New Haven Independent – Cinema-To-Childcare Campus Plan Detailed

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Rendering of proposed new childcare campus at ex-Cine 4 site.



David Symond, Jr., Allyx Schiavone, Margo Early, and Karin Patriquin on Wednesday.

The corn will keeping popping at the central ticketing-and-candy counter of the old Cine 4 movie theater — even as that entryway fixture is converted into a reception desk for a planned new early education campus now in the works on Middletown Avenue.

That ex-movie-theater conversion is being undertaken by Allyx Schiavone and the Friends Center for Children Inc. The affordable childcare nonprofit recently purchased the former Cine 4 site at 371 Middletown Ave. and plans to transform it into a green and welcoming campus to accommodate the urgently needed spots at its Quaker-influenced school for infants and toddlers.

That happy news about the latest with the campus development plans — and about the planned preservation of popcorn popping and serving at the candy counter-turned-front desk — emerged Wednesday evening at a community meeting held at the Quinnipiac Meadows site.

Schiavone with Quinnipiac Meadows Alder Gerry Antunes, and popcorn, buttered.

As people quietly crunched away, Schiavone announced the architects for the project: Patriquin Architects, headquartered in Fair Haven, and led by Karin Patriquin and her principal colleague on the project, David Symonds, Jr.

Patriquin was the architect, back in 2010, of the current flagship site of the growing school – a rustic, tree-surrounded Fair Haven Heights center at the top of East Grand Avenue that is tucked into the shoulder of Quarry Park; it’s a location that Schiavone said still makes her think of a tree house.

With a proposed array of green courtyards, kid play areas, gardens, and plantings that will replace and reduce the old theater’s crumbling parking area from about 180 to 50 spots, she and her architects are going to try to re-create that quiet arboreal haven on a new headquarters campus for little learners and their families, and in the process address the city, and nation’s, pressing need for expansion of quality early childhood education opportunities.

The design challenge is that the new site, purchased from the Sofer Family theater owners last summer for $1.3 million, sits high on a noisy and windy plateau. The building and parking lot peek over a vista of seriously trafficked and noisy roads – Foxon Boulevard and Middletown Avenue at the entryway to I‑91.


The former Middletown Ave. movie theater.



Wednesday night the architects unveiled some preliminary renderings, views, and floor plans to a small gathering of parents, board members, staff, and city officials.

The project will evolve in three phases, they said, with phase one being restricted to a gut renovation and repurposing of the existing building.

That will consist of a complete redo of the theater building envelope including a long solar array on a completely new and tightly insulated roof; an interior transformation that will include reconfiguration of three of the four theater spaces into two new classrooms (one theater preserved for movies and popcorn for the community) and a food service center; and on a second floor administrative offices and teacher training area for the growing school network, which also has a site in Westville on Blake Street and one in the planning at the future to-be-redeveloped Dixwell Plaza.

This popcorn,” Schiavone joked, ​will cost $5 million.” That is the estimated cost just for the first phase renovation alone.

Planned new childcare campus.

Phase two includes a new sister building angling into the current structure at the southwestern side of the proposed campus and creating more secluded kid play zones. This second structure is slated to contain four new classrooms (for a total, between the two buildings, of six new classrooms for kids three months old to five); other utility spaces and a library, which Schiavone called a fancy name for a storage area for equipment and learning supplies to be deployed at all the Friends’ sites.

According to the Friends Center growth plan that Schiavone previously shared with the Independent, the expansion over the next five years, including the full build out of the Quinnipiac Meadows campus, will grow the school from serving 122 children and employing 39 staff members today to serving approximately 360 kids and employing 118 staffers by June 2027.

Schiavone was particularly excited about another feature of the phase two building: a cozy parking port to hold a trolley – yes an old-fashioned trolley – that the school is in the process of purchasing.

We’re going to rehabilitate an old trolley, with [the folks at] Eli Whitney [museum] and convert it into a travelling learning library.”

How to transform a trolley to serve the needs of little learners? To find out she is currently speaking with a trolley broker. ​Who knew there was such a thing!”

Patriquin said the various outdoor spaces will be constructed using the buildings as a buffer against wind, noise, and traffic to create quiet, secure play places. The vehicular traffic pattern, including parental dropping off and picking up, will take place on a periphery outside the center of the campus.

That center will be occupied, in a phase three, by a third building, now only a gleam in the planners’ eyes, whose uses are to be determined by future needs and conditions.

Symonds said the appearance and materials of the phase one renovation (and all the subsequent construction) will strive to echo the current East Grand building, with its very natural tones and subdued colors. ​The children are going to provide the pop,” he added.

The architects plan on presenting initial site plans for review to the City Plan Commission in May.

The biggest question [which Symonds anticipates may come up with City Plan] is how you handle storm water. We’ll have to wait to develop the whole site,” he added, in order to be able to answer that thoroughly, but a master conception is in the process of being created.


The front candy counter (with Yale film archivist Brian Meacham on a recent film-equipment-salvaging trip.)

Quinnipiac Meadows Alder Gerry Antunes, who was in attendance, offered Symonds an encouraging response: ​The city likes reduction of hard surfaces. You have so many [water absorbing and filtering] green spaces [in the plan presented], that should help.”

Assuming the project moves along as expected with its approvals and permitting, Schiavone said the next gathering at the site for the public will be on June 4 to celebrate inauguration of work on the new campus.

Popcorn is virtually guaranteed to be provided. And, who knows, maybe a movie.