GROTON — The first floor meeting room at Town Hall was packed last Monday night when members of the Community Center/Land Research Committee reported its findings to the Board of Selectmen.
Charged by the board to look into the possibility of building a new intergenerational community center somewhere in town, the committee considered 25 different parcels of land around Groton before focusing on only nine, including the Town Field and the Prescott Elementary School.
The committee received its charge from selectmen earlier in the year after it was determined that expansion and renovation of the town’s current Senior Center located in West Groton would not be feasible.
From there, other sites in town were looked at before the idea of creating a mixed use, intergenerational community center was decided to be the way to go, which would include facilities for seniors as well as young people.
As such, members of the Land Research Committee had set their sights early on land belonging to the Groton Country Club Authority whose location close to the center of town met one of their criteria for eligible property.
Other factors that made the site an attractive possibility was its availability, the extent of its land holdings, and an existing number of facilities for outdoor activities such as golf, swimming and tennis.
“It would provide the best location,” concluded Riggert.
Riggert had opened her remarks by reporting the results of a survey sent to residents, of which 292 were returned.
Fellow committee member Steven Webber called the number of returns unusually high and said the number actually represented the opinions of about 1,000 residents.
Despite questions from both selectmen and residents dealing with the validity of the survey, committee members concluded that the number returned indicated a strong interest in town for a community center. Many people said they would like to see a movie theater, concert hall, art room and indoor swimming among the amenities offered.
Accordingly, the committee researched other such facilities in neighboring communities to get an idea of what could be done in Groton.
One option for the Country Club site, said Riggert, was to replace the current banquet facility there with a new community center building.
“We see the potential there and are very excited about it,” said Riggert.
Riggert estimated that the cost of building a new community center could come to about $3.5 million and if all went smoothly, might be completed within three years.
But the suggestion of using the Country Club as the site for such an ambitious project has raised fears in town that the golf course would be threatened with either closure or a reduction in size. Such an eventuality was strongly opposed by a number of residents who attended last Monday’s hearing.
“There’s no reason why this activity (golf) couldn’t coexist” with the proposed community center, commented Chairman Peter Cunningham when area golfers expressed their dismay with the plan.
Webber, who admitted raising the subject about the less than perfect condition of the club’s golf course and igniting the controversy, said that the course is in no danger.
Ray Lyons, a local attorney and member of the committee, agreed and called the presence of the golf course at the site an important part of making the Groton Country Club a “home-run” as the site of a future community center.
Agreeing that everything was still “on the table,” Cunningham pointed out that “it was still very early in the process. …there is certainly a lot to think about.”
In conclusion, the Land Search Committee asked the board to consider allowing it to continue in existence with a new charge both of determining if a community center could be located at the Country Club and to pursue the possibility of receiving grant money to pay for the project.
Selectmen took the request under advisement but did not say when they intend to discuss or vote on the issue.