City leader: New recreation center will be 'destination point' in Middletown

Photo of Cassandra Day

MIDDLETOWN — The demolition of Woodrow Wilson Middle School, slated for this summer, will pave the way for the construction of a new recreation office, including renovations to the gyms and pool, creating the first standalone building the department has ever had.

Incoming sixth- through eighth-graders will attend the new state-of-the-art Beman Middle School, presently sitting directly in front of Woodrow Wilson on Hunting Hill Avenue, when the 2021-22 academic year begins Sept. 9.

Phase I of the project, estimated to cost between $400,000 and $500,000, will be funded through the $55 million 21st Century Infrastructure Bond approved by voters in 2020. In total, $1.5 million is earmarked for the recreation center, Common Council Majority Leader Gene Nocera said.

Work will also include replacing the leaky roof.

The designer is Middletown-based Landmark Architects, which is also designing the the South Fire District expansion.

By late November or December, Middletown Recreation and Community Services Department staff are expected to move into the facility.

“They are excited to have their own space and recreation facility that can grow and expand,” Nocera said. The pool and gyms are in good shape, he said.

For the past six years, the recreation office has been at the senior center on Durant Terrace. Before that, it was at Riverview Center on Main Street.

Popularity of the senior center has grown astronomically, leaving the recreation staff in a cramped area, according to Cathy Lechowicz, director of Recreation and Community Services.

“Since we moved in here, membership increased 600 percent,” she said. “It is highly used nonstop throughout the day.”

Recreation administrators, which include a new aquatics director, will control the large pool to schedule affordable swim lessons year round and water safety classes — “a critical need in our community, ” Lechowicz said.

“We’re super excited about being able to have access to a great facility,” she said. “We know the demand is there, so being able to use the facilities as a launching pad and to continue to develop programs is super exciting for our community.”

The pool, gym and weight room have been used by the recreation department for camp and other programs for years, Nocera said. “We’ll slowly do more significant repairs to the (auxiliary) gym,” so it can partly serve as a small cafeteria and kitchen where people can eat and heat food.

Since Public Works staff will oversee the project, Deputy Director Chris Holden said the project will save taxpayer money.

“Essentially, we’ll be the construction manager,” he said. “We’ll be able to use local vendors to do the labor: carpenters, plumbers.”

Once Wilson is knocked down, the first order of business will be to build a wall along the exterior to create a self-contained area, Holden said.

The complex will be directly across from new athletic fields.

“It’s almost surreal,” said Nocera, a longtime city educator who was once principal of Woodrow Wilson. “Look at what has happened at Pat Kidney Sports Complex since we opened it up. That is used nonstop by our community — for walking, basketball, bicycling, the playground. Morning, noon and night, it’s being used.”

People enjoy living in a community with such amenities, the councilman said. “They want to see quality: things that are well-designed and beautiful and appealing. Now, in the back of a state-of-the-art school, you have a rec center with a magnificent pool — the best in the area.”

“It’s definitely a destination point,” Nocera said. “When it’s all said and done, it’s going to be marvelous.”