NEWTOWN -- In a surprise move Monday night, General Electric executives told town leaders the Fairfield-based company will donate $15 million in a multiyear grant to design and build a community center for Newtown residents.
First Selectman Pat Llodra said she expects the center will be located on the town-owned Fairfield Hills campus, near the Municipal Center.
Llodra said this "great goodness'' from a company that employs some 150 local residents left her teary-eyed. The announcement was made just before the regular Board of Selectmen meeting.
She said the gift is intended to help the town have space for every segment of the community to gather in one place, whether it is seniors playing mahjong or children who want to take art lessons.
In the 11 months since 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Llodra said GE has become a generous corporate partner for the town's short- and long-term needs.
The town has had the use of four GE executives to assist in the town's recovery efforts, three of whom are scheduled to remain through early spring.
Newtown has long wanted a community center that could house recreation, the arts, community-outreach services and resiliency programs under one roof. Tight finances kept the town from that goal, Llodra said.
With GE's donation -- $10 million for the design and construction of the center and $5 million for operation and programming over a five-year period -- the town will get a central meeting space.
Monday night's announcement was met with a standing ovation for the large group of GE employees on hand to participate in the presentation.
GE executive Martha Poulter said this is GE's way of helping the recovery process in the Sandy Hook community and its neighbors.
While discussing possible long-term projects, Poulter and Llodra said it became clear in the wake of the Dec. 14 tragedy that Newtown needed a "central meeting place.''
"We are proud to help them achieve that goal," GE's CEO and Chairman Jeff Immelt said in a news release.
The center is in the initial phases of development, and the project will incorporate community suggestions.
"GE has been part of the Newtown community for many years, and we are committed to supporting our friends, family and neighbors as they continue to heal," Immelt said.