Claude Chester conceptual plans unveiled to public
Groton ― Three conceptual plans that envision the re-use of the former Claude Chester School off Route 1, adjacent to Poquonnock Plains Park, as recreational space were unveiled to the public on Tuesday.
Athletic fields, a pool and splash pad, as well as other amenities, are being considered for the former school site, or nearby at the Groton Community Center. The town is seeking public comments as one of the first steps in deciding how to use the former elementary school site that closed at the end of the 2020-21 school year.
Chad Frost, principal and landscape architect with Kent + Frost Landscape Architecture of Mystic, unveiled three potential conceptual plans at the public input session at the Town Hall Annex attended by about 50 people.
The first plan envisions two multi-use fields, an intermediate baseball field, parking and central drop-off area, pavilion event area, bathrooms, maintenance building, and playground for the Claude Chester property, as well as a new streetscape along the front of the road, among other features. The proposal also would update parking at Poquonnock Plains Park.
This option also calls for demolishing a wing at the Groton Community Center, nearby in the former Fitch Middle School on Fort Hill Road, and building an indoor 8-lane, 25-yard pool with a therapy pool alongside it. A splash pad would be built outside to the south of it.
The second conceptual plan is similar to the first, but the splash pad would be located beside the playground at Poquonnock Plains Park. Frost said this would provide a more central, visible location for the splash pad, but the town would need to pay attention to preventing sand from being tracked back and forth between the playground and the splash pad and to prevent the playground from getting slippery.
The third conceptual plan would be similar to the first two, but the pool and splash pad would be located on the Claude Chester property. The pool would be housed in a larger building, since it would not have the advantage of shared amenities and office space that is offered in community center scenario, and there would be a splash pad outside. The intermediate baseball field would be located by the community center.
How much will it cost?
According to cost estimates, the first concept would cost $22 million, or about $77 a year in taxes over 20 years to the average taxpayer. The second would cost about $21 million, or about $74 a year for the average taxpayer over 20 years. The third option is a nearly $40 million project, which would cost the average taxpayer about $137 a year over the next 20 years.
Kent + Frost developed the plans based on residents’ feedback from an online survey and public forum. People ranked the removal of the school building, restrooms, a community pool with splash pads, athletic fields, streetscape improvements, a pavilion, and plantings as among their top priorities.
A playground, event space, and public art were mid-priority items, while a town green, outdoor classroom and town offices were low priority items.
“This is absolutely tremendous,” said Athletic Fields Task Force Chairman Frank Norosky about the conceptual plans.
He said Tuesday’s presentation was one part of what the task force has been trying to do for the last three years. In response to questions, he said the proposed fields shown Tuesday probably don’t solve every problem, but he called it a “no brainer” to address field issues in town, especially when compared to what athletes in other towns are using. He pointed out that the band has been asked to host New England regionals, but can’t.
More athletic fields needed
Parks and Recreation Director Mark Berry told The Day that the town’s recreation master plan in 2009 identified the need for additional athletics fields, a finding supported by a 2014 Athletic Fields Needs Assessment. Berry said that in 2020, the Town Council commissioned the Athletic Fields Task Force to look at the needs of school and youth athletic field needs in the community.
“Based on the findings there are a number of field and supporting amenities that need to be addressed, including renovations to existing high school fields, conversion of existing fields at Sutton Park and the development of new fields at the High School and Claude Chester Property,” he said.
After the presentation, people filled out questionnaires about which of the three options they preferred, or if they would prefer the town to do nothing but continue to maintain the abandoned buildings and grounds. They also noted amenities they wanted added or removed, if the town should phase the project, how much they would be willing to spend, and if the town should pursue grants to cover a portion of the project.
Residents can fill out an online survey at https://www.greatergroton.com/visioning-claude-chester.
Some people said they were interested in pickleball courts. Town Councilor Rachael Franco said the Town Council put aside ARPA funding for outside pickleball courts at the community center and to upgrade the hockey rink by the Thrive 55+ Active Living Center. The Council took a final vote to approve the funding at its meeting Tuesday.
Town Councilor Portia Bordelon, who served on the athletic fields task force, said she is concerned, as well as some other people, that while the presentation is wonderful and she’s in support of doing something with Claude Chester, it will not address the needs at the high school, including compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and at the former Fitch Middle School.
Town staff will compile the feedback and report back to the Town Council.
Figuring out the best use for the Claude Chester property is the first piece of a larger puzzle, Berry said. If the council determines the public likes the ideas presented, then the town can move forward with taking a closer look at conceptual plans, and make any changes based on feedback, and also at proposals for Sutton Park and the high school. Funding is in place for a study of all the sites.