A year-long study has reached a conclusion about how to revive the shuttered Dixwell Community “Q” House: Tear it down, then rebuild it bigger, and move in an expanded Stetson Branch Library. Julian Harris, for one, drew on his own history to applaud the idea.
When Harris (pictured) was a kid, the Dixwell neighborhood didn’t have a library. He went to the Q House to play sports, then traveled all the way to the Mitchell Library in Westville for books.
The Q House, shuttered for ten years and now owned by the city, has been facing steep odds getting sustainable funding to reopen and revive; it has become a symbol of citywide frustration over the perceived lack of constructive activities for young people.
The Stetson branch library across the street on Dixwell Avenue has stepped into the breach with community programs; it desperately needs to expand. Plus a library has potential access to big bucks that an old settlement house like the Q no longer does.
Why not put them under the same roof in new, bigger quarters? Harris (who grew up to be a youth counselor in the LEAP program and today works as a seafood manager at Stop & Shop) concluded that it is a no-brainer.
So did the members of the steering committee, chaired by Dixwell Alderwoman Jeanette Morrison, who were charged with developing a plan for the Q’s revival.
The plan, created by local architect Regina Winters, was unveiled before 50 neighbors Wednesday night in the auditorium of nearby Wexler-Grant School.
Click here to view Winters’ presentation on her study.
The main findings: Rehabbing the existing Q House would cost $5 to $6 million; the building is water-damaged, mold-infested, and way behind the times code-wise. You could raise the old Q House and construct a new building with twice the square footage—up to 48,000 square feet—for maybe $9 to $10 million.
Then the question became: Where do you get the money? And how do you sustain the place? Not having sufficient operational funds or a back-up endowment for maintenance helped lead to the Q House’s demise.
The answer: Hatch a public/private partnership, so that Stetson, which has taken up some of the Q House functions, could expand significantly, because it has access to state and federal library money the Q House could never hope to attract. Then have them share the new building as partner organizations, both independent, with separate hours, and perhaps shared electric bills.
Call it the Dixwell Cultural Center, the way 21st century libraries are going, said Stetson Branch Librarian Diane Brown, a committee member and a supporter of the plan. Think Schomburg Center in New York City, she added.
The audience Wednesday evening generally praised the plan, although a few people raised the question of cultural and community “ownership” in such an arrangement.
Click here and here for previous articles, and here for candidates regularly invoke the fate of the Q House in local elections. Mayoral candidate Toni Harp recently called on leading New Haven institutions to pool money to reopen the Q House.
The city last year obtained a $40,000 grant to to do the feasibility study. Alderwoman Morrison assembled a committee of 15, including local alders, business people, clergy, the original Q House architect Ed Cherry (click here to read about his own second thoughts about the original design), city government architect Bill MacMullen, and representatives from youth organizations like Elm City Dream.
They hired Winters (pictured) as the architect and addressed whether the 1969 building (the original Q House at a different location was built in 1922) should be razed and a new structure constructed from scratch.
Winters concluded that although the building is structurally sound, mold and water, accessibility, the absence of fire safety systems, and other problems made it a challenge to bring it up to code.
“And you’d still have a lousy building,” said MacMullen.
MacMullen, who oversees capital construction at city libraries, said he helped put up a new facade on Stetson four years ago. But the building, part of the Dixwell Plaza shopping center, currently lacks space for a true technology center and other services. Those could be created in a new building that could attract state dollars.
“What if Stetson could move into a building large enough for its mission, and for the mission of Q House” to run parallel to each other and share economies? he asked rhetorically.
That New Haven is deemed by state and other funders a “distressed” area makes its libraries eligible for money for libraries to perform community functions. As an old-fashioned settlement house, the Q House, while sentimentally loved by locals, is a much harder funding sell.
Thus the marriage. “This is a win-win,” said MacMullen.
He, Morrison, and other members of the committee, including Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez, stressed that nothing official has been voted on, or set in stone.
The next step: another meeting to further refine public input, and then a quest for design money. That’s necessary in order to put a price tag and therefore funding target on the project.
If all the ducks align, MacMullen and Diane Brown said the project, could be completed within three years.