Ideas ranged from single family homes to senior housing and light industrial to be placed on the former St. Thomas Aquinas School site by residents last week during an East Side NRZ meeting run by Mayor Tim O’Brien.
“It’s all about planning for the East Side,” said O’Brien. “The future of the St. Thomas Aquinas School has been a big issue for a long time. For my new administration what I would like to do as we plan for the future of what that building would be is to start with the neighborhood and people in the community with no preconceived notions what they would like to see.”
O’Brien said the City wants to get to a place that the project fits the wants and needs of the neighborhood.
“The ideas start from you and go from there,” O’Brien said. “Some ideas will not be realistic. There are a number of things that can go there from non-profit to private development.”
Margaret Baylock Renzella, who lives across from Aquinas, said she recommends a childcare center, a senior center and that Habitat for Humanity take it over for ownership.
“For those who live around the perimeter, that area is so crowded. You walk out at 10 o’ clock at night and you already have people up and down that street,” said Renzella. “It’s crowded already. If 150-200 apartments went there it would be overcrowded.”
Jim Sanders Jr. suggested light industrial office space that is quiet.
Anita Gay suggested a youth center where students can learn life skills.
“When I look out my dining room window what I see is the school so I am concerned with having something appropriate,” said Sue Holt. “This part of town is very much owner occupied.”
She would like to see one and two family houses.
“It truly would fit into the character of the neighborhood,” said Holt. “A very small business would work too. I’m opposed to putting it out to developers.”
She suggested an architectural study to see what can be done on that land using state grants or funds.
Marie Ellison suggested the area be used as elderly housing or small business, but not a homeless shelter.
“Something needs to be done because people are throwing bottles over there. There are mattresses and junk over there,” said Ellison.
“We understand the City is trying to increase the tax base, but on the other hand we want to preserve the neighborhood that we have,” said Fred Latour.
He liked a small business and one or two family homes.
Anna Cassone said one or two family homes would be great, but she understands that is a hard sell.
“I do think a small business with limited hours of operation is an excellent idea,” Cassone said. “The only other thing I can see go there is senior housing. At one time it was in discussion to put that there. You do not need too much greenspace as with families for people to play.”
She added that there is a growing population in New Britain leading to a need in elderly housing. She wanted anything but what was proposed last year in low income housing.
“Our budget is very strained. Our education is very strained. Our police department is very strained,” said Sharon Baretta. “I want to see whatever we decide to develop there in accordance with what the neighborhood agrees on something that adds to the coffers and does not strain my coffers and services that may become involved.”
Margaret Malinowski suggested a place with shared services for light industrial or office space. Other parts of the building could be used as a youth center or senior center area.
O’Brien said the next step is for the East Side neighborhood to form a committee of 7 to 9 members to discuss the options the area would like to see and what not to see at the site.
“That committee can report back to us so we can have a more focused set of options for prospective developers,” said O’Brien.