Community center plans extensive renovations

Community center plans extensive renovations

The Westerly Sun

STONINGTON — In an effort to better serve the community, the Stonington Community Center will embark on a renovation project in the coming months that is intended to better position it for the future.

Executive Director Beth-Ann Stewart said the organization’s newly created strategic plan and space-needs assessment will allow the center to both grow with the community and be more proactive instead of reactive.

The facility, which was built in 1969, is aging and like any building that old, needs attention.

Over the last four years, many small-scale updates have been made to the facility, such as the replacement of the windows and doors and the installation of energy-efficient LED lights.

Many of the bigger infrastructure projects have be dealt with as issues arise. For example, heavy rains last fall forced the COMO’s leadership to have the roof over the gym replaced much sooner than expected.

“Our new adage is ‘our bones may be old but our spirit is young,’” Stewart laughed. “We want to be in a place where we have more control and are being much more proactive in dealing with our 16-acre, aging campus as we continue to achieve great success with our programming.”

The board of directors knew it needed a plan to assess the facility and get a general understanding of the facility’s needs, she said.

“We utilized the professional services of Jacunski Humes Architects out of Berlin, who donated $30,000 worth of work to complete a space needs assessment and a study of all of the mechanical systems here at the COMO,” Stewart said.

Through the architect’s work, the board of directors decided to work with the current footprint of the 28 Cutler St. facility and prioritize renovations and upgrades that will be done in multiple phases.

The work, which center officials hope to start in the next few months, will include renovating the front half of the facility that houses the reception area, offices, preschool and classrooms. Once the renovations are complete, visitors will have to be buzzed in through a vestibule into the reception area, giving the staff more control over who is able to gain access to the building. The updated offices and shared workspace would be designed to improve productivity and give the staff the opportunity to grow.

The preschool area and the Impact classrooms will be moved to the opposite sides of the building and will be reconfigured to allow for program growth.

During the period the eight-month renovation project will be underway, the entire facility will still be operational, Stewart said.

“We have a commitment to our families and to our community and so we’ll still be open and our programming will continue,” she said. “We have a lot to do and the will to do it.”

The change in the layout of the offices and classrooms will also bring the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We want to be responsive to the times and needs of the community while also being true to our mission,” Stewart said. “It’s all about harnessing the power of the community because we truly couldn’t do what we do without the generosity of the community and our donors. I cannot emphasize enough that our ability to reinvest in our campus is only made possible through the partnerships we have throughout the community and the people who believe in our mission.”

In the future, the back half of the building, including the kitchen and gym, will be updated.

Stewart said that she hopes to use a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help fund the project, along with revenue from programming and donations.

“The decision to take on debt for this project was not made lightly but we’re confident in our success and the growth of our programs and know that we’ll be able to make the payments and pay down the loan as rapidly as possible,” she said. “It feels really good to come from a place where there’s a mini-crisis almost daily to now having a roadmap for the future. This is truly a wonderful, happy place and we’re so grateful for the support of the community.”


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