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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    Preston leaders ponder how to prepare for future growth

    Preston ― Town leaders are taking a close look at a plan that will require a critical examination of all town properties, assessment of the school system’s needs and how to meet the needs of the growing town.

    The Board of Selectmen and Board of Education held an hour-long joint meeting Thursday night to review a draft strategic plan compiled by consultants from Martin & Associates after they met with residents and town staff, hosted public forums and conducted surveys.

    After feedback from the two boards, the consultants will add graphs, photos and data to the draft and create a final report.

    The top goal calls for creating and implementing a new economic development plan for the town that will address the need to generate new tax revenue while maintaining Preston’s rural character.

    The consultants suggested development, including public-private partnerships for shopping, dining and recreation, could be steered to the former Norwich Hospital property and to the town’s planned Poquetanuck Village business and residential district.

    School board member Michael Hinton said he is one of just a handful of Preston residents who receive their electric power from Norwich Public Utilities. He said the town strategic plan should explore whether different utilities could be invited to town. First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier said that would involve franchise rights among utility companies.

    “I also think it’s important that we as the town are ready for any growth that’s coming,” Hinton said. “What I don’t want is a lot of really incredible things happening, and we’re used to being a small quiet town and not being prepared for the influx that is coming our way.”

    School board member Cindy Luty said the economic development plan also should address the need to preserve open space in town.

    Hinton said if the town grows dramatically in population, Preston might reach a point where the number of high school students merits consideration of building a high school rather than paying tuition high schools in the region. Preston mainly sends students to Norwich Free Academy.

    Secondly, the consultants recommended the town create a plan to improve both the school system and town services. The town is in the process of appointing a facilities committee to examine all town and school properties. First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier said eventually, the town will need to hire specialists to do infrastructure studies.

    Selectman Jerry Grabarek said the ambitious plan is a lot to ask of the current town staff, some of whom are part-timers ― the town planner, assessor and building inspectors ― and volunteer or part-time boards and commissions.

    “We don’t have the staff,” Grabarek said. “We’re going to have to do something if we are going to do this. We’re going to have to spend a little money, unfortunately. Because it’s not going to get done on a local level with everything that goes on besides.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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