NFA gets OK to build gym at Sachem Street campus

Norwich - As Norwich Free Academy completes renovations to open its Sachem Street campus next week for the new transitional education program, the academy received new permits to build a gymnasium to accompany the program.

The Commission on the City Plan Tuesday approved the project after a brief public hearing, during which NFA Chief Financial Officer Rich Rand described the project.

The 3,386-square-foot gym with locker rooms and offices will be built in the parking lot to the left of the main building at 80 Sachem St. NFA also plans to build a 1,200-square-foot expansion to an existing five-bay garage for storage.

The commission unanimously approved a site plan and special permit for the facility. Rand said NFA will need to do fundraising for the $2 million project and hopes to start construction within one year to 18 months.

The new NFA transitional program was launched in June in conjunction with the Norwich public schools to take over the former Thames River Academy alternative high school. NFA then began renovating the Sachem Street building, a former office building, to create classrooms, offices and laboratories. A new special education program also will be housed in the building, which will open Jan. 24.

"We found that these kids need a release throughout the day," Rand said. "You cannot take these kids and put them in a classroom and expect them not to be fidgety. These kids need to burn off energy."

Rand said the half-size gym will have basketball hoops and fitness equipment and will be an "integral part" of the new transitional program, which now has 66 students. The program has been housed at the city-owned Bishop School since the start of school.

Rand said the gym also might be used for after-school events, but most of NFA's after-school sports activities will be held on the main campus a block away. The Sachem Street gym also might be used for special occasions, such as graduation ceremonies or parents' nights.

c.bessette@theday.com

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