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CHAPTER 7- RECREATION

This chapter describes the proposed program for recreation facilities. Provision is made for neighborhood playgrounds and small parks, for play facilities at school sites and for larger school athletic fields. Other facilities to consider include golf, indoor swimming pool, artificial ice skating rink, boating facilities. Attention is given to the need for open land for conservation purposes (See Map V).

Middletown's Requirements
Although Middletown is incorporated as a city, it is actually a large rural town within which there are limited areas of compact urban development. There are very extensive areas of open land, some of them rugged and mountainous. in Chapter 3 we saw that nearly one fifth of the total land area belongs to one or another institution located here, including some state park and forest land. Most of this land is likely to remain open, or sparsely used, in the foreseeable future. In addition, we have observed that almost one third of the total land area is topographically unsuitable to normal development.

Form the discussion of neighborhood areas in the Chapter on Neighborhoods, it as become apparent that there will probably be limited areas with urban characteristics and that by far the largest proportion of the future residential land is likely to be developed in a suburban and rural pattern. These variations in types of development give to Middletown a special character, part city and part country. For this reason the usual standards for recreation facilities cannot apply uniformly and Middletown's needs will be quite different from those of a typical city with a continuous urban sprawl.

Certain types of facilities serve the entire community, such as a large forest or park, or a municipal golf course. Others serve special segments of the population, such as ball grounds, tennis courts or skating rinks. Still others serve small neighborhood areas, offering places where small children can play and adults can site or stroll. obviously the low density suburbs, where each family has its own back yard, requires less of the neighborhood facilities than the crowded multifamily areas.

A thorough survey of Middletown's recreational facilities and a park and recreation improvement plan were prepared in 1964 by the Allen Organization of Bennington, Vermont. That study was based on the projections of population and anticipated neighborhood growth developed in the present General Plan, of which the preliminary report was made available to the recreation planners. The report of the Allen Organization contains valuable proposals for the physical development of the numerous recreation areas. The suggested facilities fall into four major classifications: 1. Local open space. 2. The neighborhood center. 3. The interneighborhood park, and 4. The City-wide park. The Allen report lists thirty specific proposals for the use and improvement of existing areas and the acquisition of several new ones. Almost all of these proposals agree closely with the recommendations of the present General Plan.

Central Middletown
The Map of the General Plan: Central Area, comprises the downtown section, lying within the "ring road" between the Connecticut River on the east and Wesleyan University on the west. There is a substantial number of residents in the downtown area, mostly living in compact multifamily structures. While the character of this area is likely to undergo a considerable change through urban renewal, a good many families will probably remain. They will include residents of some public housing projects and of other apartment groups. There will be a substantial number of older people and of young couples, and the proportion of children will be less than average.

The Plan shows a number of "superblocks" and indicates those in which residential use is planned. There will gradually be redeveloped as the urban renewal program is carried on. Each "superblock", or in any case, the residential portion of each, should include play space for small children and sitting space for adults. The area allocated to this play and sitting space should be equivalent to at least 300 square feet per apartment, in addition to other open space required for drives, parking, lawns or service areas.

The Plan of central Middletown also includes an area west of the "ring road" south of Church and Cross streets and north of Ravine Park. Wesleyan University owns a considerable amount of land here and its development will include some university housing and some private houses, both single and multifamily. Housing projects should include open space as mentioned in the previous paragraph. Ravine Park forms an excellent function in providing open space, nearly 20 acres in extent. It should be retained largely in its natural state, with paths and benches. Further west there is a parcel of city-owned land with a pond, known as Butternut Hollow. This should be developed as a neighborhood park and playground.

When the Middletown High School is removed to an outlying site, as recommended in the Chapter on Schools, its present athletic field, known as the "City School's Field", should be retained as a neighborhood park and playground, and for expansion of the Stillman School. It is large enough to include a small playfield for younger-age informal games. Specific recommendations for improvements at this field are contained in the Allen report. A second playfield located in Hubbard Park at the south end of the central district is now used for Little League games. In the future it may be needed as a neighborhood playfield for the central area.

The existing Otis Playground on Sumner Street, between William and Union Streets, is in an area indicated for commercial development. However, the use of the present Middletown High School Field and of Hubbard Park will give this neighborhood adequate space for the younger-age organized sports. The Washington Green creates open space at the Washington Street entrance to downtown. It adds greatly to the esthetic appeal and will be increasingly useful for passive recreation for adults as housing in the vicinity becomes more dense.

Riverside Park
Heretofore the riverfront at the center has been very much neglected. Originally taken up with docks and commercial use, the waterfront was opened up through construction of Acheson Drive after World War II. The City owns a strip between Acheson Drive and the River, extending south to Sumner Creek. Although very narrow at its north end, this strip widens to approximately 200 feet at the south. Some land has been lost by erosion of into the river.

This park represents for central Middletown its connection with the river. It can add immeasurably to the attractiveness of the center and become an important amenity to the downtown district. It has now been improved by degrees through the cooperation of a civic organization and at present contains a small boat launching ramp.

The City should undertake a program of stabilizing the river bank through sheet piling or a river wall, which could recover a certain amount of land. The park itself should be landscaped and provided with walks and benches for the enjoyment of nearby residents and occupants of the business business buildings. Consideration should be given to the dredging of the mouth of Sumner Creek to form a marina. The river itself is a rather exposed place at times for docking small boats. Fees for the use of these docking and mooring facilities could put such a project on a self-liquidating basis.

