To prepare for the town's new Community/Senior Center expansion, Branford's Recreation office moved out of its Community House home of 54 years this week, to operate from temporary offices at the BCTV/Registrar of Voters building at 40 Kirkham Street.
On Monday, June 12, the department moved into a small ground-floor space accessed from the back of the BCTV building (parking is also available at back). The space was formally occupied by the General Government Buildings office, which has moved to the top floor, where BCTV and the Registrar of Voters offices are also located.
Summer is a particularly busy time of year for Branford Rec, but thanks to excellent advance planning from all involved, Director Alex Palluzzi said his team has been able to continue offering registration, programming and other support virtually without a hitch.
"In four hours, we were up and running," said Palluzzi.
Palluzzi credits Assistant Recreation Director Dale Izzo for readying the office and Rec Department staff for the June 12 move; and thanks members of the town's First Selectman's office, building and tech support departments for their help.
Even though the Rec Department offices have moved out, it's important to note that the Community House, located at 46 Church St., continues to operate for certain recreation programming as well as building and ground use, said Palluzzi.
"Our building's going to be open for at least two more months for most programs, and that includes our Summer Playground [programming] and the outdoor basketball courts and Skate Park. We're hoping to keep the building in use until the shovel hits the ground, hopefully in September," Palluzzi said.
Recreation Office hours at 40 Kirkham Street are 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday – Friday with the same phone number as the former office, (203) 488-8304. The department is working toward future plans to expand into some evening hours as well as weekend office hours. Department and programming updates are posted at Branford Parks and Recreation website here
Plans to renovate and expand the Community House as Branford's new Community/Senior Center came on line over two years ago and moved closer to reality when the project's $12.1 million price tag received bonding approval in late 2016. Now, the final item required is approval of an adjacent land purchase transaction, expected to take place on June 14. The extra land will allow for additional parking at the renovated building.
Construction to create the Community House/Senior Center project is planned to be complete within 10 to 12 months from groundbreaking, although more time could needed. See news of preliminary plans for the Community House/Senior Center expansion, published by Zip06/The Sound in 2016, here
Last summer, after the town began operating Foote Park with a generous grant from the Foote Family Trust, Palluzzi transitioned the Parks Department out of the Community House over to Foote Park's facility building. Palluzzi has a lot of exciting news to share about Foote Park and Branford's other new parks. The town recently decided to create a permanent park on the grounds of the former Branford Hills Elementary School and also completed transition for oversight of Branford Point/Parker Memorial Park from the Parker Memorial Park Commission.
"We've already made improvements at Branford Hills, we're going to keep improving it," said Palluzzi. "And we took over Branford Point this year and we've already made some improvements there; and people seem to be really happy. We brought in extra [beach] sand and put in new safety surfacing at the playground. The Parker Park Commission, which always did a great job, is still intact, and they are great to work with."
Meanwhile, with the town taking ownership of Foote Park, the Foote Family Trust recently approved another major grant -- $200,000 -- to help Branford continue to improve the grounds, fields, play areas, courts and other offerings, said Palluzzi.
In light of the town's plans for expansion and other improvements to bring about the new Community/Senior Center, the Rec Dept. began its transition planning quite some time ago.
"We've been preparing for this move for almost two years," said Palluzzi. "About a year ago, we actually started transitioning some of the groups that met at the Community House, and a lot of our town meetings, to other buildings."
Palluzzi also thanks the town's school district for assists with providing programming space that will continue as needs increase. For example, Youth Basketball, a huge component of the Rec Department's offerings, will be able to slide some of its court use over to Sliney Elementary School, located across from the current Community House, as well as into spaces at some other schools.
"One of toughest challenges is with our basketball programs," said Palluzzi. "We're going to continue to have our tournaments, but there are sacrifices we'll need to make, with the biggest being to Youth Basketball. There might be a little bit less practice time, but they'll still have their playing time. "
Palluzzi has served 43 years with Branford Parks and Recreation, including 25 years as Director. His parents started taking him to the Community House when he was five. Palluzzi was nine when he started coming by to assist its founder, Joe Trapasso, who gathered community support to raise the money to build the Community House.
Needless to say, Palluzzi has a lot of admiration for the Church Street building, which celebrated its 50th anniversary with a special community event in 2013 (see the story here)
"It's been very emotional," Palluzzi says of moving out. "I've been there all 54 years, a lot of the staff has been with me for 30 years. It's 'The House that Joe T Built;' and we're going to keep that tradition going."
That being said, "We're very happy and excited with the new project," Palluzzi added. "It's going to be a shared facility, which it needs to be. [First Selectman] Jamie Cosgrove had a really good vision for this project, which is the way most community centers are going. I also don't think many people know the [current] Community House had the Senior Center there for the first 12 years, until 1975. To me, a community center is for all ages, birth to seniors; and we're going to have that."