A First Look at Plans for a Norwalk Community Recreation Center

Officials unveiled new plans for a community recreation center at 98 South Main Street in Norwalk.

A First Look at Plans for a Norwalk Community Recreation Center
A look at the exterior of 98 South Main Street in Norwalk. (Photo by Kelly Prinz)

A new gym, enhanced community spaces, fitness classes, and late night teen programming are some of the proposed plans for 98 South Main Street in Norwalk.

“It’s been a long time coming for this project. It’s long overdue but I'm glad we’re at this point and that the city is now looking to manage this,” said Darlene Young, a council member who represents South Norwalk. “As time will show, this is probably the best outcome for the community to have a center that is coordinated and facilitated by the city.”

Officials project that the renovations, additions, and rehabilitations to the building will cost about $10.5 million, but that number could fluctuate, according to Alan Lo, the city’s building and facilities manager.

So far the city has about $9.5 million allocated for the project, including the almost $5.4 million from American Rescue Plan Act funds the Common Council approved last month.

“We are at the beginning of this project so there’s a lot more to be done,” Lo told the council members at a joint committee meeting last week.

The building has a long history—which you can learn more about—and after an agreement between the city and the YMCA fell through, Robert Stowers, the city’s director of recreation and parks, said the mayor asked him to develop a proposal for the city to run the building.

“We came to a conclusion after many meetings that the city was in the best place to sustain operations of this site,” he said.

He said that they developed plans for a “real recreation and community center” whereas the YMCA would have brought a “community service center.”

Stowers also emphasized the need to provide services that are accessible to those who are low-income, as about 22% of Norwalk residents are at or below the poverty line, including about 2800 children, according to a needs assessment done by the Recreation and Parks department.

Proposed Plans for the Site

The biggest piece of the proposal is the plan to add a gymnasium behind the main community center building that would be connected through a walkway.

“For a recreation center, a gym is essential to that function,” Stowers said.

Between the gym and the renovated space in the main building, the city can offer a variety of programming for all age groups.

Stowers gave an overview of potential programming which could include:

  • Monday through Thursday: Family Hours from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with classes/programming for adults and mothers with young children; with activities primarily for students beginning at 2:30 p.m. and running till 8:30 p.m. This would include basketball/volleyball opportunities, as well as open gym sessions, access to movies, video games, and more.
  • Friday and Saturday would have the family hours starting slightly later, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with a Teen Center available from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. for teenagers in grades 9-12, which could include group activities, like sports, or just access to areas, such as a music room with instruments or a recording studio.
  • Sundays the center would be closed to the general public, but rooms could be rented for events, such as graduation parties.
A look at some potential programming at the center (Courtesy of Norwalk)

He stressed that they would gradually build programming, so not all of those would be available as soon as the site opened. Stowers also emphasized that it “doesn’t take a ton of staff to run a community center,” and some existing staff positions would be repurposed to work with the center.

A spreadsheet of proposed community center costs
A look at the proposed operating costs for the center. (Courtesy of Norwalk)

Next Steps

A tentative schedule laid out by Lo called for putting out requests for proposals for an architect and construction manager this summer and starting design work. The first half of 2024 would be for finalizing documents and getting the necessary approvals for work on the site, before starting construction in summer 2024, with an estimated completion in spring 2025.

Stowers said that they also are working with YMCA, which is interested in partnering and providing some programming still, even though it backed out of its agreement to run the whole building. This left some council members concerned, but Stowers said that they would be able to run the site with or without any programming from the YMCA.

Lo said that the next step they would be working on is officially securing funding and making sure the project met all the standards for sources of money—for example, American Rescue Plan Act funds can only be spent for certain purposes. He also said that they are working with the Redevelopment Agency to obtain a grant to cover at least some of the potential remediation costs.

“This is a great project,” Council President Greg Burnett said. “I think it’s transformative to the community and will be a great resource to the overall city.”