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Branford's new Community House, located at 46 Church Street, is in the final transition stage, with staff moving in and a just few more building details remaining, ahead of opening for programming and building use this fall. This view is of the building's main entrance off the main parking lot on Prospect Street. The second-story windows above the entrance are part of the new Waverly Lounge area. (Photo by Bill O'Brien )
This view of the newly restored Joe Trapasso Gymnasium on the ground floor includes the window wall that looks down from the Waverly Lounge above. (Photo by Bill O'Brien )
A view from inside the new Matthew H. Brady Library at the Branford Community House. The library is located on the building's newly-named Canoe Brook second floor, where senior programming will be based. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Taking a tour of the facility last week, with this stop at the interior window wall of the Waverly Lounge, are (l-r): Branford Finance Director Jim Finch, Branford Superintendent of Schools Hamlet Hernandez, Branford Board of Education (BOE) Executive Assistant to the Superintendent Kerry Eyrich, Branford BOE Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds Joe Carbone, Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Dale Izzo, Branford BOE chairman Mike Krause, Parks and Recreation Director Alex Palluzzi Jr., First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove and Branford Recreation Commission member Bill O'Brien. Not availble for photo, Dagmar Ridgway, Canoe Brook Senior Center Director. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
This lounge area is located outside of a new conference room (behind window wall) on the ground floor at the Branford Community House. (Photo by Bill O'Brien )
A view of the second-floor multipurpose room built as part of the new addition on the north end of the Branford Community House. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Looking down on the new gymnasium from the second-floor window wall of the Waverly Lounge at the new Branford Community House. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
The installation of aluminum fittings (seen here on columns at left and right of the doors) built into the base of the building at potential flood points will hold portable aluminum “gates” slid into place by facility staff. The gates prevent water from seeping in beneath lower-lying doors and windows. Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Visiting the Community House that's named in honor of her dad is Maggy Trapasso (center) with Joe Trapasso grandchildren Issy and Will Mannle. (Photo by Alex Palluzzi Jr. )
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Branford Parks and Recreation staff has moved in; Canoe Brook Senior Center staff is readying for a move soon; and a few final fit-up items still need to be checked off the punch list in the coming weeks. While transitioning-in is still underway, a look inside Branford's new Community House already delivers the wow factor at a public building that will no doubt be the community's favorite gathering place for decades to come.
Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove said the expectation is the current transitional period will give way to the building becoming operational with staffing and programs by early November.
"It's going to be a slower transition because we're still fitting up the building with furniture and some technology. The Parks and Recreation staff have moved in and [recreation offices] are open for registration. We hope, in the next few weeks, for Canoe Brook staff to move in," said Cosgrove.
The $12.1 million, two-year project blends Branford Parks and Recreation and Canoe Brook Senior Center programs into a single, two-story building. The new community house is designed to offer plenty of flexible activity and meeting room spaces on both floors, as well as some dedicated spaces. The project increased the facility from its original 22,000 square feet to 33,000 square feet. In addition to incorporating many high tech and handicapped accessible upgrades, the interior design is full of nifty upgrades, from unique light fixtures to stylish floors done in tile and carpeting, walls accented with tile and wood, assorted seating, furnishings, timeless built-in cabinetry and much more.
In May, with community support backing a request of the Trapasso family, the Board of Recreation Commissioners voted to rename the new facility the "Joe Trapasso Community House, Honoring Branford World War II Veterans." Trapasso served as Branford's recreation director for 43 years. He gained national recognition in his field and was also known for his groundbreaking work in developing community senior programming. Trapasso passed away in 2003.
The original Branford Community House at 46 Church Street, completed in 1963, came about largely due to Trapasso's vision, motivation and inspiration which generated a wave of community support and fundraising to build the new facility. Trapasso also oversaw a request from the town's veterans to incorporate a World War II memorial in the building. The memorial's marble tablets and other original signage are on display as part of the new community house.
Parks and Recreation staff completed their move into the department's ground floor offices of the community house on Thursday, Oct. 3. Even though public building use won't be available until later this fall, Parks and Rec director Alex Palluzzi Jr. said residents can stop in to register for programs during business hours (7 a.m. – 5 p.m.) Registration is also available online http://branfordct.myrec.com
Canoe Brook Senior Center Director Dagmar Ridgway said her staff's move-in process will start taking place over the next several weeks; with programming continuing to remain underway at Canoe Brook Senior Center on Cherry Street until the department move is complete. She said the move also involves details such as switching over licensing to allow senior meal food services at the new building.
