City officials announced plans last week to rebuild the QHouse, a community center in the Dixwell neighborhood that closed in 2003.
Mayor Toni Harp and Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison met last Monday at 197 Dixwell Ave., the address of the future QHouse, to share news on the project with the public. The center will include a health clinic, a branch of the New Haven Free Public Library, a computer lab, a dance studio, a gymnasium and facilities for arts, crafts and music. The state has allocated $14.5 million to fund the construction of the center.
“It will be a one-stop shop that will provide services for people of all ages, from zero to 100 plus,” Morrison told the News.
Morrison, who has worked on bringing the project to fruition since she first took office in 2012, said construction will begin on Nov. 4. However, it will be difficult to work during the winter, she said, so most of the construction will likely take place in the spring of 2018.
She added that the $14.5 million from the state is only meant to cover the costs of building the facility. The center’s operational budget will come from taxes and private donations, Morrison said, noting that local residents and city employees are raising funds to furnish and stock the library branch that will be housed at the center.
The new center will be the third iteration of the QHouse. The first opened in 1924 and ran for nearly 40 years before closing in the early 1960s. The second QHouse, built in 1967, served the community until 2003, when the city shut it down due to a lack of funding. Morrison said there will be a small museum component within the new center to commemorate its long history.
Before closing in 2003, the QHouse was a focal point for the black community in the city’s Dixwell and Newhallville neighborhoods. Carlena McDonald, who moved to New Haven from South Carolina in 1965, said that when the second QHouse was built, many of the residents of Dixwell and Newhallville were, like her, black migrants from the South. McDonald added that the migrant community relied heavily on the QHouse and said many of her neighbors with jobs located outside the neighborhoods would drop off their children at QHouse day care programs before going to work.
McDonald, a single mother, said the service was a huge help to her, since she enrolled her daughter in day care at the QHouse so that she could work during the week.
“The QHouse became synonymous with how we, as a community, took care of our children,” McDonald said. “The people at the QHouse became the big brothers and big sisters of our children.”
McDonald is a member of a group called the Concerned Citizens, which was created in the early 2000s to keep the QHouse open amid growing fears that budget shortfalls might force it to close. When the community center did close in 2003, the group switched its focus to creating a new QHouse. McDonald said there are currently about 11 members in the group.
McDonald credited Harp with facilitating the project’s revival. The center closed while former Mayor John DeStefano was in office, and while his administration and the community both wanted the center to reopen, disagreements and misunderstandings stalled progress, McDonald said.
“[Harp’s] been at the center of everything,” McDonald said.
Harp’s history with the project extends beyond her time as mayor. City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said Harp wrote the legislation that approved the $14.5 million in state funding for the project back when she was a Connecticut state senator in 2011. Since assuming office, Harp has worked with alders, city officials and community groups — including Concerned Citizens — to turn plans for a new QHouse into reality, Grotheer said.
The building on Dixwell Avenue that housed the old QHouse was demolished in January.
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