Officials and basketball fanatics broke ground on a $1 million renovation to make the city’s oldest neighborhood community center its newest fully handicapped accessible site as well.
Farnam Neighborhood House was founded in 1909. The current building on Fillmore Street went up in 1963, with no elevator, a totally flat and ultimately leaking roof, narrow doorways, and other structural problems that are finally being addressed.
Thanks to $1 million in state bonding that was approved two years ago, work is beginning immediately on adding an elevator, ramps, enlarging doorways, among other improvements.
The old-fashioned neighborhood “settlement house” over the years has become a mecca for basketball leagues for kids of all ages, from the biddies, or little ones, to competitive high school athletes to keep in shape during the off season.
Bringing a basketball league for disabled folks to this basketball mecca in Fair Haven seems like a natural. Now it will be possible.
And it’s about more than just basketball. One of the speakers at the festive event Thursday was Gary Claxton. He began b-ball at Farnam at 8 years old and continued to play while at Career High, and then at Penn State.
He’s back in town after spending two years playing professionally in Hungary and Sweden with the Federal International Basketball Association (FIBA)
“I grew up with a lot of guys who came from bad homes who overcame it because they came here [to Farnam]. It is a family, where you can go if you need help,” he said.
Today, when their wheel-chair bound relatives visit to watch young men and women play, they can go to the gymnasium only and in general are restricted to the first floor. That will change when an elevator and other improvements are added.
Operations manager Frank Redente said that not only will wheelchair-bound visitors be able by next spring to go down to the pool and ping pong tables in the basement level, they may even begin to play basketball in the gym in a wheel chair league.
Redente said he’s already been in touch with disability officials at City Hall. “I’d love to accommodate a wheel chair league,” he said.
When that league starts up, the gymnasium will also be more secure as a result of the grant. Some of the bonded funds are earmarked to provide a pitched roof with trusses to replace the flat roof that regularly leaks down into the brick work visible behind the baskets.
Occasionally the floor gets wet, and Redente then has to cancel the games. Starting in the spring, that will no longer be a problem.
The elevator and its housing will be added from the outside on the northeast corner of the building. Access will be both from the parking lot and the lobby, with no other visible changes to the exterior of the building, except repointing, said Executive Director Liz Gambardella.
Work is to begin immediately, with completion expected by the spring of 2013. It will be done without interruption to the basketball and other activities that currently serve 1,000 families from Fair Haven and from around the city, she added.