Eastern Greenwich Civic Center and GAF

We know it has been 20 years in the making, but it is for that very reason that we cannot rush to the end. We must ensure that all opportunities are explored before making a final decision. What are we talking about? The Eastern Greenwich Civic Center and the rush to secure Municipal Improvement status on an uninspired redesign of the current structure.

No one will argue that a building originally built as an employee recreation center for Electrolux employees is tired – lacking amenities needed to be relevant or useful to our citizens. In fact, no one argued 20 years ago when the first discussions began about redesigning the building so that it could become a useful town asset.

So, on the one hand we applaud all those involved in creating a proposed redesign of the current facility. Unfortunately, what was presented was rather ho-hum. A one-story building on the same basic footprint with the same basic uses as today.

One addition is for more event space to be used by non-profits and artists. We are not sure why this was included. We already have event space under-utilized at just about every private club, YMCA, YWCA and the Greenwich Arts Center on the avenue.

The opportunity to redesign the Civic Center is an opportunity to think outside the box and take into consideration what the town needs, not just right now, but the next 10, 15 or 20 years. What has been proposed has the feeling of “well, at least it is something” instead of being well thought out and taking into consideration input provided by citizen surveys.

The Greenwich Athletic Foundation (GAF) has made public a letter sent to various interested parties which question the speed in which this proposal is being passed and the lack of being able to offer input in a meaningful way. They are right to be frustrated.

The GAF has been trying to offer positive input and support to various town projects and been constantly rebuffed. We do not understand why. When the Western Greenwich Civic Center was rebuilt it was a public/private partnership with a significant fundraising component. When the Byram Pool was rebuilt recently, The Junior League was tasked with raising a significant amount of money for it. These projects were huge successes. So why is the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center not a public/private partnership with the GAF tasked to do the fundraising?

The GAF has commissioned a site plan for the property in Old Greenwich that included the building currently proposed, but also includes a Field House with artificial turf that can be used year-round. This is a fantastic idea and a facility our town desperately needs. Why would this not be discussed in public forum? We do not have a good answer. Sometimes the easy road is easy even if it is not the right road.

Why is this important now? Because the RTM is set to vote on January 19 to accept Municipal Improvement of the site as approved by Planning & Zoning. This would be a mistake. It would allow construction to go forward on an inferior design without looking at what could be accomplished on the whole site.

We have an idea. The RTM should vote down the motion. They should raise and pass a “sense of the meeting” motion that challenges the GAF to publicly partner with the Civic Center and town boards behind its construction. They should be challenged to raise money to offset the construction of the Field House as well as create a business model that shows how through facility rental, the town can recoup the money it spends on construction. Give them a time limit in which to secure pledges. If they are unable to do so within the time limit, then bring back the current proposal.

We deserve out of the box thinking for the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center.

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