Groton Town Council extends use of former school property as community garden

Groton — The Town Council on Monday voted to extend the use of the former Noank School as a community garden for another four years.

The 8-0 vote, taken by the council’s Committee of the Whole, still must be approved by the council at its next regular meeting. Councilors directed the town manager to meet with the town attorney and members of the Noank School Public Gardens Task Force to finalize details of the agreement. An audience of nearly 50 people applauded the council’s decision.

The task force outlined a plan to expand the garden in the next three to five years to include recreational and educational opportunities for residents and provide food donations to struggling families and food pantries. Members also said they envisioned the garden supporting fundraising for local charities.

“I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen,” Councilor Karen Morton said. “I like the vision that you have and I think the thing that I like most about it, is the fact that you obviously have the support of all of the residents within Noank. And that’s very important.”

Task force Chairman Clint Wright described a property that has grown into a community gathering place. During the 2003 school year, Noank Elementary School lost John Turco, a young teacher at the school, and students and staff raised money for a black bench in his memory. That bench was moved to Northeast Academy in Mystic when crews dismantled the former Noank School building.

Through the efforts of volunteers with the garden, the bench was returned to the Noank property, Wright said. The John Turco bench and an additional bench donated by residents have become the focal point of a sitting garden near the former entrance of the school.

“Former Noank School teachers and neighbors have planted perennial shrubs around the garden and we have plans to create flower beds between the shrubs,” Wright said. All progress on the garden has resulted from small individual donations, he said.

Charles Lanza, a volunteer with the gardens, outlined a vision for the property that included baseball, soccer and lacrosse fields for children, a children’s playground, summer camp programs and ice skating. The plan also included a farm teaching program for at-risk and disadvantaged families, children’s special education programs, a children’s fall harvest festival and school clubs.

Councilor Diane Barber said she feared the property would end up another open space the town had to mow, and loved the idea and plans for it.

“I love (that) the community is getting together. It’s huge,” she said. “It teaches the children more than anything that this is what you do in life is giving back. I love the direction you’re going.”

d.straszheim@theday.com

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