A community center, paid for with grants and private funds, could be build next to the Lura Hoit Memorial Pool. Officials originally thought the abutting town-owned property was too small for a modern recreation building. Credit: Courtesy of town of Hampden

A community center in Hampden could be constructed on town-owned land next to the Lura Hoit Pool on Western Avenue, according to preliminary plans shared with the town council last month.

The preliminary plans answer the question of where a community center in Hampden could be located, more than a year after the town started looking into the possibility of such a center.

Town officials initially thought the lot by the public pool would be too small to accommodate a one-story, 40,000-square-foot building and parking lot, but an initial architectural plan showed it would be possible.

In January 2021, Hampden began exploring whether it was feasible to build a community center that combines some aging facilities and provides a new home for the recreation department, currently housed in a section of the old Hampden Academy.

The modern facility would include a gym with basketball courts, an elevated walking track, classrooms, a kitchen with a banquet area and offices.

The center would not be built with taxpayer funds, according to Economic Development Director Amy Ryder. Construction would be paid for with grants and donations raised during a capital campaign, not through a bond issue that would increase property taxes.

A survey of residents conducted over the past year and a half has shown there is support for the proposal as long as it does not raise property taxes.

So far, Ryder’s office has spent $3,500 for preliminary architectural renderings.

The next step in the process will be for councilors to decide whether to go forward with the location next to the pool or consider purchasing privately owned land.

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Ryder said Wednesday that it would be three to five years before construction could begin depending on how long fundraising takes. An estimate on how much construction and annual maintenance would cost has not been determined.

The recreation department currently rents the gym, completed in 1978, and some office space in the former Hampden Academy, for $1 a year, and the town is responsible for maintaining the space.

Hoteliers Danny and Carla Lafayette purchased the facility in 2013.

Now called the Skehan Recreation Center, the Hampden Recreation Department operates from there but would move to the newly built community center, which would allow the town to offer more programs.

Hampden does not have a traditional center, such as a town common from which many New England communities grew and developed, and the town in 2019 worked on an initiative to identify a center that could become a more inviting downtown area.

A community center in the right location has the potential to become a town center for Hampden, Ryder said in January 2021.

The Lura Hoit Memorial Pool opened in 1995. It is named for a former physical education teacher who bequeathed $1 million to the town for the purpose of constructing an indoor swimming pool. It has been refurbished since then.