‘The Barbell’ in New Haven to be reborn as Hill Community Center with $1.5 million state grant

NEW HAVEN — For decades, the former Hill Cooperative Youth Services building — aka “The Barbell” — on Carlisle Street was one of the centers of life in the Hill neighborhood, a community center where generations of children practiced extracurricular sports, learned about life and engaged in activities that took them away from the streets.

Since its closure in 2008 it has been a reduced presence opposite Trowbridge Square Park.

But soon, with the help of a $1.5 million state grant approved on Friday, it will shine again.

“The lights are coming back on,” said Governor Ned Lamont, who came personally Thursday to announce that money for the project was on Friday’s agenda. State Bond Commission meeting, where it was approved. Lamont was echoing an earlier statement on Hill Alder lights Carmen Rodriguez, D-6.

“You have a very persuasive mayor and a very persuasive Rep. Candelaria,” Lamont said with Mayor Justin Elicker and State Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, standing nearby.

Hearing people talk about the role The Barbell used to play on the Hill “just reminds you of what a youth center can be for the community, what it can be for the kids,” Lamont said.

One such person, Angela Hatley, a longtime Hill resident, said: “I think now more than ever we need a safe environment – and the Barbell Club has always stood for all of that.”

Right now, “we don’t have any type of community center or senior center or anything,” Hatley said. “We just have our library.”

She said of Lamont, “He gets it. …He’s still here for New Haven. We are grateful for his leadership.

Kaye Harvey, who was the second and final director of The Barbell, said she got her name from the fact that original director Sherrill “Bummy” Moore was a boxer. “It was the epicenter” of the community, said Harvey, one of many residents wearing black “Rebirth of The Barbell” T-shirts.

“I am delighted” to hear that it will reopen, said Harvey, who lives on West Street. “I am delighted.”

Elicker, speaking under a portable canopy as children played on a brand new paddling pool which was just activated in Trowbridge Square around three weeks ago, said the plan to revive The Barbell as a community center for Trowbridge Youth was the result of “community members advocating for this vision…to revive what was once the Barbell Club.

Now, neighborhood officials and advocates are “talking about a potential synergy between the Boys & Girls Club and what it could be,” Elicker said.

Until recently, people had lots of good ideas, but the city had no money.

Now, “we have the money. We have the money to activate this building — and it’s thanks to the leadership of Governor Lamont and Rep. Juan Candelaria,” Elicker said.

Candelaria said the idea “has been in the conversation for years,” but “thanks to the governor, we got funding for the project, which was $1.5 million.”

Elicker also thanked State Senator Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, and Senate Pro Tempore Chairman Martin Looney, D-New Haven, for helping secure the money for the project.

“If all goes well, Monday the alders will approve” the rest of the money needed for the project, which Elicker said would cost about $2.5 million in total.

Rodriguez said she expects that money to come from federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“It’s not fair” to celebrate. “It’s everyone standing here today,” said Rodriguez, who was joined at the event by Alders Kampton Singh, D-5, and Ron Hurt, D-3, among others.

“The goal is to… turn the lights back on for our children. … We can do it! A lot of people say we can’t, but look where we are today!

That doesn’t mean it will be easy.

“If you walk into this building, it’s a bit of a fixer,” said Arlevia Samuel, executive director of the Livable City Initiative. But “it is important to me that each community recovers a community center”.

Gwen Williams, city director of youth and recreation, who grew up in the neighborhood and went to high school a short walk away, called The Barbell a ‘landmark in our culture, in our history, in our lives’ .

City engineer Giovanni Zinn said of the project: “There is a lot of work to do and it starts today.” He said he hopes to complete the design of the new center this fall and begin renovating it into six flexible classrooms surrounding a central gymnasium.

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Jill E. Washington