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Pool closing; Groton weighs options on Mystic Education Center property

Groton - To more than 1,200 people who take part in programs at the Mystic Education Center, the swimming pool in the Pratt building is a valuable asset.

To the state, however, the Pratt building and the rest of the buildings on the 100-acre campus, including one that houses a technology business, is surplus property. More than 60 of those acres, undeveloped woodlands, have been carved from the parcel and handed over to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

"This letter is to inform you of the requirement to terminate our agreement with your organization for use of the campus facility effective at the close of business Friday, Sept. 30," said Douglas Moore, director of Management Services, in a July 29 letter to Jerry Lokken, director of programs for the town's Parks and Recreation Department.

"This action will save the state approximately $200,000 this fiscal year and $400,000 annually thereafter ... . I hope you appreciate the need for the state to reduce operating expenses at our state facilities, particularly at facilities which no longer provide a state program."

The education center, formerly called the Mystic Oral School, served as a residential school for the deaf from 1895 until 1980. Since then, and continuing today, there have been a wide range of intermittent uses by various organizations, including a day care center and firefighter training. Besides the recreation department's aquatics programs, Special Olympics also uses the pool. In addition, high school soccer and lacrosse teams practice on a field there. A gymnastics program and a ballroom dancing program also use the Pratt building, and will have to relocate.

Town Manager Mark Oefinger told the Town Council at its Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday night that most of the buildings on the campus have been vacant for more than 15 years with very little, if any, maintenance performed.

Oefinger described more than 20 years of efforts to discuss plans for the site, with little or no response from the state.

Alion Science and Technology Corp. operates out of a former dormitory and is the only other active building on the campus besides the Pratt building. The recreation department uses the pool more than 25 hours each week, almost year round, for children and adults, Lokken said. He said it is the only therapeutic pool in the area, maintained at about 90 degrees, warmer than a lap pool. He said many of the programs will be able to use the pool at Avery Point, but only on weekends.

"Our summer programs end in a couple of weeks, so the close date won't be a problem. Our fall programs will start at Avery Point."

Town Councilor Harry Watson said the matter revisits an older theme.

"This town needs a pool," Watson said. "Ledyard boys' and girls' swim teams use that pool. Special Olympics trains at Mystic Oral, and lifeguard training is there. What happens to them? I've been saying it for years. I'll say it again. This town needs a pool."

Oefinger cautioned that by law, after an appraisal is completed, the state will offer the town the chance to buy the developed portion of the property. He said the council will have to decide what to do at that point.

Immediate plans by the council include a meeting with the commissioner of the state Department of Administrative Services, a tour of the facility and meeting with the town's legislative representatives.

"We have to decide what, as a community, do we want to see happen there," Oefinger said.

c.potter@theday.com

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