Update on status of Kearns Community Center proposal

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The directors of the committee proposing the new use of the Kearns school building as a community center gave a presentation to the Board of Selectmen at its Dec. 17 meeting, which was followed by a public hearing at the Board’s Jan. 7 meeting.

Eliot Altomare and Alicia Newton reviewed the need for such a community center and the progress being made in organizing the physical set-up as well as the initial budget, which comes in at approximately $2.75 million.

At this time, plans for the center include a 5,000-foot indoor park with putting green, a teaching kitchen and cafe, teen space, veterans space, adult day care, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) lab, game room, art classroom, music room with recording studio and conference rooms. There will also be spaces for meditation and quiet gatherings. Outside, there will be community gardens.

Included in the construction costs are upgrades to the electrical system, the bathrooms, and the HVAC. Also included in costs are painting, new flooring, furnishings, a generator and a van for the adult day care program. The parking lot also needs upgrading, and a clerk of the works must be hired for the renovations and construction. The budget for these items comes to $2,443,200, and the directors have added a $300,000 cushion for inevitable cost increases, bringing the total to the $2.75 million.

Altomare and Newton project the annual operating cost of the center to be around $1 million, with yearly increases in operating cost more than offset by the increase in income which is expected to come mostly from the cafe, workshops, events and adult day care. After the third year, they expect the center to require only minimal foundation support. Altomare noted that although they are trying to have the center exist without much foundation dependence, the fact is that many foundations (including the Hartford Foundation for Giving) have given outstanding approval to the project.

At this time, the staffing is expected to be under the direction of an executive director who will report to the board of directors. A director of community engagement will report to the executive director, as will the adult day care administrator. The day care provider and driver will report to the day care administrator. A separate director will handle the culinary aspects of the center, the Nourish My Soul program, to which the cafe staff will report.

Currently, the directors are working on obtaining the necessary 501(c)3 status and a leasing agreement with the town, after which fundraising will begin and continue through July 2019. The committee is aiming for the center to open in late 2019; however work will not begin until $1.5 million has been raised. The center may open with fewer classrooms, second-hand furniture and fewer programs than will ultimately be available once the entire $2.75 million has been raised.

At the Public Hearing on Jan. 7, Altomare, Newton and Granby resident Gennie Busse restated the mission of the project (to empower residents to enjoy lasting relationships and share their gifts) and its ability to solve the isolation problem that affects many groups such as the elderly, veterans, caregivers, stay-at-home moms, etc. They continue to meet with organizations in Granby, East Granby, Hartland, Tariffville and northern Simsbury for feedback and, especially with regard to Granby, to avoid duplicating services that are already successful in town.

The steering committee has also met with Senator Witkos to discuss possible state bonding. The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving has expressed interest, and many offers of equipment and services as well as funds have been received from individuals and organizations.

Later in the BOS meeting of January 7, the board approved a motion to create an advisory committee to negotiate a lease between the project and the town. The persons suggested for this committee are Diane Hernsdorf, Marty Schwager, Donna Snyder and Suzanne Yucha. Sally King will be the BOS representative. Selectman Lofink suggested that a member of the Board of Finance should also be appointed to this committee.

The board also approved writing a letter of intent to authorize the project, with amendments. This is a non-binding agreement signaling the intent of the BOS to study the use of Kearns School as a community center. Having this letter allows the steering committee to begin fund raising. Town Manager Ward recommended an expiration date of 180 days and an exit clause. It was decided to confer with the town attorney for specific wording.

Altomare and Newton reported that several people have inquired as to what will happen to the distinctive murals within the Kearns School. The committee plans to keep the majority of them, possibly re-locating some to other parts of the building.

To read the entire proposal, visit tinyurl.com/Kearns2018. The project is on FaceBook as Kearns Community Center. To contact the leaders, email or call them as follows: Elliot Altomare at elliot.altomare@gmail.com or 908-528-7915; Alicia Newton at Alicia@nourishmysoul.org or 860-982-6831.