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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Norwich parks improvement plan would cost $30M over 10 years

    Norwich ― A new draft Norwich parks master plan recommends the city consider building two splashpads, an artificial turf field, more shady areas and trails, and improve accessibility.

    Officials from FHI Studio of Hartford on Monday presented an overview of the 170-page plan, which assessed 31 city parks and made recommendations for improvements to each one. The group also proposed two new parks, including what FHI Studio landscape architect Phil Barlow called a potential signature park at the blighted, decaying former Capehart Mill along the Shetucket River in Greeneville.

    The proposed improvements and new parks would cost $30 million. FHI recommended tackling the projects in seven phases over 10 years, with potential funding sources identified.

    The group will finalize its draft report in early to mid-January and will submit it to the city. At that point, the plan will be posted on the city’s website, city Public Works Director Patrick McLaughlin said.

    Barlow and FHI planner Kevin Rivera said during eight months of study and interactions with residents, sports advocates, city and school officials, several themes emerged. Rivera said Norwich residents think the city’s 400-acre Mohegan Park is “a gem,” and do not want major changes there.

    But residents did ask for a splashpad, more programs in the parks, more park furniture for picnics, improvements to waterfront parks, upgraded playground equipment and new park bathrooms.

    Barlow and Rivera quickly reviewed the existing conditions and proposed improvements to each park. The group proposed two splashpads, one at the Taftville playground area and one at Jenkins Park, a popular collection of sports fields and gathering space.

    The group recommended converting the much-used Fontaine Field on Mahan Drive across from Kelly Middle School, into an artificial turf field to improve scheduling and open the field to more uses. The group also proposed improvements to the field’s walking trail and added parking.

    Asked by Alderman Mark Bettencourt to recommend low-hanging fruit the city could address quickly in the plan, Barlow admitted the Fontaine field turf would not be inexpensive and quick, but he said it would bring great advantage to recreation opportunities.

    “Every community that builds a turf field does not regret it,” Barlow said.

    Barlow said the plan also recommends the city create better connections between neighborhoods and their parks and in some cases between two or more parks. Much of the city’s population lives within a 10-minute walking distance to a park. The group recommended better walking trails, bicycle trails and sidewalks.

    To improve waterfront access, the committee proposed improving the existing kayak ramp at the Occum Park on the Shetucket River and at the Jennings Field along the Shetucket River.

    Barlow said another comment from residents was that they want to be able to bring their dogs to city parks. Currently, nearly all city parks prohibit dogs. The proposals outlined Monday did not include recommendations to allow dogs in the parks.

    The group did analyze the city’s dog park on Asylum Street. Barlow said the plan will make recommendations for minor improvements there, including more walking trails and improved vegetation.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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