Connecticut

Vision Unveiled for West Hartford’s New Elmwood Community Center – We-Ha

Tecton, the architectural firm hired by the City of West Hartford to complete a functional program and feasibility study for a new Elmwood Community Center that will also include a library and youth and senior centers, has unveiled the results of its work.

Aerial view of the 100 Mayflower and Beachland Park properties. The dotted line is the existing building. Courtesy of the City of West Hartford

By Ronnie Newton

Tecton Architects, hired by the City of West Hartford last spring to help create the vision for the new Elmwood Community Center at 100 Mayflower Street, completed a functional program and feasibility study that resulted in a conceptual design for an 82,000-square-foot Building is building that would house multigenerational and multicultural uses, not only as a community center but also as a senior center, youth center and library.

Tecton provided the city with a detailed nearly 400-page report detailing the determination of the building’s functions and associated space requirements, input from stakeholders, survey results and community engagement during Celebrate! West Hartford and other contact options and the details of the options they should consider including reusing the existing St. Brigid School building, renovating and expanding the existing building, or demolishing the current building and creating an entirely new structure the terrain . The latter option, in an L-shaped, two-story configuration, was the consensus decision of the city staff working group, the advisory committee of 25 community volunteers, and city council members.

Option 2 was chosen from previous proposals by Tecton Architects. Courtesy of the City of West Hartford

“To say we were pleased with their work would be an understatement, really,” City Manager Rick Ledwith said Jan. 18 at a joint meeting of the City Council’s Community Planning and Economic Development, Human and Community Services, and Finance and Administration Committees, where Tecton presented an abridged version of their report and answered questions. Tecton has met with the Volunteer Advisory Committee four times during the month-long process and has met regularly every three weeks with the City Recreational Services, Library Services, Facilities and Facilities Workgroup and the Elmwood Community Center Energy Specialist and Director.

“Ultimately, we developed a program for the entire building,” says Eddie Widofsky, Senior Project Manager at Tecton. He said they wanted to be sure not to “overprogram” the building and incorporate flexible spaces that could work for multiple users at different times.

The design shared by Widofsky – which is still a concept plan – has a modern and urban feel while respecting the suburban location and natural beauty of the site. It includes a gymnasium on the first floor, as well as a senior center with its own entrance, two kitchens, and a preschool. The glazed main entrance and the entrance to the senior center will be covered.

An open glass staircase invites to the second floor, which includes the library, youth center and an elevated running track with fitness stations surrounding the upper level of the gym.

On both floors, Flex Space accommodates different users, with the largest flexible space being a large multipurpose space on the ground floor, which opens outwards to create an amphitheatre.

The consensus site plan created by Tecton Architects shows the various elements of the proposed new Elmwood Community Center. Courtesy of the City of West Hartford

The vision shared by Widofsky also includes bright colors and fun furniture in the youth area, while the senior center a “soft range that’s warm and welcoming and inviting,” he said, with more neutral colors.

“We know that sustainability is a key goal of the project and a key goal for West Hartford,” Widofsky said. The project is planned as a net-zero building utilizing geothermal and solar energy and an ethical sourcing of materials including labour. “We want this to be a landmark project that really stands out and sets the tone for the entire region.”

The City of West Hartford acquired the former St. Brigid School campus at 100 Mayflower St. in 2021. Credit: Ronni Newton (photo of file we-ha.com)

The existing building on the property is only 52,000 square feet and more than 80,000 square feet will be needed to accommodate the desired programs. It is also problematic that existing buildings are nowhere on class level, said Widofsky. Other challenges include housing mechanics between floors, remediation of hazardous materials, which is more complicated with renovation than demolition, and the difficulty of making the existing building energy efficient.

Right now, the existing Elmwood Community Center is crammed into the old school, and the community wouldn’t want to do that again in the former St. Brigid building, Widofsky said. “This is a unique opportunity to carry out an outstanding project.”

Elmwood Community Center. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (file photo from we-ha.com)

The consensus site plan that Tecton has submitted pushes the building further back on the Mayflower Street lot than the existing structure, closer to Beachland Park. The lots will be combined, Widofsky said, and the design will include a proposal that an entrance and exit to the community center will be at the current location on Mayflower Street, but will also include an exit through Beachland Park to South Quaker Lane. Ledwith said these types of decisions will be made after a traffic study, which will be part of the next phase.

The estimated price – including demolition of the former St. Brigid School, site preparation, environmental remediation, soft costs and contingencies for anticipated cost increases – is $66,467,722.

“I’ll tell you in terms of costs, we’re operating in unprecedented times here,” Widofsky said of the costs. Supply chain issues caused by the pandemic continue to be a driving factor, he said, along with increased material and labor costs. He said they worked with Connecticut-based construction company O&G to develop what he believed to be accurate costs that reflect current market conditions and take into account anticipated escalations. The construction of the building itself is estimated at $46,532,333, including nearly $6 million for site work and $2 million for demolition and rehabilitation. The remainder of the total project estimate includes contingencies, building management fees, utilities, and furniture, fixtures, equipment, and technology. The cost per square foot to build is just under $700 and just over $800 per square foot when all costs are factored in.

This is truly a unique project, Ledwith said. The closest example he found is in Rochester, NY.

The estimate calls for the Elmwood Community Center project to be completed in 2025. While the current Elmwood Community Center and Faxon Library branch will remain operational during construction, these lots may be sold to offset the cost of the overall project, but this must be a policy decision by the local council. “Both properties would be very valuable in the market place,” Ledwith said, particularly the Faxon Library, which is in the Transit-Oriented Development area.

The Faxon Library Branch is located at 1073 New Britain Ave. in the Elmwood section of West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (file photo from we-ha.com)

“The next step is obtaining an RPF to hire an architect to design,” Ledwith told We-Ha.com. He will reconvene the team to begin this process and expects to release the RFP in late winter or early spring. “We are very happy with Tecton and the service they are providing to the community,” said Ledwith, and they will have the opportunity to apply for the upcoming phase of the project.

A timeline for the demolition of the existing structure will also be established, Ledwith said. Funding for this work is already part of the city’s capital improvement plan and is expected to be completed this summer. The demolition timeline will accommodate the dog park, he said, which opened in November but may have to close temporarily.

While the future of the dog park on this site was never guaranteed, Ledwith said, “We know it’s been a huge success for the community… and we know the dog lover community would love to see this space preserved.” not configured yet, he said.

The city acquired the 8.5-acre site of the former St. Brigid School in 2021 for $3 million, of which $2.5 million was funded through the state Bond Commission.

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