The Waterbury Recreation Department’s kids summer camp is outgrowing its scattered facilities.

The Waterbury Area Senior Center’s home on Stowe Street is showing its age.

The Children’s Room — a program that provides activities and education for parents and children — was nearly ousted from its home at Thatcher Brook Primary School last year.

All three community programs are looking for a place to grow and thrive, and they are three of the reasons Steve Lotspeich, Waterbury’s community planner, is heading a grant-funded study on whether a community center would be feasible in Waterbury.

At a community discussion Dec. 17, gbA Architecture and Planning presented a preliminary design for a 34,067-square-foot building that could be built on town-owned land at Anderson Field or in Pilgrim Park. It could house a new senior center, a gym, space for the recreation department, The Children’s Room, and various community spaces.

While the three designs gbA showed are almost identical, the estimated prices range from $13,744,568 to $14,735,992.

Waterbury residents hatched the idea of a community center when Revitalizing Waterbury hosted a community summit meeting two years ago. Residents brainstormed potential projects for their town, and a community center was a popular idea.

The town government acquired a grant from the state government and started the feasibility study.

GbA showed three building plans at the meeting, two options for the Anderson location and one for Pilgrim Park. The building would have 15,443 square feet for the recreation department, 7,937 square feet for the senior center, 1,937 square feet for The Children’s Room, and 8,750 square feet of public space.

The cheapest option — at $13,744,568 — is on Anderson Field property with access from Butler Street, and the second — at $14,203,080 — is the same except it creates access through the post office parking lot and additional parking while displacing the basketball courts.

The other location is in Pilgrim Park, behind Keurig Dr Pepper’s remaining office building, with a possible woodsy route to Thatcher Brook Primary School. It’s the most expensive, at $14,735,992.

A place for play

Going into the feasibility study, “we knew that our own recreation program had a real strong need,” Lotspeich said. “The camp needs a place for the kids to be, especially if the weather’s poor.”

The summer camp is the recreation department’s largest program. The camp had 82 kids in 2018; it had 151 in 2019.

“It’s at capacity,” said Nick Nadeau, recreation director. “Without more space, we really can’t provide.”

Nadeau, the recreation director since 2018, has expanded Waterbury’s recreation programs. For 2019, he expanded the K-4 summer camp to include kids in fifth, sixth and seventh grades.

“Historically, it would sell out pretty quickly, in four hours,” he said. In 2019, “I did a little marketing push, and it sold out in 19 minutes.”

“It showed that there’s a need, and we still have a wait list,” he said.

But the Anderson Field building can’t handle that many kids, so the camp also used Wesley United Methodist Church.

Nadeau runs a winter vacation camp as well, but has to cap that at 15 kids because there isn’t enough indoor space.

“With a bigger building, not only would our summer program be able to expand ... there’s other potential programming,” Nadeau said.

Nadeau would like to organize programs for adults as well as children. He currently hosts an adult ukulele class in the municipal building, but with a dedicated space for activities, he said the recreation department could offer programs for all ages. Among his ideas are art and self-defense classes, recreational volleyball and basketball leagues.

“Our department would take that on immediately,” he said.

And Nadeau said a Waterbury community center could be popular with people visiting the town.

“I get emails from out-of-state folks asking if there’s a gym,” he said. When there’s a big tournament or sports event nearby, teams need a place to practice, and Waterbury is an ideal, centralized location.

Under one roof

The current senior center, in the Stimson Graves building on Stowe Street, serves over a hundred lunches on site every week, feeds children from the summer recreation program and prepares hundreds of Meals on Wheels each month.

But the kitchen is cramped and the basement storage area has dirt floors, unsuitable for keeping food.

The common space isn’t much better. It’s one large room and, when 50 to 60 people show up for Wednesday lunches, people who use walkers or wheelchairs have a tough time getting through.

The new center would have triple the space and some private areas away from the common room.

For Jodi LaVanway, the senior center’s director, the issues are a lot bigger than bricks and mortar.

“The whole goal for the senior center is to try the integrate the aging population with the community at large,” she said. Having youth programs, child care and a senior center under one roof would do just that.

LaVanway said the senior center already hosts events where children sing with the older generation and listen to their stories. These events would be easier to organize and could happen more frequently in a shared space, she said.

Nadeau agreed.

“One of my ideas is to partner with Ben and Jerry’s and do a seniors with kids chat over ice cream,” he said. “Having the senior center and rec center in the same building, it just makes it that much easier to offer senior programming.”

Both Nadeau and LaVanway said the community center would be great for Waterbury, but its price tag might not sit well with taxpayers.

Lotspeich said the federal and state grants are among the many financing options beyond local property taxes.

Possibilities for paying for the build is the next phase of the feasibility study, and Lotspeich will present his findings Feb. 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Waterbury municipal building.

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