Monday evening, Newtown gave General Electric a standing ovation.
It came as several dozen residents attending a series of municipal meetings heard the announcement that the community will receive a $15 million multi-year grant from GE for the development, construction and operation of a community center.
A release provided at the November 18 Board of Selectmen’s meeting from First Selectman Pat Llodra stated that “it became increasingly clear during the recovery from last year’s tragedy that [Newtown] lacks a central meeting space for the whole community.”
According to the release, the community center will be funded by GE, which has more than 150 employees living in Newtown.
Of the $15 million, $10 million will be committed to the development and construction of a center that will have programming that is designed to meet community needs.
The remaining $5 million will be dedicated to operating costs for the center over five years, including the hiring of experienced professional staff. The center will be owned and operated by the town of Newtown.
“On behalf of Newtown, I am honored to accept GE’s very generous donation that will help us develop a community center, connecting people of all ages,” said First Selectman Pat Llodra. “We envision a community center as a place to foster inclusive community participation through recreation, the arts, community outreach services and resiliency programs. This is a donation that will add value to the entire community for years to come.”
Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of GE, said, “GE has been part of the Newtown community for many years and we are committed to supporting our friends, family and neighbors as they continue to heal. Over the last year, our GE colleagues from Newtown identified several ideas to help the town and identified that a community center was one of the town’s greatest needs. We are proud to help them achieve that goal.”
The community center is in the preliminary stages of development. The goal of the project is to offer additional space and programs that will make a positive impact on the community.
As planning proceeds, community input will be sought and incorporated. Mrs Llodra and the Board of Selectmen will continue to work with residents on site selection and development of the center.
Mrs Llodra said she had been working with GE since last February on ways the company could support both short and long-term recovery.
The short-term support came as four loaned executives who each performed or continue to perform administrative and organizational duties beyond the scope or capacity of the town’s current staff, she said.
GE Capital’s Vice President & Chief Information Officer Martha Poulter joined the board Monday night to briefly explain some of the gift.
Several residents asked questions, primarily specifics about a planned senior center. Mrs Llodra replied that in anticipation of the grant announcement, she had already charged Commission on Aging members to meet with Parks & Recreation representatives to begin collaborative planning.
“To discuss what it will look like,” Mrs Llodra said.
Responding to a question about a planned site, Mrs Llodra said it would likely be built at Fairfield Hills, but she did not want to predetermine a lot of the planning still to be done.
Parks & Recreation Director Amy Mangold said her department and the Parks Commission have been struggling for ten years trying to get a community center off the drawing board.
“Thank you — this will get us started,” she said.
Mrs Llodra said thanks to the GE grant, “we’re going to have a place for seniors ... a place for children to learn to swim, even a place for teens to call their own.”