Last week Greenwich residents were surprised to learn via social media about the possible cancellation of the Greenwich Community Sailing program at Tod’s Point. After Jane Pimentel posted on Next Door saying the sailing program’s relationship with the town had broken down and the program was cancelled, alarm bells rang.
In response Parks & Rec said they had originally negotiated a rent reduction with Greenwich Community Sailing and their agreement stated that the Chimes Building area would be closed for construction and the Town might choose to offer the licensee an alternate location at Greenwich Point.
The town issued a new RFP seeking a new vendor, and there is hope that this summer the program will operate out of a different spot at Tod’s Point.
All this begs the question, where will the programs in the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center (EGCC) go when the building is demolished this winter and a new building is being built? Where will the town’s own Parks & Rec programs relocate?
The building, originally known as the Ekman Center, was built in 1950 for the recreation of Electrolux workers and their families. The facility included an auditorium/gymnasium, lounges, snack bar, baseball and softball fields and bowling alleys.
The acquisition of the Civic Center, plus 20 acres of land from Electrolux, was approved by the Greenwich RTM in 1966. A subsequent referendum failed to reverse the action. At the time, some residents described the building as a white elephant and predicted no one would ever use it. The sale price was $432,000.
Both the town’s Parks & Rec Dept and Old Greenwich-Riverside Community Center, (OGRCC) run programs out of the civic center.
OGRCC director Tom Casazzone, who grew up in town and is raising four kids in Greenwich with his wife, said, “As a kid the building was referred to as the OGRCC. The field as well. But it’s the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center and it’s a town property that operates its own programs.”
Casazzone, who has a background in non profit work, said that after law school he worked for ten years at Pencils of Promise, which was founded by a Greenwich’s Adam Braun. He also worked for Food Rescue US.
“OGRCC is a non profit and we’ve operated separately from the town of Greenwich since the 1940s,” Casazzone explained. “We’re the largest provider of programming.”
OGRCC pays the town user fees for field use and rent for office space on the civic center’s second floor. In addition to office space $2,300 a month rent includes use of an all purpose room and a studio where they run a dance program. Rent also includes access to storage space for equipment.
OGRCC offers soccer, baseball, dance and art programs, but the most popular programs are soccer and baseball. They even offer competitive travel teams for kids ages 3 to 12. Casazzone said there are over 650 kids enrolled to play baseball and 750 playing soccer.
“And we have growing engagement with rugby. We’re the only rugby provider in town,” Casazzone continued. “We also run flag football, field hockey and tennis, as well as indoor dance and art which are popular among elementary age kids.”
When the pandemic started, the civic center shut down for six months. OGRCC’s offices were closed, and programs such as fitness classes, chess and fencing went on hiatus. The staff of six worked from home, but the building officially reopened this past summer and staff returned to work in person.
But not for long.
Construction on the new $21.5 million civic center is expected to begin in early 2022. The price tag will be offset by a $5 million donation $5 million gift from the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation. The gift, approved last month by the RTM despite the town not having a policy on naming rights, will result in the renaming of the building the “Cohen Eastern Greenwich Civic Center.”
“We’ve been told we’re able to run programs in the building through the end of January, which includes use of the offices upstairs,” Casazzone said.
The challenge is that programming is seasonal, and running 4 weeks of a 12 week program is not ideal.
“We didn’t want to take a risk, so we went down the street to Sportsplex,” Casazzone said, adding that OGRCC is renting a dance studio from Sportsplex to temporarily house their after school dance program.
“They’re excited to have us and it’s a really nice dance studio with ventilation, speakers and nice floors. There’s parking. It’s safe. Our members didn’t bat an eye.”
Casazzone said now is the time to register for the dance program that starts in January. Classes include Ballet, Hip Hop, and Ballet/Tap.
As of Monday, OGRCC had yet to find a place for their children’s art program.
“It’s kids painting with easels and canvas and, on occasion, they make a mess, so Sportsplex is not the best space. We’re talking to to the Perrot Library and area churches,” he said.
Also, just for January, OGRCC will run indoor elementary age soccer in the civic center gym, as well as art and ladies dance/fitness.
Casazzone said in the winter OGRCC runs a girls-only basketball program for grades 2 through 8, with different divisions. Typically it is runs out of Old Greenwich School and Dundee, but Greenwich Schools weren’t actively renting out the buildings, so they found alternate space at Carmel Academy on Lake Ave.
“Girls basketball will start right after Thanksgiving,” Casazzone said. “As of Monday there were spots available.”
OGRCC also runs after school childcare programs at Old Greenwich School, North Mianus School and Dundee. They are Licensed by the State of Connecticut and the programs run until 6:00pm daily. At Dundee, they also run a morning program from 7:30am until 8:30am.
Town of Greenwich Parks & Rec
As for the town’s programs that rely on Eastern Greenwich Civic Center, Recreation Superintendent Susan Snyder said that for Kamp Kairphree, the Parks & Recreation Dept is requesting to use one of the local elementary schools.
“The first choice would be Old Greenwich School if that is available,” Snyder said. “Some other smaller programs, such as pickleball clinics would relocate to Bendheim Western Greenwich Civic Center.”
In the meantime, she said as long as the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center is still operational, the building staff will schedule pickleball play in the gym. There is drop in pickleball at the EGCC in Dec and January.