Elderly housing provider tours Noank School site

Groton - A provider of affordable elderly housing toured the former Noank School property on Friday with an architect and financial consultant, and plans to meet with the town manager next week to discuss its interest in the property.

"Our goal is to listen to what the town wants and needs, and if it's something we can do, we'd love to do it," said Bill Fairbairn, president and chief executive officer of North Haven-based New Samaritan Corp.

The nonprofit organization manages 2,200 to 2,400 units of elderly housing, including Mystic River Homes and Mystic River Homes Congregate in Noank. Both have waiting lists. Mystic River Homes, a 46-unit complex, has a three-year waiting list and Mystic River Homes Congregate, with 50 units, has about a two-year wait, Fairbairn said.

The interest comes as another group works on plans for the former school. Robert Palm is one of three people who recently applied for nonprofit status as "Noank School Public Gardens" and hopes to create a volunteer organization that could build a community garden on the grounds.

Clint Wright, a blacksmith at the Noank Foundry, and Timothy McDowell, an art professor at Connecticut College, are also working on it.

Palm is scheduled to make a presentation to the Town Council on May 13.

The Representative Town Meeting on Thursday night also approved the $400,000 needed to demolish the school building, built in 1949 and closed in 2007. The building is not heated and the boiler is broken.

Town Councilor Bob Frink said representatives of New Samaritan looked at property last week before touring the school building on Friday.

"He came and looked at the site and he loved it," Frink said of Fairbairn. The property has access to water, sewer, cable and is surrounded by paved roads.

"The spirit of this is to get the best idea for the property," Frink said. "It's not to end-run anybody. It's good to have a competition of ideas. To get the best outcome for the community."

There's a demand for affordable elderly housing in many communities, Fairbairn said. People must leave town after they sell the family home because they can't afford what's left.

"Their friends are there, they went to church there, they served on a board or commission there, and now they've got to move somewhere where their friends can't come see them and they can't drive," he said.

If the community is interested in the housing, he said it would likely serve seniors earning $30,000 or less. It could incorporate open space, greenways, a buffer for neighbors and could be built at a low height to protect views, he said.



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