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A COVID-19 memorial at Noank School site?

The 5-4 vote last spring by the Groton Town Council to rescind its agreement with the volunteer community group that was trying to develop the Noank School property into gardens and a park was one of the more ugly decisions I have seen by a municipal body around here in a long time.

Who breaks a four-year lease halfway through and with no good reason, reneging on a promise with a well-meaning group of community volunteers?

In this case, it was a slim majority of leading elected leaders of the town, including its mayor, Patrice Granatosky of the City of Groton.

(I mention that the mayor lives in the borough of Groton City, which has its own government, to better control its own destiny, because part of the grumbling I have heard from residents of Noank is that they feel the school property decision came from on high, overruling the small community's clear wishes.)

When I saw some emails bouncing around town recently about the council's insult hurled last year at the volunteers of the Noank Public Gardens Task Force, I couldn't help but think how the pandemic could steer the next phase of decision-making about the vacant 6-acre property.

How about a lovely, tranquil park there, not unlike the one the task force was developing, dedicated to those we have lost to COVID-19?

These days, when I feel the urge to think positively, I let myself wander to that time, which will come, when the coronavirus is in our rearview mirror.

What better way to heal and remember the victims of the pandemic than with something that has nurtured so many of us as we have gone through it: the public parks, trails and gardens that have been so heavily used during the last two months.

When the Town Council pulled the rug out on the park-planning task force, there was no alternative on the table, just some vague talk of developing other options.

There are no real good alternatives, which is surely why none was articulated at the time.

The school property, located outside the historic center of the village of Noank, is at the heart of a neighborhood that is not unlike other large swaths of the town, much of it a grid of comfortable 20th century suburban-style houses. The school building itself was torn down.

Surely the town couldn't propose something for the school property incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood and its single-family zoning. That would be an enormous insult to those taxpayers.

It should be neither commercial nor multifamily.

That leaves, in terms of development, carving the land into single-family lots.

The profit from doing that, after development and infrastructure costs, would be nominal, especially when compared to the gain of creating permanent open space, with trees, gardens, a playground and maybe a gathering space for those future times, which will come, when we can all get together again for a concert or a school production.

There is some interest within the Noank Fire District to take on stewardship of the Noank School property.

This seems like a good prospect for moving forward. It's a public body that already serves the Noank community. It runs another park in the village.

Surely the fire district would welcome ideas, participation and the volunteer efforts of the task force members who were so unfairly evicted by the council.

It's not that big a property and it wouldn't cost that much to landscape it appropriately, especially if a low-maintenance wooded portion were included. Start small and leverage the contributions of volunteers for future projects. A vote to preserve it as open space would cost nothing.

There might even be grant or state bond money found for a modest project to honor COVID-19 victims.

It's an election year, and maybe state Sen. Heather Somers of Groton or her opponent will promise to find some funding.

Noankers can flex their voting muscle, maybe something that is going to help make all of us feel better in November.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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