$40,000 Answer: Combine Stetson With Q House

Allan Appel PhotoA 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.

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posted by: anonymous on October 3, 2013  8:37am

Instead of paying out of town contractors $15+ million to do this, how about hiring back young people in Newhallville and Dixwell to do the hundreds of entry level city jobs that City Hall has slashed over the past decade?

posted by: Eddie on October 3, 2013  9:48am

Why must you interpret everything that is not initiated by your friends to be a suburban conspiracy?  Rehabilitating the Q house has been a goal of nearly every alder from the ward since it closed.  The article clearly states that much of the funding will come from state and federal grants that are designated particularly for libraries, not city employment. 

Funny but I remember you advocating for investment in the library in this area when Harp was discussing investing in small businesses in Dixwell plaza. (http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/harp_nemerson/)  So this type of investment is a good idea when you can use the idea to criticize Harp?  It is a bad idea, when individuals other than your friends propose it?

posted by: WMACHQ on October 3, 2013  9:54am

I agree about hiring young people. In fact I am looking to start a program for youths male & female to learn skills in the building trades. Not everyone is destined or wishes to go to college, however many young people want to work with their hands and heads in actually creating things. The plan is to have kids even those at risk enroll in a program that gets them a GED, (if they didn’t graduate from High School), and teach them a skill that they can use to get a job. The “Q” house could easily be a part of that. In dealing as a mentor kids need hope for something, something that they can have pride in, something that they can earn a decent living with. Hope that there can be a future here in this City. It’s been done in other places. We can do it here in New Haven
Bill MacMullen

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 3, 2013  10:49am

Forget the Q houses.You better start worrying about the real estate vampires who are taking over.In fact this will be the major of all of you in Dixwell/Newhallville.

Gentrifying Into the Shelters.


posted by: Bradley on October 3, 2013  11:57am

This is a potentially great solution. But someone will need to figure out how to pay the building’s operating costs. People who have lived in town for a while may recall that shortly after the main library was expanded and renovated, its hours were cut dramatically due to city budget problems. Regardless of how well designed a library/ community center is, it will only be an asset if it is open for reasonable hours and is adequately staffed.

posted by: Kevin on October 3, 2013  12:24pm

Anonymous, where do you plan to get the money? Presumably, the available state and federal library funding mentioned in the article is meant for libraries and not non-library city jobs, entry-level or otherwise. While the city has lattitude in moving its funds around in the budget, state and federal grants, particularly for capital projects, typically have lots of strings attached.

On the other hand, I agree with Bill MacMullen that a renovated Q-House House could be a real asset in providing marketable skills for kids who don’t go to college.

posted by: Razzie on October 3, 2013  12:37pm

Where does Elicker stand on this “Q” House revival idea? I note he has in the past stressed Tea Party type cuts in city services and property tax reductions for East Rock (i.e. property tax reval). It would be hard to see this idea going anywhere if Justin gets in. Perhaps he can tell us when he takes his walks on Bassett Ave and Monterey Homes.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on October 3, 2013  1:25pm

Why can’t a nearby school, or several nearby schools accomodate the functions of the Q-House after school and on weekends. Is a new building really necessary?


It’s Bassett Street.

Would you characterize Harp’s proposal to possibly eliminate or consolidate LCI a tea-party style cut? If not, then that’s a classic case of hypocrisy. Elicker is not a right-wing conservative, he is a liberal, progressive democrat. If he hadn’t supported the tax reval, he wouldn’t have been doing his job as alderman, which is to represent the people of Ward 10.

posted by: Razzie on October 3, 2013  5:56pm

JH—“Is a new building really necessary?”

Thanks for the correction.

I take it from your response that Elicker is opposed to the idea of spending money to redo the “Q” House. You indicate that you don’t view Elicker as a right-wing conservative. Unfortunately, from his frequent incarnations as Republican - Democrat - Independent, I can’t tell what he is going to be on any given day. Altho he professes to have progressive democrat tendencies, he has yet to pass any legislation that bears that out: unlike Sen Harp and her myriad legislative deeds affecting HUSKY, health care for women and children, juvenile justice reform, and educational reform initiatives. While it is nice to see Elicker talking to his neighbors about quality of life issues, that does not rise to the level of legislative accomplishments that rival other legislators. And no. I do not consider the tax reval as a progressive democratic initiative. It was, in effect a regressive tax feature designed to give East Rock and a few other wards tax relief from the proposed property tax revaluation assessments, at the expense of other wards in the city.

posted by: mrcc on October 6, 2013  4:40pm

It is refreshing to see the city recognizing the importance of a branch library serving as an anchor for a thriving community. Libraries serve as local engines of economic growth becoming mainstays for social stability in their communities.
Combine the library with a school? There is history in New Haven for how effectively this type of partnership meets its stated goals.  In the Eighties the Hill had a branch library located in the Roberto Clemente School.  And, while it was a good idea it did not endure largely because schools and libraries are two different institutions serving equally important missions.  While the missions are similar, the difference between schools and libraries often necessitate separation of services. Schools do formal, ability ranked education. Libraries –lifelong learning & civic engagement.
Bradley’s question is important. The library is less than 1% of the city’s budget.  Over ten years FTEs have been slashed by nearly fifty percent.  Current FTEs are now shared, meaning two part-timers instead of a full timer. Part-timers keep doors open but full timers grow services.
The budgets in the past few years undercut the branches ability to serve as community resources, mainly through reduced hours and staff.  There needs to be development of sustainable funding for those services.  It is not equitable to have extended hours in one neighborhood.  The Hill and Fair Haven have major issues involving crime, employment and youth engagement. 
In a way the library already uses private funding to supplement its starved budget.  The City Librarian spends a lot of time securing funding with grants and donations to provide services residents expect. Grants end. Services end. Private funding of a public institution is tenuous because it can lead to a conflict of interest and private businesses fail.
Instead,follow Bridgeport. Ask the voters how much to fund the public library.  Stetson & the Q House - the entire library system - would thrive.