Former Noank School might only be fit for a garden

Groton — Town councilors toured the former Noank School Monday to determine if the building is salvageable, and three neighbors who want to turn the property into a community garden applied for nonprofit status.

Robert Palm, one of three who applied as "Noank School Public Gardens," said the group hopes to create a volunteer organization that could build a community garden and beautify the school grounds.

"After a long, cold winter, we are now going to start knocking on doors and getting signatures, not only for people who support this idea but those willing to roll up their sleeves and volunteer," Palm said. Clint Wright, a blacksmith at the Noank Foundry, and Timothy McDowell, an art professor at Connecticut College, are also working on the effort.

It's unknown whether the school building — built in 1949 and closed in 2007 — will remain. When councilors toured the school Monday, they found large classrooms, a library and gymnasium, but also roof leafs, missing handrails, broken windows and floor tiles popped up by the cold. The building is not heated and the boiler is broken.

Mayor Rita Schmidt said councilors would have to figure out whether it would cost more to fix the school than tear it down.

Councilor Bob Frink said it was beyond repair.

"I don't think this one's reusable in my mind," he said. "For anything."

Elizabeth Nado, the business mentor for the Fitch High School Robotics team, attended the tour to see if the team could use space in the school.

"I don't think this is going to work for us," she said afterward.

The gardening idea is expected to be presented to the council within the next several weeks. Initial plans would turn the east lawn — about 40 yards wide and 100 yards long — into a series of garden plots that people could farm. The west side of the property would become an orchard with beehives. The south side could be planted with wildflowers or lavender, with a bridge possibly built over a wetland pond.

Paths could be made of oyster shells, and benches installed for people to rest. The hill that children sled on during winter would remain, and the group would preserve a field big enough to play soccer.

Two years ago, Noank Fire District taxpayers voted to negotiate with the town over a long-term lease of the building, but the council declined, saying the district didn't have an adequate financing plan.

Then last April, the council voted to appropriate $370,000 to raze the building and remove an underground fuel tank. The Representative Town Meeting later reversed the decision.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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