"Within the next month, I think we will definitely be there," said Ridgway.
Two Centers, One House
Branford's community house will support traditional hours and programming for Parks and Recreation and the Senior Center. That means that, during the regular hours of the Canoe Brook Senior Center (currently, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.), most programming and activities on the building's second floor, which has been re-named Canoe Brook, will be senior activities.
Downstairs, Parks and Recreation programming will largely take place during weekly operating hours of 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.; with weekend and evening recreation events, programs and other undertakings also taking place.
Cosgrove said regular building use planning included reviewing hours when the Parks and Recreation and Senior Center departments run programs to determine any overlapping scheduling issues.
"We found there was only one activity throughout that overlapped," said Cosgrove. "Other than [Parks and Rec's] Toddler Program, the Rec department is offering their activities after 3 p.m. and weekends; where Canoe Brook is morning-to-late afternoon," Monday through Fridays, except holidays.
"So that means we have dedicated space upstairs and downstairs, but interchangeable uses because of the timing," said Palluzzi.
Ridgway said there are definitely opportunities to also expand more senior programming in the new building. She says ideas include possibly bringing in more evening options for those 60 and over who are still working but might want to get involved with senior programming. Find current Canoe Brook Center program information and more at https://www.branford-ct.gov
Forty percent of Branford's population is anticipated to be over the age of 60 by 2030, said Ridgway. While Canoe Brook's current participation numbers between 2,000 to 3,000 seniors, statistics show that participation increases when new a facility opens, she said.
"We're already seeing an increase in interest," said Ridgway. "The National Council on Aging [has shown] historically, there's a 40 percent bump in participation; and we've built to accommodate that interest."
Both departments also gave input to help maximize best use of the building now and as expanded programs are developed.
"There is crossover and sharing of space," said Ridgway. "There is also flexibility there, and that's intentional in the design."
Some of the flex areas for activities in the buildings are the fitness, wellness and arts and crafts rooms on the second floor. Many other spaces have also been designed with flexibility in mind to accommodate community uses such as events and public meetings.
Significant Facility Upgrades
The new facility is fully handicapped-accessible and much more. It incorporates state-of-the-art fire notification/sprinklers, the latest building climate, energy and lighting efficiencies, high-tech Wi-Fi connectivity, indoor/outdoor integrated sound/speakers/public address system, completely new video surveillance and building security systems, and a building-wide, diesel-powered emergency generator system. New restrooms on both floors are handicapped accessible, including stand-alone family rooms. Hi-tech, eco-friendly water bottle refilling stations are also located on both floors. Ground floor restrooms include a shower and wall of small storage lockers.
Cosgrove also noted the site's flood plain vicinity has been addressed. Hammer Field, which part of the community house's 10-acre campus, is prone to flood when Meadow Street floods. In extreme storm conditions, that could lead to a potential for water reaching lower-lying areas of the community house, particulary on the side facing Hammer Field, where the building has it's main doors off the main parking lot (Prospect Street entrance). The issue has been addressed with the installation of aluminum fittings built into the base of the building at potential flood points. The fittings are designed to hold portable aluminum "gates" which can be slid into place by facility staff. Once in place, the gates prevent water from seeping in beneath lower-lying doors and windows.
Cosgrove said the new facility addresses deficiencies that were found in the Canoe Brook Senior Center building and the former Community House (neither of which were fully handicapped accessible) while also protecting the town's newest asset.
"We thought this is an opportunity to address deficiencies and make it accessible for everybody," said Cosgrove. "Included in that discussion was its location on the edge of a flood plain, and our responsibility to protect our town asset. And the community, as a whole, wanted to cherish the building and hold onto it. That was what were able to do."
Addition Brings New Spaces
The new, two-story, windowed addition on the facility's north end incorporates multiuse rooms on both floors. Automated wall dividers can create individual, large meeting/activity rooms which can be separately controlled for climate, sound and other factors. Scheduling around regular use of the spaces will allow the rooms to become places for public meeting spaces and for other community uses. Both rooms also include hearing aid amplification systems to assist the hearing impaired.
Canoe Brook's multipurpose room can be divided into three separate spaces using automated retractable wall dividers. Outer doors of the room open to raised patio. The Parks and Recreation multipurpose room, which can be divided into two spaces, includes exterior doors to a semi-circular outdoor seating area.
In addition to the building's interior central stairs and elevator, the second floor can be access by a new drop-off driveway and walkway ramp at front (Church Street) and a walkway entrance at the new parking area on the south side. The Church Street entrance's portico-covered driveway was constructed specifically to allow for dropping off seniors, who will can then enter by five central steps or by using the ramped walkway leading to the Church Street doors.
