South Norwalk Community Center plans to offer pre-school learning, more

NEON SNCC Ryan Park 003-20130329
The South Norwalk Community Center plans to build an enclosed playground behind the building at 98 South Main St., so that young children can play in a secure environment, SNCC spokesman Patrick Ferrandino said.

NORWALK, Conn. – Ambitious, hopeful renovation plans for the South Norwalk Community Center (SNCC) include space for a bi-lingual early childhood education program, three classrooms and a computer lab, all made safe from the adults in the vicinity thanks to federal tax dollars.

A $100,000 Community Block Development Grant approved for the center by the Common Council will go to reorganize and regenerate the center’s space, making it a hub for youth to learn in a secure environment — even if there is a halfway house next door for people recently released from jail and a city park that attracts homeless people behind it. The center, which claims the right to the entire first floor of the building it shares with Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) at 98 South Main St., will be segregated from other activities, SNCC spokesman Patrick Ferrandino said, but will graciously provide a common waiting area and a reception desk for everyone coming and going.

“We are here to revamp the South Norwalk Community Center, create a renaissance, and do so independent of NEON, without any funding or involvement on their part with our organization,” Ferrandino said.

Architectural plans for the center were finished last week and will be presented to the board of directors Wednesday, said Ferrandino, a volunteer  from New Canaan. The funds, which come from  the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are usually delivered in August, he said, but they have been delayed. Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Tim Sheehan assured him that Norwalk is not alone in being late to receive the funds, he said.

“The timing for us is not bad,” he said. “We just completed the architectural drawing. We will be putting the bid together.”

NEON will be asked to leave the first floor, except for a reception area opposite the elevators. Anyone with business with NEON will go up the elevator and never enter SNCC space, Ferrandino said, except for the common waiting area.

Plans include using the space formerly used by Christian Community Action, which was forced to leave the NEON building in 2011 by former NEON CEO and president Joe Mann, who said that he might use CCA’s space for a lunchroom. Ferrandino said the only thing in the 986-square-foot space is a copier. It has been that way for a long time, he said.

The goal for that area is to create a space for 3- and 4-year-olds. Parents will be able to drop their children off from the side driveway, where they will enter into a hallway that is segregated from the other space, Ferrandino said. The children will be able to go out the back door to a secure playground, if the plans are brought to fruition.

The existing SNCC offices will be knocked down.

“We are creating three 500-square foot classrooms,” he said. “There will be one computer lab, 225 square feet. The executive offices will consist of the executive director’s room and three rooms for handling client cases.”

The classrooms are for adults.

“We’re going to start a native language literacy program, which we don’t believe there is here in Norwalk,” Ferrandino said. “A number of the people coming in, especially the undocumented day laborers, are not literate in Spanish. They can’t read and write. They can’t fill out forms when they come in for intake. That’s how we know.”

English as a second language classes are also planned.

Three 6-by-9-foot kiosks are planned, where one-on-one tutoring will be offered for after-school programming, he said.

“It’s set up for anyone but primarily elementary school students,” he said. The Carver Center “does a wonderful job with the junior high students,” he said, predicting no conflicts between the two organizations.

The educators will be volunteers or honor students, he said. Registered students will be given swipe cards to get into SNCC’s secure space.

The existing bathroom on the first floor will be renovated, he said, and proper air ventilation installed. A handicap bathroom will be built. The bathrooms will be in the secure area.

Ferrandino said that, with the building designed as is, sometimes homeless people come in the back door to use the bathroom. He has come across a naked person washing up in there.

“We get people coming through that are not clients of the community center, possibly not clients of NEON, just coming in,” he said. “We have several people that are known on the streets here, who often just come through and use the bathroom and leave.”

Ferrandino is sympathetic, as he says he spent the first 32 years of his life in South Norwalk. A friend who he grew up with is homeless, he said. But the area needs to be made secure for children.

The goal is to make the center into a place that neighborhood children feel comfortable coming to, he said, “one that will change the lives of the kids in that neighborhood.”

Grant money will also go to lower utility bills in the building for both SNCC and NEON, Ferrandino said. Recently, an energy consultant inspected the building with NEON’s cooperation. There are many inefficiencies that will be addressed, Ferrandino said.

“We are happy to pay our portion for the maintenance and operation of 98 South Main St.,” he said. “We don’t know what that amount is, although we have been asking for a report. We know from our own due diligence that the inefficiencies are many and significant.”

Although the center is struggling financially, Ferrandino is optimistic and confident that a new board of directors will be able to obtain funding.

Ferrandino had an appointment Monday with the Department of Social Services, where he was expecting to inquire about the possibility of obtaining a Hispanic Human Development grant. The center’s employees had been funded by such a grant, but it was in NEON’s name. Former interim CEO and President Pat Wilson Pheanious told those employees they would have to go to work for NEON earlier this year. She said that was done to satisfy a DSS requirement to work out an operating agreement between the two agencies.

Ferrandino said his brother was formerly education commissioner for Connecticut, so education is near and dear to him. His connections include a computer instructor at Norwalk Community College and a former principal of Columbus Elementary School, he said.

Future plans, with further funding, are to install a partition in the existing multipurpose room, which won’t see substantial renovation this time around.

He hopes to implement a recreation program that includes soccer in Ryan Park, he said. He has spoken to representatives of HUD’s Choice Neighborhood program, which may help to fund the rebuilding of Washington Village. Center volunteers are offering services that can be given a dollar value to help qualify for the Choice Neighborhood Grant, he said.

“We want to make this a multicultural, multinational venue,” he said. “We are the hub at the South Norwalk Community Center, inviting those with programs that may be viable for the community to speak with us and collaborate. We are open to full collaboration with viable nonprofits.”

Coming soon — questions about the CDBG grant and SNCC board


8 responses to “South Norwalk Community Center plans to offer pre-school learning, more”

  1. bill

    “We’re going to start a native language literacy program, which we don’t believe there is here in Norwalk,” Ferrandino said. “A number of the people coming in, especially the undocumented day laborers, are not literate in Spanish. They can’t read and write. They can’t fill out forms when they come in for intake. That’s how we know.”

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME? We are going to pay people to teach illegals how to read Spanish versus having them read English? Someone at city hall needs to be made aware of this, absolute waste of taxpayer dollars; teach them English only, not to read Spanish.

  2. D(ysfunctional)TC

    The last 100k was spent on bathrooms and severance pay, but I swear this 100k will be spent on the kids. Sure.

  3. EastNorwalkChick

    I’m with bill on the “native language literacy program”, wouldn’t it be more beneficial for them to learn how to read and write English if they are going to stay. From what I understand every version of the new immigration bill that has been presented in the House and Senate will require new immigrants to learn to read/write/speak English. Wouldn’t that be better and give them a leg up if they apply for legal status?

  4. Suzanne

    “Illegals” is a pejorative term. These people who mow your lawns and build your walls and bus your tables are “undocumented.” More accurate and more respectful.

  5. Bill

    They are here illegally, they are illegals. I respect their plight, but they are what they are, and if they are going to be in our country, our tax dollars should pay for them to read English if anything, Spanish was what their home country should have taught them, not ours.

  6. illegal

    Your country Bill? Really?

  7. Bill

    Yeah, last I checked my birth certificate says America, that makes me an American, genius

  8. Amazed

    The City of Norwalk never fails to amaze me -$100,000 to help individuals read and write the spanish language!

    No available funds for preschool and daycare!

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