HAMDEN, Conn. (WTNH) — It’s a big step in cleaning up the site of the former Hamden Middle School. Millions of state and federal money are now approved for the project.

It has been two decades since students walked into the old school building, and now, the money is finally here to start turning it into a community center. Mayor Lauren Garrett (D-Hamden) said the people of the neighborhood deserve it.

“They have had to live through environmental racism, industrial contamination, a lot of remediation efforts,” Garrett said.

That is why the town approved $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act money for the project. The state also approved $5.4 million from the very competitive Community Investment Fund.

“It’s a place with a big heart, and when this community center behind us and this campus is renovated, truly, Hamden will have a place to put that heart,” Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz (D-Conn.) said.

Twenty years ago, they discovered the school was built on a landfill site used by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in the mid-20th century. They found high levels of lead, arsenic, and other pollutants in the soil.

After finding the contamination, they replaced much of the soil at the school site and around dozens of homes. They brought in clean fill, but that process had some issues that still need to be addressed.

“As that fill shifted around foundations, it hurt the foundations structurally,” Garrett explained.

So, town leaders hope for future grants like this to shore up the foundations of some 53 houses. As for the community center, the town will hold a series of community meetings to see what the people want.

“And also to make sure that what ultimately ends up being built here is something that truly represents the hopes, dreams, ideas, and needs of this community,” Hamden Economic Development Director Erik Johnson said.

They think demolition may begin next summer.