New London community center site an opportunity for budding builders
August 24, 2023 4:31 pm
• Last Updated: August 24, 2023 7:41 pm
New London ― Besides the promise of new recreational offerings, the community center construction project will offer a rare chance to connect with young residents even before the facility’s doors open, city officials said.
With up to two years of work ahead on the city’s largest project, there’s plenty of time to use the Fort Trumbull-area building site as a sort of real-time construction classroom, said Felix Reyes, director of New London’s Office of Planning and Development.
“I’m a kid from New London who grew up loving construction and I think how excited I’d have been to have that opportunity to go down to that site and walk around,” he said on Thursday. “I put myself in the shoes of those kids that love building design, those future electricians, plumbers and architects.”
Reyes said he’s already started reaching out to school and union officials to coordinate tours of the site as soon as the facility walls begin going up.
“This is a once-in-a-generation building project and we can let these kids, these thousands of bright minds, walk the site and see what’s going on behind the walls,” he said. “And we want people and groups who’ll be using the center to come down, too, and see the inside of that building ahead of time.”
Council President Reona Dyess this month said the site offers the chance to “open doors” to young residents interested in how a large-scale municipal project comes together.
Excavating the past
On Monday, Reyes presented the first of what is expected to be monthly summaries of the project’s progress to the City Council. In addition to the paper updates, councilors, along with select officials, are invited to take part in monthly tours of the site, visits Reyes said he’s open to expanding to members of the public, including “neighborhood advocates.”
After months of delays due to the state environmental permitting process, crews last month broke ground on the $40 million project that aims to transform a patch of brownfield into a 58,000-square-foot, recreational facility complete with competitive pool and basketball court areas, batting cages, recreation department offices and programming space.
On Wednesday, mountains of excavated soil rose above utility trenches. Workers wearing hard hats walked past idling construction vehicles across the street from Fort Trumbull State Park.
Reyes, who described the site, the former home to the Navy Underwater Sound Laboratory as currently looking as if a “bomb went off,” said work is currently focused on examining and clearing soil, groundwater and old foundations, the kind of preliminary work required before walls start rising.
“They actually found remnants of the old sound lab pool right near where the new pool will be added,” he said.
According to a July report authored by the Downes Construction Company, May 5, 2025, is pegged as the “substantial completion date” for the project.
Reyes said he’ll know within a few weeks whether any “major surprises” will be found that might require dipping into a $1 million construction contingency account.
The project’s initial $30 million price tag, approved by the council in 2021, jumped by approximately $10 million as more detailed cost figures emerged, with the gap later filled with a combination of state and federal funding. The city was also awarded a $1.2 million grant through the state’s Brownfield Remediation program for pre-construction site work.
“It’s nice to see progress — finally,” Councilor Akil Peck said. “And I can’t wait to see it finished.”