Hodges Square in New London gets new park

New London — The drivers who cruise by might not notice, but a small, easily overlooked parcel of land on Williams Street is in the midst of transforming from a vacant lot into the city’s newest park.

The Hodges Square Park, a roughly 10,000-square-foot parklet in the city’s northern neighborhood, is the brainchild of the Hodges Square Village Association and a dual architecture and psychology class at Connecticut College.

The parklet — which is situated on private property with the owner’s blessing — currently consists of open greenspace, three wooden benches and a curved retaining wall with flower beds, but plans designed by students at Conn College call for additional benches and landscaping, and a small stage to be erected in a corner of the lot to host movie nights for kids and small concerts.

“The idea was to get people invested in the area and to do some reinvestment because when (Interstate) 95 was built it really affected this area, it cuts right through,” said Forrest Sklar, the co-chairman of the Hodges Square Village Association.

In the early 1970s, the construction of a second, parallel component to the Gold Star Memorial Bridge over the Thames River massively reshaped the Hodges Square neighborhood and significantly disrupted the area’s social patterns and commerce by effectively isolating it from the rest of New London.

“But we have Connecticut College right here, we have the Coast Guard Academy right here and we have this neighborhood here; this area has some assets,” Sklar said.

Conn College students involved in the project surveyed area residents to determine what the community would want in a park and then used those responses to develop a design with three phases.

The group raised almost $2,500 — more than its goal of $1,500 — to fund the initial phase and businesses donated many of the materials necessary for construction, Sklar said.

A small army of volunteers, including Conn College students, Coast Guard cadets and others, completed the labor with free help from contractors and a Department of Public Works employee.

Though the parklet has not been used much yet, the number of volunteers interested in helping with the project is an indication that the community wants to see a revitalized Hodges Square, Sklar said.

“We’re trying to get a couple of viable businesses that will bring people to this area of the city as an attraction,” he said. “I think a coffee shop and bakery would work really well here because it would be accessible for the college kids, the people who work in Hodges Square and the residents.”

The Hodges Square Village Association recently installed new signs along Williams Street to welcome drivers to the area and hopes to return after 60 years in storage at the Lyman Allyn Museum a water fountain that once stood in Hodges Square.

c.young@theday.com

Twitter: @ColinAYoung

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