Civic Beauty

If you’ve lived in town even a short time, chances are you’ve been to the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center in Old Greenwich for a basketball game, softball game, tennis match, pancake breakfast, antiques show, roller skating or kids’ birthday party. Though the Civic Center has housed so many fun events and sports programs over the years, the aging building has been in poor shape for just as long.

We are finally getting a much overdue upgrade. The structure, built in 1950 as a recreation facility for Electrolux employees and acquired by the town in 1966, will be demo’d this summer to prepare for construction of a new, state-of-the-art facility. A $5 million gift from the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation helped to move the project forward; and millions in funds allocated to the project, including some federal infrastructure money, are expected to be released by the town this spring so that work can begin.

“Everybody thought it should be torn down. It was too difficult to renovate due to asbestos and archaic systems,” says Scott Johnson, chairman of the board of Parks and Recreation, who talked about the plan for the new center, which will stay within roughly the same footprint. Since 2018 Scott Johnson and Gary Dell’Abate have served as cochairs of a committee formed by the First Selectman to determine the best plan of action for the site—a new facility to meet the town’s needs and budget without being too big for the neighborhood. The committee worked with a consultant that specializes in community and athletic centers and also did an extensive study (via focus groups, mailings and interviews) to determine what people would like to see in the new center.

Warmer touches, like the wooden slat ceiling in the lobby, will give the building a welcoming, less-industrial vibe, and comfortable modern furnishings will encourage people to sit and enjoy their surroundings.

The resulting plan, designed by TSKP Studio of Hartford, calls for a new 35,482-square-foot center, about 5,000 square feet larger than the old one—“a hybrid community space for all ages,” says Scott, who notes that this is not just a sports facility but a gathering place for bridge groups, social events and all kinds of activities. Room for sports and events will be nearly doubled with the two 8,100-square-foot gymnasiums, one with a traditional wood floor and the other with a rubberized multipurpose floor that’s softer on falls and also can accommodate tables and chairs for events without being damaged.

“We can have twice as many recreational users,” says Scott. Some of the sporting groups that will enjoy the new space include soccer, adult badminton, indoor field hockey, inline skating and volleyball with OGRCC continuing to hold programs there. Outdoor playing fields, tennis courts and the playground will remain in place with the new building, which will have new outdoor bathrooms.

With an expansive event space that’s connected to a full catering kitchen and outdoor patio, the center will become an attractive place for people to host gatherings, fundraisers, sports team banquets, high school reunions and parties of any kind. Three 1,000-square-foot activity rooms will be available to hold groups of up to forty-nine people, with partition walls to expand the space as needed.

There will be prime event space for cocktail parties, helping the facility generate three to four times more money than it does now.

The upgraded event rooms mean that the center will be much more profitable, which helps with ongoing expenses. The facility will house a lounge where kids can spend time after school or after sports to sit and do homework or have a chess game.

While the old Civic Center was expensive
to maintain due to leaks in the roof and HVAC problems, the new center will be a greener, energy-efficient building. Modernized mechanicals include solar power on the parabolic style roof, enough to power the whole building and net-meter the balance.

“The engineers and architects knew that the building needed to be as carbon neutral as possible,” says Scott, and so plans also call for special insulated glass, energy-smart HVAC systems and modern LED lighting. Expected time to build is two years—not quick, but certainly worth the wait.

The new center will also feature two gyms—one traditional and one for multi-use.
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