Meeting focuses on center’s fate

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Feb. 8, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — Nearly 100 residents, many of whom were worried that the town might be preparing to sell the community center building, crowded the Town Council meeting this week.

Mayor Michael Doody told the crowd he thinks any deal to sell the old Town Hall property at 1599 Foxon Road could carve out the community center’s building, allowing development to take place around it.

In addition, he said, work could not take place for at least two years. The state Department of Transportation is planning to widen the road, Route 80, forcing the relocation of the Wall Field youth league facility. It will be at least two years before a new Wall Field on Route 22 will be ready to open, he said.

Interim Town Manager Michael Paulhus added that the town is awaiting a wetlands survey to determine how much of the roughly 5-acre property can be developed. He also said that he has heard some interest from buyers. In December, council members discussed pursuing a commercial, rather than mixed-use, development at the site.

Brian Lynch, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission who spoke on behalf of the community center Tuesday night, said Wednesday that he found the meeting somewhat reassuring.

“We didn’t get any guarantees from the town that they were not going to pursue a sale — they’re still looking for buyers,” Lynch said. “What I did feel, though, is that there were some reassurances that nothing was going to be done as far as the sale of that building and the surrounding properties until a new community center was constructed.”

Lynch said the goal is for there not to be any lapse in time between one facility closing and another opening. He added that he thinks it would take at least three years to build a new center.

Doody said Wednesday that, while a new community center near the Police Department on Route 22 is part of the town’s long-term plan, he does not think work on that could start until 2014.

The town is working on construction at North Branford Intermediate School and the town libraries, both of which are bonded projects.

“I’m hoping it will stay in that building for a while,” he said.

Pamela Gery, the town’s recreation and senior center director, said Wednesday she would like the town to start looking into a new building.

“It is very important to be able to plan ahead, and I’m hoping that the one thing that we got out of the meeting is to say, ‘We may not have another community center tomorrow, but let’s start planning now,’” Gery said.

Lynch added that the community center could soon outgrow its space, regardless if the building is sold.

North Branford has had a community center for about four years, and it includes a fitness center, meeting rooms, education courses and summer camp. It generates income through the fitness program, covering most of its expenses.

Paulhus suggested at Tuesday’s meeting that the Town Council and Parks and Recreation Commission hold a joint workshop to talk about the redevelopment of the Foxon Road property. Lynch said that one of the goals in attending the meeting was to open communication between the two groups.

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