Taunton Housing wants to build community center for whole city. What would you like to see?
TAUNTON — The Taunton Housing Authority is asking residents what they'd like to see in a new 3,000-square-foot community center to be built at Riverside Apartments and intended to serve the whole city.
“We want to see the center get used by the entire community and be a resource for everybody,” said Housing Authority Executive Director Colleen Doherty.
Riverside Apartments is a Housing Authority housing development for low- to moderate-income residents on Paul Bunker Drive.
Mayor Shaunna O'Connell said the community center is intended to be "an inviting gathering place" for Taunton residents and organizations "to hold programs for kids and families that include education, recreation, sports and community forums."
Officials said the community center could also be equipped to assist residents during natural disasters.
Sports, child care, a summer camp, a computer room?
Riverside Apartments resident Monica Mendes said she would like the community center to have outdoor activities for her children and other local kids.
“I’d like to see something that will keep them active, like sports,” she said during the meeting.
Other residents said the community center should have a pool table, a gymnasium and a summer camp.
The Housing Authority is working with Beacon Climate and the Taunton Municipal Lighting Plant on the project. Beacon Climate is a Somerville-based firm that advises communities and organizations that want to build structures that don’t negatively impact the environment.
Beacon Principal Moneer H. Azzam said some residents said they'd like the community center to provide child care.
“From that, many things can flow, including opportunities for exploring career learning and hobbies that go with it," he said.
TMLP Commercial Development Manager Sonja Britland said some residents suggested having a kitchen that could offer cooking classes and a food pantry to provide groceries to people in need. Other suggestions included a multi-use recreation court for basketball, tennis and picket ball. Others suggested a game room and library.
Housing Authority board member Lillian Ricketts said she would like the community center to have a computer room and a children's homework room.
Azzam said Beacon Climate wants more ideas from Riverside Apartment tenants.
“This requires a big group effort, and we need your help to do this,” he said.
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Concerns about vandalism and traffic
Housing Authority portfolio manager Kerry Rogers said residents voiced concerns about potential vandalism at the community center.
“They want to be sure that people who come from outside the neighborhood respect them and that surveillance be done to keep vandalism from happening after hours,” she said.
Rogers said the residents told her that high motor vehicle traffic volumes and vandalism in their neighborhood “are ongoing concerns.”
“They want to feel safe, connected and be able to bring people in from the community,” she said.
Some residents indicated on a bulletin board that they want the community center to have security for safety purposes, limit visitor access to the facility and require them to dispose of trash properly.
Doherty said the Riverside Apartments neighborhood is "not considered a high crime area" and she hopes city residents won't feel uncomfortable about visiting a community center in a low-to-moderate income development.
"We will have a security system and surveillance cameras like there is for any community center," she said. "The Riverside Apartments is in a beautiful neighborhood."
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A resource center during emergencies
Taunton Emergency Management Agency Director Rick Ferreira said having a community center to assist residents during an emergency would be “an awesome addition to the city.”
“The community center could be called on for anything,” he said. “The ideas for this place can be resilient as long as you have a foundation for it. You need to have an emergency generator to keep it powered, and it needs to be handicap accessible.”
Funding the community center
Doherty said the Housing Authority received a $390,000 grant from the department of Housing and Urban Development to put toward constructing the community center. The HUD grant money must be used for projects at Housing Authority properties.
“We will be responsible for maintaining it and doing repairs. The community center has to be on our site and owned by us,” Doherty said.
The Housing Authority also received $1 million from the city from Taunton's American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
"A community center has been an idea we have considered since I first took office," O'Connell said. "By partnering with the Housing Authority, we are able to leverage our ARPA funding to build a community center that is a true collaboration among multiple stakeholders."
Doherty said officials would like to get more input from residents on the ultimate shape the community center will take.
“This meeting was the first of many meetings that we hope to have," she said.
This article originally appeared on The Taunton Daily Gazette: Taunton Housing Authority: Community Center at Riverside Apartments