Austin Mills

Two hundred New Haven residents gathered this weekend to celebrate the groundbreaking ceremony for the revival of a historic community house, a project community members have fought for since 2003.

On Saturday, members of the New Haven community convened at the site of the Q House — a former private community center that closed in 2003 due to lack of funding — to attend the groundbreaking for its new incarnation. Alders, state congressmen and Mayor Toni Harp spoke at the event. Construction for the new Q House, the third iteration the neighborhood has seen, will begin next year after over a decade of work on the project by residents who attended community meetings and lobbied local politicians to support the house. The event kicked off with performances by students from the Hillhouse High School marching band and cheerleading teams.

“What this means in the terms of the spirit of renewal for this community, what it means in terms of hope for this community and a commitment to people of all ages for the service in this community speaks volumes,” said state Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven.

The new center will include the Stetson Branch Library, a cultural museum and a senior center for the Dixwell and Newhallville neighborhoods. The building will also feature a fitness center, a full-court gymnasium, a day care center and spaces for art and dance.

City Engineer Giovanni Zinn said construction of the new Q House will begin in the spring of 2018 and the project will be completed within 12 to 18 months of its start date. In a speech at the event, Zinn praised the spirit of the Dixwell community, evidenced, he said, by the large attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“It is truly heartwarming to be with so many people who are interested in one of our construction projects,” he said. “Our bridges don’t usually bring out this many people.”

The original Q House was built in 1924 at 98 Dixwell Ave. as a settlement house for members of the Dixwell community. In 1969, the construction of the second Q House concluded at its current location, 197 Dixwell Ave.

Other speakers assured the audience that the Q House would welcome all people within the community.

“Everybody, every family, every child, every senior, everyone around here is welcome,” said state Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven.

After the community house closed in 2003, a local “concerned citizens” group organized to convince the city administration and Board of Alders to save the Q House from foreclosure, according to a pamphlet distributed at the event. The group continued to push for the house’s return until 2011. Group members sat in the front row of the groundbreaking ceremony.

In 2013, the Steering Committee for the Q House determined after surveying the building that the community needed a new, renovated house. The next year, the state awarded New Haven $1 million to plan and design the new community center. Connecticut granted the city $14.5 million more for the project in January 2016, and, a year later, the old Q House was demolished.

Building Committee Co-chair and Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison said the renovated Q-house will improve the reputation of the Dixwell neighborhood and bring residents together.

“Everyone used to talk about Dixwell, like ‘I’m not going through there, I’m going around,’” she said. “Now Dixwell is the place to be.”

Morrison said securing funding was a community effort but added that it was spearheaded by the New Haven delegation to Hartford. Morrison said getting funding for the house has been at the top of alders’, state senators’ and state representatives’ agendas for several years.

Harp also praised community members from New Haven who attended the public meeting and demonstrated support for the Q House.

“There’s no question but that the vacant site behind us has been the focal point of wishful thinking and eager anticipation for the past 12 years of more,” Harp said. “This community was not going to stop until the Q House was replaced.”

Although the new building received generous funding, more fundraisers have been planned to ensure the Q House’s continued success. The Q House “Buy a Brick, Build a Legacy” fundraiser will support an endowment fund at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven to provide an annual flow of revenue to support the Q House.

“As members of this community, we have to skin in the game,” Morrison said. “We have to invest in our community.”

Isabel Bysiewicz | isabel.bysiewicz@yale.edu