment, including an antique fire truck, is still stored in the old building.
Architect David Stein of Silver Petrucelli and Associates of Hamden introduced a master plan for the Community and Cultural Center and showed how the historic building could be connected to the larger town center campus. As far as the indoor spaces are concerned, flex space is the goal, in order to accommodate a variety of uses, ranging from gatherings to performances, yoga, exhibits and a café. Sandra Stein said the town's department heads were queried about their space needs and program ideas, and their responses informed the potential uses of the old fire bays.
Bay 1, the oldest part of the building, was built in the late 1920s, David Stein said. It presents a large open space that lends itself for flexibility of use, such as a lecture room and/or for exhibits. Similarly, Bay 2 could also be a multi-purpose room, for yoga or committee work. Design plans show a folding partition, to allow for different sized spaces.
The café could be located in Bay 3 – where the old garage doors can open up to an outdoor patio space. It could allow for cooking classes to take place. There could also be a maker space or a fitness space.
On the second floor is the fire department’s former meeting room. The dormers allow natural light to flood in. It could serve as a conference hall or allow yoga classes. The plan is to preserve the wood floor and re-clad the walls. A shaft where the firefighters used to hang their hoses to dry will house an elevator.
The roof and windows have been replaced through a previous grant and insurance proceeds, and the mechanicals were also replaced at the time. “The envelope is in good shape,” David Stein said.
The plan is to preserve the red brick of the old firehouse with its three bays. Even so, in its new role as a community center, the entrance needed to be better defined than that of the old firehouse. The entrance would be the only actual addition to the building footprint. In their design, a metal panel wall guides the eye to the entrance, and at the same time it offers a space to hide a dumpster. Stein explained that the Historic Preservation Office wants any addition to a historic building to be clearly distinct.
Landscape architect Aris Stalis presented ideas on how to use the outdoor spaces between the new community center and the library for a number of outdoor activities. Plans show a pavilion, bocce court, community gardens; also, an amphitheater behind the library; outdoor reading spaces; a pollinator garden.
Handicap accessible pathways will connect the different venues in the town center, where people can share activities. As the building sits exposed to the drivers entering the town from the east, “it really is the gateway to your town,” Stein said.
The 60x30-foot pavilion will offer outdoor programming space for up to 80 people in attendance. “We are considering adding heating,” David Stein said. There will be outdoor charging stations for phones and computers and hook-ups for food trucks. “It will be transformational for residents and staff,” said Sandy Stein.
The $2 million grant does not cover the outdoor amenities, David Stein said. “But we need a master plan.” According to town finance director Anthony Genovese, the state grant does include money for a new storage facility behind the new firehouse. That project was not part of the presentation.
The audience of some 25 or so seemed enthusiastic about the project. “I love the cafe idea,” said one. Bill Banik, who teaches Tai Chi and yoga, was excited about the outdoor yoga space. Asked about the AC units, David Stein agreed, “AC units are hard to muffle. But you can introduce a new noise, such as that of running water.” He thought that some components can be located on the roof and/or condenser units can be installed inside. “The noise will be fairly minor,” he said.
Several people in the audience expressed concern about keeping the historic traits, such as the copper roof. Stein assured them that the intent was to restore it to the historic look. For instance, in some bays they intend to re-polish the concrete floor instead of replacing it.
“What do we do with buildings that we no longer need?” Stein mused in his opening. Often, they have been knocked down, but he also pointed out successful conversions of historic firehouses into community buildings, such as a Youth and Community Center in Manchester and the Woodmont Borough Hall in Milford.
Aris Stalis, a landscape architect, showed an aerial view of the town center, and how the buildings could be connected. A larger parking area parallel to Newton Road would offer 29 spaces. On the other side of the building, a crosswalk across Center Road will allow pedestrians to cross to the Fitzgerald walking trail.
The Building Committee is inviting comments and ideas from the public. Send them to Executive Assistant Gerry Shaw at the First Selectman’s office, email@example.com. The committee was scheduled to present its plans on February 8 to the Board of Selectmen. If approved, the construction plans can be put out to bid, with a potential start in July. If things go smoothly the new community center will be done in spring of 2024. In addition to Sandra Stein, the Building Committee includes architect Robert Tucker, and Recreation Committee Chairwoman Andrea Weinstein.