Expansion planning is underway at the Southington YMCA as the organization looks to prepare for the future and bring all activities to one campus, but local residents remain steadfast that those plans should include the preservation of the historic Jesse Olney House building.
Representatives of the YMCA went before the Southington Planning and Zoning Commission this week, seeking approval of a plan that would include two additions to the existing property and expansion of parking to accommodate increasing membership.
The plan was met with opposition from those who want to see the project move forward only if the YMCA meets one stipulation: that the historic home is spared for future generations to enjoy.
“We have written a letter (submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commission) saying we are in favor of alternate option A, which would preserve the home as part of the plans,” said Helen Higgins, director of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation. “We’ve been working hard with the (YMCA) and developers to find use and redevelopment of the Olney House, an effort to revitalize it. Southington has 500 buildings that are considered 'contributing historic factors' and the Olney House is an important one.”
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The YMCA announced their plans for expansion earlier this year after the non-profit organization obtained the three properties that have previously abutted its campus.
Stephen Giudice, principal with Harry E. Cole & Sons, told members of the commission Tuesday night that the expansion would include two additions to the existing facility and the development of a larger parking lot designed to meet growing membership needs.
The project, as presented, calls for the expansion of a 10,000 square foot section into the existing staff parking lot along High Street and another 3,000 square foot addition to the north side of the building.
As part of the expansion plan, Giudice said the YMCA would also realign the parking lot to reduce parking issues by expanding parking from 243 spaces to 277. An injunction, filed by Higgins earlier this year, remains in place preventing demolition of the home pending a Connecticut Superior Court decision and if the courts reject the demolition plans, parking expansion would be reduced to 265 spots, he said.
YMCA director John Myers said earlier this year that the intention of the expansion is to bring all services “to build for the future.”
“This is part of an ongoing effort to help prepare the YMCA for the future,” Myers said. “It’s part of a strategic plan to enhance infrastructure and, in the long run, help our non-profit to become more financially viable.”
But more than a dozen local residents spoke out against plans to demolish the home, saying it provides charm and a little piece of history in the downtown area.
The home was built in 1788 according to historian, author and preservation support Liz Kopec, and remains in good condition despite its age and exterior appearance. It is one of the oldest remaining brick homes in Southington and the only one built in the federal style of a two family dwelling, done in part to support the need for workers at during World War II.
The home is also connected to the war of 1812 and hold history of the Andrews and Olney families, some of Southington’s earliest settlers.
“There’s no better way to arrive in a New England town or city than to see a vibrant reminder of the past,” said Marion resident Peter Anderson. “We have preserved and continued to use significant vestiges of the town’s past.”
I hope the decision that the YMCA and commission make is one of balance,” he said. “Once a piece of history is dismantled, it is lost forever.”
Representatives of the YMCA have said they are understanding of these concern, but need to find a solution that will meet the organizations needs and the needs of the community, but doing so in a manner that is financially viable for the non-profit.
The organization earlier this year offered the Southington Historical Society an opportunity to buy the property at $330,000 per year, lease it at $30,000 annually or allow it to be demolished. Negotiations ended when the society said they could not come up with funding.
Fern Schier, president of the historical society, told the commission members Tuesday that she just hopes the organizations can come together to find a solution that keeps the home in place.
“Why is (the home) still here? Because Southington a special place,” she said. “I think there is a real chance for compromise here that would allow us to have best of both worlds.”
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