Yet another change to the face of Groton may be on the horizon. Moving Farmers Row, which carries State Route 111 west of Groton Center through the Groton School campus, could be a key component of a new Groton School Master Plan.
The private boarding school recently retained a planning firm to update its master plan from the current 1997 draft. Mentioned in that document, and bubbling up to the surface again, is the idea of reconfiguring the campus to support a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) building or center and other buildings, possibly on the east side of Farmer’s Row. Because the heavily used state route would divide the expanded campus, the school is evaluating if it could consolidate the campus by moving the road eastward, closer to Groton center.
According to a report in The Circle Voice, the school’s student newspaper, which Groton School staff members said was “very accurate,” a primary motivation would be student safety. The article, by Matt Clarida, says:
Traffic is often heavy on Farmers Row, and crossing the road on a dark winter night is indeed treacherous. “If we were to build this school from scratch, there is no way we would put Farmer’s Row in its present location,” Headmaster Rick Commons explained. “In our most recent Strategic Plan,” he continued, “faculty and trustees agreed -that the School should at least look into Route 111, because of the safety issue it poses, and that’s what we’re doing.”
The proposed new route for Farmers Row would redirect Route 111 to the wooded area behind Buildings and Grounds. What, is now Farmers Row would likely remain a road, but would be School property. Groton (School) would have the option to close the road to traffic during major School events, but would likely allow local residents to use the road for most of the year. “We’re not looking at putting turf fields there,” Mr. Commons said.
Groton School has quietly been putting out feelers to community leaders for months, holding private briefings for members of some town boards and bodies.
Another component of the story began to emerge this morning when some abutters to the campus received letters from the town verifying their names, addresses, and status as abutters. The verification of information is a preliminary step required before any legal notifications of hearings related to the process may take place. Because the proposed new Route 111 would move closer to wetlands and vernal pools, extensive research and a long permitting process would be required to decide first if the project could take place at all, and then to iron out the details. A consulting firm retained by the school, Epsilon Associates of Maynard MA, triggered the abutter verification process when it filed paperwork with the Conservation Commission to identify wetlands in the area through which the new road could pass. After the wetlands are identified, potential routes for the road from near Peabody Street to Culver Street could be laid out. Epsilon Associates has worked in Groton before; it is the firm that worked on conservation management plans, groundwater and surface water permitting, and the water supply wells for the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School construction from 2004-2006.
Town officials said that no formal applications related to the roads project have been submitted by the school except for the wetlands delineation.
School officials verified that a preliminary estimate of the cost of the road relocation came in with a cost of $5 – 7 million.
The student paper article cited by school officials as accurate went on to quote Commons as saying:
He made sure to caution students and faculty, however, that the School has strict priorities. “Obviously we have other projects we want to see through,” he explained. “Let me say this–the STEM facility, that’s going to happen, we’re going to do that. The STEM project is much further along than anything having to do with Route 111. Right now, the Route 111 project is a series of questions, but I want to see us in a new STEM building in the fall of 20l4.”
The road relocation is a lower priority, he told Clarida. “There are still major hurdles to clear and important decisions to be made. It’s a controversial issue,” Commons said.