GROTON — At a special meeting held Monday to set goals for the new fiscal year, town officials opted to continue on those remaining from fiscal 2013 while adding a modest list of new items centered around public recreation.
Garnering the most discussion at the meeting, held by selectmen at Legion Hall, was what to do about the former Prescott School and Station Avenue.
Both topics represented issues that selectmen and others have been wrestling with for years.
In the last year, both items suffered setbacks with ambitious plans for Station Avenue having fallen through when the Groton Electric Light Department chose to build a new headquarters complex there.
Meanwhile, at Prescott, an RFP (request for proposal) failed to garner interest from developers to renovate the property as public lodging, forcing town officials back to the drawing board in future plans for the building.
Consequently, selectmen listened when resident Greg Sheldon suggested moving town offices from Town Hall to the roomier Prescott and redeveloping Town Hall as commercial property.
“Where is the public interest in thinking through the bigger picture?” asked Sheldon, offering the idea of connecting Station Avenue with the Prescott property somehow as a way of making Main Street a “viable commercial downtown.”
While not unfriendly to the notion, board members were still skeptical about moving town offices to Prescott. Selectman Stuart Schulman noted that since the town was having trouble attracting commercial interests to Prescott, how would getting interest in the smaller Town Hall be any easier?
“We need to think outside the box,” insisted Sheldon, who has previously suggested moving the town offices to Prescott.
Selectmen were more receptive to Sheldon’s idea that there should be some physical connectivity between Station Avenue and Prescott. Selectman Joshua Degen suggested that a roadway could be built from one to the other, crossing empty land behind buildings facing Main Street.
The only problem with the idea, said Degen, was that such a connection would need to cross over wetlands, which the Conservation Commission would never permit.
The subject of connectivity between Station Avenue and Prescott as a means of improving traffic flow, creating more parking for downtown and promoting commercial activity came up again when the board considered its goals for the downtown overlay district.
“We’ve got to do something to make it happen,” said Degen of connecting the two locations.
Other goals set for fiscal 2014 included a continuing effort to improve town government with the board’s support for various groups established to address different issues, including the Charter Review Committee, the Bylaw Review Committee and the Town Meeting Review Committee.
Also retained were ongoing efforts to improve communication between local government and the public with more accessible office hours, the town’s website, and cable television among areas of continued concentration.
New tools such as Facebook and Twitter, which the public increasingly use for social networking and news sharing, will also be accessed.
Selectmen said they also intend to continue efforts to dispose of unused public buildings, such as the Prescott School. The former Tarbell Elementary School has been leased to a private day-care business and septic issues have settled at Squannacook Hall.
Also among goals set for next year were those involving the town’s infrastructure including pedestrian safety downtown, a Lost Lake sewer system, maintenance and public use of the Fairgrounds, promotion of the Groton Country Club, a regionalized recreation department, and mobilization and encouragement of volunteer groups for service to the town and its residents.
Business development, always a top priority for selectmen, remained on their list of goals for the coming year.
Finally, board members suggested new goals for 2014, including one by Schulman of finding ways to bolster the town’s Memorial Day Parade. He noted that over the years, the parade had not only grown shorter but musical bands that marched in it were beginning to flag for lack of members.
Degen added the reopening of Sargisson Beach as a goal for the coming year. He told colleagues that a group of interested residents had been formed with the intention of creating a permanent body on the lines of the Williams Barn Committee, which would oversee administration of the beach.
Although he could not say how much, Degen said that some funding would need to be sought out from the town’s fiscal 2015 budget in order to pay for basic expenses.
When it was last open, reminded Degen, the cost of running the beach came to about $35,000, some of which had been offset by the Greater Lowell YMCA that used the beach to give swimming lessons.
Degen also suggested the board set a goal of better management of publicly owned land, saying that much of the land, like the 360-acre Surrenden Farm property off Farmers Row and Shirley Road, was woefully underutilized.