Austin Mills

Construction for the historic Q House has finally begun, reviving the Dixwell neighborhood’s community center after 16 years.

The Dixwell Community Center, which was founded in 1924, served as a social and recreational cornerstone to New Haven before it closed in 2003 due to lack of funding. Construction for the new Q House, the third iteration the neighborhood has seen, began Wednesday after residents attended community meetings and lobbied local politicians to support the project for over a decade. In 2016, the state gave the city $15 million to reconstruct the center. The construction is expected to be completed in around 18 months — ending in early 2021.

Around 40 Dixwell community advocates and city officials gathered at the plot across from Dixwell Plaza to celebrate the start of the long-awaited project. Morrison expressed her support for Mayor Toni Harp’s reelection at the press conference, applauding her for prioritizing the Q House.

“Construction of the new Q House on this site embodies the hope that we all share,” Harp said at a Wednesday press conference at the site. “There’s no question that the construction activity on the site behind us has been a collective wish and subject of eager anticipation for the past many, many years.”

Since its closing, city and state politicians and local activists have pushed for state funding to revive the Q House. Harp made the reconstruction of the Q House a priority of her mayoral administration when she was first elected in 2013, according to the New Haven Register.

Last week, Harp signed a contract with A. Secondino & Son to manage construction on the $16.697 million project. The new center will be housed in a 54,000 square foot glass building — over twice as large as the previous iteration. It will also contain the new Stetson Library, a health clinic and a senior center, as well as a full-size gymnasium, art and dance studios, a recording studio, meeting rooms and a kitchen for community events.

“[The new Q House] is to me just a first step in the revitalization of the Dixwell Corridor,” Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison told the News in October. “People that lived in the Dixwell community never went downtown for anything because everything they needed was right there. We are trying to bring Dixwell back to what I call its glory days.”

The conference came as Harp looks towards the Democratic mayoral primary next week — where Harp will go head to head against former Ward 10 Alder Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10. Harp, who is seeking her fourth consecutive two-year term, defeated Elicker in a widely contested 2013 race to replace then-Mayor John DeStefano. Prior to announcing his candidacy in January, Elicker was the executive director of the New Haven Land Trust and served two terms on the Board of Alders representing Ward 10.

Ahead of the press conference, Elicker criticized Harp for using the project as a political platform, according to the New Haven Independent. Elicker commented on how Harp held a groundbreaking for the Q House in 2017, just before the last mayoral election. Two years later and six days before the next election, she held another groundbreaking for the project. He added that it has been six years since Harp promised the community a new Q House.

“Mayor Harp promised six years ago that she would get the Q house built,” Elicker told the News. “For it to take six years — and six days before the election they hold this ceremony — indicates a leadership that is not effectively able to get the job done. … [Recent settlements with city departments and non-cooperation agreements with federal immigration enforcement] have been asked for, for many years. Now, right before the primary, Mayor Harp is finally doing all these things.”

Ed Corey, Harp’s campaign manager, said that Elicker’s criticism shows a fundamental lack of understanding of government projects. He called it a “petty attack.”

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.

Caroline Moore | caroline.moore@yale.edu