GROTON -- Indian Hill Music is going big -- or, rather, fortississimo -- in Groton.
The organization recently unveiled plans to build a massive school and performance center on the former J. Geils property that it purchased last year. The proposal, detailed in a site plan submitted to the town last week, would be a substantial growth for Indian Hill: 120,500 square feet, indoor and outdoor seating for up to 2,300 people, and more than 670 parking spaces.
Susan Randazzo, executive director of Indian Hill, said the new center will allow the school to break free from some of its space constraints while also serving as a "destination" for music fans. She and other leaders of the project presented key details Wednesday night to an audience of close to 100 people at the Groton Country Club.
"As a 41-year Groton resident, I couldn't be more excited to share the vision for Indian Hill," she said during her presentation. "This is really a homecoming to one of the most beautiful and compelling places in this area and, I think, anywhere."
Indian Hill purchased the property last August with plans to relocate its headquarters from Littleton. Randazzo estimated the bulk of construction, if approved to begin in spring 2017, would be completed within "three to four years."
Under the proposal, Indian Hill would construct a two-story building that includes classrooms for music lessons, a 300-seat recital room and a 1,000-seat performance center.
Randazzo said she is excited to have performances take place in the same setting as lessons -- currently, the Orchestra of Indian Hill typically offers concerts at Littleton High School, though that space is not sufficient for all types of shows.
"Indian Hill is a unique organization in its foundation of integration between music education and performance," she said. "That is going to be so much easier because we're all going to be in one building. In a sense, we're going to be living together. That's huge for us."
All existing structures on the property except for stables and an indoor horse-riding arena would be demolished as part of the project. Architects will do substantial landscaping on the property to give it a rural feel and to ensure proper separation from neighbors, particularly by installing evergreen trees around the perimeter and sloping berms to block the view.
"The nature and quality of the landscape will be very subtle and very refined," said Alan Joslin, the architect in charge of the designs.
Indian Hill will continue to offer music classes and performances, and with the new building it plans to increase the amount of students by up to 50 percent within five years of opening. The current staff of 60 musicians and educators would likely increase proportionally to the student population, the site plan said.
Performances will increase in frequency up to at least once a week, and the center wants to host occasional outdoor festivals.
"During the warm weather months only, we will offer one?day themed festivals on
periodic weekends that will be a combination of educational activities, performances and food
and beverage," the site plan stated.
Certain performances could offer dinner and alcoholic beverages, but the proposal stressed that would only be available for ticketed guests and not open to the general public. Randazzo said the in-house restaurant could only handle about 10 percent of a performance's capacity, which means nearby businesses could see benefits.
"Groton restaurants will definitely see an uptick in business, I'm sure," she said.
Traffic will be affected by the school, but the exact impacts will vary depending on event scheduling, according to a traffic study attached to the site plan. On a normal day without any performance, the school might generate 100 vehicle trips; for an occasional weekend festival, it could generate up to 3,100 trips.
There will be more than 670 parking spaces on the property, but when necessary, organizers will set up overflow parking on one of the open fields.
The center will be built on a 33-acre chunk to the property's northeast near the intersection of Old Ayer Road and Peabody Street. Separate parcels that Indian Hill also owns will not be used because they are reserved for agricultural use.
However, the location has some nearby residents concerned over traffic and noise that would result from a performance or festival.
"Our indication at this point is that 10:30 to 11 p.m., a performance could be ending, and all of a sudden, you're going to have a wash of up to 800 headlights as they're exiting the facility and the sound of cars idling," said Jim Antonellis, a resident of Temple Drive, which sits directly across Peabody Street from the proposed center. "With outside performance, we'll hear more of the din of the crowd. That hill projects down toward our neighborhood."
Antonellis and his neighbors sent a letter to Indian Hill and town officials last expressing those worries, though residents said Indian Hill has since been communicative.
Leaders of the project met with the neighbors Tuesday night to share details about the center and to discuss possible compromises. Already, the initial idea to have traffic exit directly onto Peabody Street was scrapped and all cars will now use only Old Ayer Road, Randazzo said.
"It was a good dialogue," Randazzo said. "We've been listening throughout the process, and I think they were happy to see some of the things that we have put into place."
Antonellis said he still has concerns, but stressed that he by no means opposes the school's opening.
"They are hearing us and they are trying to the best they can to mitigate (any issues), he said. "This is not a 'not in our backyard' thing. We recognize that this is a gorgeous facility and a great addition to the community. We're just making sure that it's done right."
Indian Hill officials will host another public presentation on Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. at the Groton Country Club. They will appear at a public hearing before the Planning Board on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m., and the Planning Board must issue approval on the plan before any work can begin.
Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated the recital room in the new music center will have 600 seats. The recital room will in fact have 300 seats. We regret the error.
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