Seven-year wait comes to a close on Bristol Community Center
"We did it, we finally did it. I'm like a kid in a candy store," said a gleeful Walter Burke.
Mr. Burke, the director of the Bristol Parks and Recreation Department, could hardly hold back his excitement upon learning that the keys to Quinta-Gamelin would finally be delivered this week.
Seven years ago, after the U.S. Department of Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission finalized its report, the U.S. Army Reserve Center, Quinta-Gamelin, was on the chopping block.
The building, located at the entrance to Colt State Park, was up for grabs and Mr. Burke couldn't act fast enough. He filed a proposal, along with Roger Williams University and other entities, requesting the building be given to the town for use as a community center.
Last Wednesday, Mr. Burke learned that his seven-year wait to acquire the building had come to a close. The keys would be in his hands this week.
"The (U.S. Department of Defense) said it would be a five-year plan (once the proposal was accepted) because they were building the army center down in Newport," said Mr. Burke.
On Sept. 15, 2011, upon the completion of the Newport facility, the Department was to hand over the keys to Mr. Burke.
"Well, 2011 came and went," he said. "The (Army) left on that date, but it's been vacant ever since."
The reason for the wait, Mr, Burke was told, was because the Department had to conduct a series of surveys - radiological, cultural - before the building could be transferred to the town.
As part of the transfer of ownership process, the town is required to have a federal sponsoring agency, which Mr. Burke said is the National Park Service. The building is transferred to the town via the National Park Service, which ensures its future is always utilized as a community center.
The town earmarked $1 million of a $9 million bond referendum approved by voters during a Nov. 6, 2012 election, to renovate the inside of Quinta-Gamelin once the town had the keys. Once the renovations are complete - in about a year, Mr. Burke said - the center will feature a gymnasium; a fitness center complete with treadmills, elipticals, and weights; a meeting room; arts and crafts; adult and senior programming; community-related training sessions; and more.
The State's Department of Environmental Management will be expanding the bike path to connect with the town beach and Quinta-Gamelin, Mr. Burke said, unifying everything.
Eventually, Mr. Burke said he would like to construct an addition to the building and install two in-ground pools - a lap pool, and another pool for miscellaneous use.
"I know Roger Williams University allows Bristol residents to use their pools, but it's limited," he said. "We are a peninsula; everyone here should know how to swim."
There will be a transfer ceremony at noon on Aug. 6, with a rain date of Aug. 7. State and local government officials will be in attendance, as well as 300 or so children from Camp Poppasquaw. The public is invited to attend.