The Canoe Brook administrative offices are located to the right of those doors and also offer an interior waiting room outside the offices, located behind a walk-around tile wall divider. The waiting area is topped by a new atrium skylight. It offers a discreet and quiet place to wait for social service and other appointments with senior center staff members.
To the left of the Church Street entrance is the new Matthew H. Brady library, with it's curved, two-sided, stacked-stone fireplace creating the library's entryway. Library room details include coffered ceilings, wooden built in cabinetry and computer stations. Another space delivering the wow factor on the second floor is the windowed Waverly Lounge, which is central to the lobby. It features expansive exterior windows and a floor-to-ceiling interior window wall overlooks the fully refurbished Joe Trapasso Gymnasium below. The lounge can also be accessed by the building's central elevator, which is paneled with wide wood slats made from the gym's original bleacher seats. The lounge also features U-shaped, high top bar – intended to be a place to grab some coffee or other quick beverage. Soon to come, a mix of comfortable seating, banquette and high top tables and chairs.
The Waverly Lounge is a place to socialize, congregate, watch a show on a wall-mounted TV monitor or log on to personal devices using the building's Wi-Fi; and one of many welcoming spaces that have been purposefully built into the new community house, said Cosgrove.
"This is not only a place where parents will come and drop off their kids for an activity, but there's an opportunity for them to stay and participate in something else, or get some work done; or just a place for them to come and meet -- because more and more people are looking for places where they can meet," said Cosgrove. "Even for the seniors who come, whether it's in-between a program or to just come and meet, I feel we've created a comfortable environment where they can socialize, or sit and read, or use the library and the public computers, or just enjoy the fireplace."
At the south end of the second floor is the building's large, windowed and mirror-walled fitness room. The hallway leading to the fitness room also includes a dedicated arts and crafts room with sinks, storage cabinets and other features, nextdoor to a wellness room. Other second floor spaces include the Sliney Game Room off the main lobby (seniors will particularly enjoy the room's billiards and shuffle board tables). There's an interior media closet for BCTV public meeting/event broadcast use, and a brand-new commercial kitchen which connects to the multiuse room. The kitchen will be used to offer senior meals, among many other possible uses, in the future.
Other names for rooms on the second floor include the Totokett Room and Canoe Brook Café. If the names sound familiar, it's because they have been purposefully carried over from the former senior center, said Ridgway.
"I think it's really important that people understand that we are keeping our identity," said Ridgway. "People view Canoe Brook as their second home. They spend more time here than at their own house. But I think they're so excited to be in an accessible, new facility that was designed to be a senior center. It's also an adjustment, which is why I think it's important people know we carried over the historical names. Having the same names, and having the library named for Matthew Brady, who was my predecessor and a mentor to me; I think that will make us feel comfortable."
The general public will enter the community house by its new main entrance on ground floor at the main parking lot on Prospect Street, where they will be greeted by Branford Parks and Recreation facilities including the building's renovated gymnasium. At center court: a newly painted "Joe Trapasso Gymnasium" emblem featuring a red Branford varsity letter. The gym also includes brand-new, new fully handicapped accessible bleachers, new basketball and wall padding fixtures (done in red and gray), two independently operational score boards, a ceiling-lowered screen divider and state-of-the art sound system. A colorful tile mural inside the gym doors holds an inspirational message from the community in honor of the late Ben Callahan (see related story).
A rear lounge area is accessible from inside the gym and via an interior public hallway. It offers scattered seating, benches and tables where players and others can congregate, relax between games, use the building's Wi-Fi or plug in to power up their devices. Other downstairs activity and meeting spaces include the newly designed Toddler classroom area (Parks and Rec kept the former Bonus Room name for the space) as well as additional activity/meeting room spaces and a new conference room, in addition to the new multipurpose room.
"We have the same space, just in the downstairs, that we had in both floors of the whole [former] building," said Palluzzi.
The community house project has been overseen by Branford's Public Building Commission, working with project contractor A. Secondino and Son (Branford) and project architect firm Quisenberry Arcari Architects, LLC (Farmington).
Palluzzi thanked Cosgrove for his "support and vision" and for moving the project forward to "...improve the quality of life for all ages of our community." Palluzzi also congratulated his staff for their efforts to continue offering programs and services at satellite locations while also operating from temporary office space on Kirkham Street during the past two years.
"It was well worth the journey, as you can see by both the inside and outside of this magnificent house," Palluzzi said.
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