Immediately south of Sumner Creek there is a small area now used as a fuel oil storage terminal. The Plan proposes that this be kept, at least for the present, as an area for this type of business related to the river, including possibly a boat yard or similar activity. South of this area the riverfront remains mostly in its natural state, but the Plan proposes the gradual acquisition by the City of the actual shore and the gradual improvement of River Road to take advantage of the scenic values of the valley.

North End
Between the "ring road" and the Coginchaug River there is a large and compact residential neighborhood indicated as Neighborhood L on the Neighborhood Map. It has a present population of about 5,000, which is expected eventually to grow to over 6,000. The area is now served by the playground adjacent to the MacDonough School. This contains only about 2 acres and is insufficient for the present need. As this is a compactly developed neighborhood, there should be an ample allowance of play space for young children and park space for adults.

As there are expected eventually to be nearly 2,000 families in this neighborhood, the figure of 300 square feet per family of play space for young children and small park for adults, mentioned above, would require a total of about 15 acres. The MacDonough School playground areas may be expanded to provide approximately 5 acres. A second playground further west would help in that park of the neighborhood. If there are any housing projects here, whether public or private, they should have appropriate play space for their occupants. At present there is an undeveloped are of about 30 acres known as "Roosevelt Field" located between Route 9 and the former Berlin railroad line, just north of the Portland Bridge. It has poor accessibility except from a few dwellings in a badly located group under the shadow of the bridge. It is not in the right place to serve Neighborhood L. If these houses were removed under an urban renewal project and the families relocated in better surroundings, this entire area would probably be devoted to some form of industrial use.

Hubbard School Neighborhood
Immediately south of the City center, there is an area of low land in the valley of Sumner Brook and a tributary. This contains a mixture of blighted housing and commercial uses, together with some open land. The Plan allocates much of this low land to highway purposes, although a part of it can be devoted to recreational use.

South of the proposed Route 6A and east of Main Street Extension, there is a residential neighborhood shown on Neighborhood Map as Neighborhood J. The southerly part is on higher ground and is largely developed in single family houses. The northerly part contains numerous mixed uses and should be studied for urban renewal. In this latter portion there may be housing projects of varying types.

The neighborhood has at present about 2,000 residents, which may eventually be increased to at least 3,000. It is served by the present Hubbard School and its playground. Chapter 6 contains a recommendation concerning the eventual rebuilding of this school and its relocation farther south from the proposed highway. It should have ample playground space, with a site of not less than 15 acres. This can best be carried out in connection with an urban renewal project.

Suburban and Rural Neighborhoods
The Neighborhood Map shows the other neighborhood areas in which the future population may be expected to reside. Their numbers are discussed in Chapter 5, and the proposals for elementary school facilities are described in Chapter 6. In these neighborhoods, the school will provide the nucleus for playground activities.

Outside of the neighborhood areas described previously in this Chapter, there are five existing elementary schools which are proposed to be retained in the long-range plan. These are listed as follows, with the areas of their sites.

  • Van Buren Moody- 34 Acres
  • Wilbert Snow- 25 Acres
  • Bertrand Spencer- 12 Acres, enlargement advisable
  • F.J. Bielefield- 10 Acres, should be enlarged
  • Farm Hill- 9 Acres, should be enlarged

Several of the existing schools are proposed for eventual abandonment. One of these, the Eckersley-Hall School, is located in one of the neighborhoods included in the suburban category. We recommend that its site be retained as a park and playground area. The Long Hill School is located at a busy highway intersection and one which will have still heavier traffic under the proposed circulation plan. It is in an area which is more suitable for business development than for residential. Therefore we recommend that the site eventually be sold for business and the money used to purchase other land for recreational purposes.

In addition to these, the Plan proposes four new schools which eventually will serve the neighborhoods designated on the Neighborhood Map as A, F, G, H and M. The recommended site area in every case is at least 20 acres, so that there should be ample space for playground activities.

The Allen report suggests a neighborhood recreation center of 7 to 10 acres in presently open land south of Randolph Road, near southerly end of Ridge Road. This area will eventually be quite fully developed and this proposed facility, along with facilities at proposed Schools F and G, will be needed to provide for the future population of this area.

The suburban and rural neighborhoods are now generally developed at relatively low densities, and it is proposed to continue this pattern. Lots in most of the areas contain upwards of 15,000 square feet. There is little demand for the playground for small children or for sitting space for adults, when each family has its own back yard. Therefore, recreation facilities here will be mostly those related to school sites.

However, the General Plan does indicate several areas which are proposed as outlying clusters of housing at a higher density than the surrounding single family suburban sections. These will contain a mixture of apartment projects, row housing or what is popularly referred to as "town houses" and single family dwellings. Because of the higher density, each of these areas should have playground space commensurate with the type of development.

Another source of playground space is found in the administration of subdivisions by the City Plan Commission. The law permits the Commission to require that developers set aside a certain amount of land for park and playground purposes in any subdivision. Judicious use of this provision can insure the preservation of a least some open space in new areas.

Playfield and Athletic Facilities
Organized sports require larger facilities than those available in neighborhood playgrounds, especially where large numbers of spectators may be expected. The City has at present three playfields where Athletic sports may be carried on.

The Pat Kidney Field is located beside the Woodrow Wilson Junior and Senior High Schools and is in part used by these schools. It is also much used by other groups, especially for softball. It has a grandstand seating approximately 600 spectators and lighting to permit night softball. in Chapter 6 we have recommended acquisition of additional land to give a more adequate site for these schools and for the related athletic and other recreational facilities.

Palmer Field lies next to Veterans Memorial Park but is separated by the Coginchaug River. It contains a baseball and a soccer field. Its total area is approximately 9 acres. Recommendations for the improvement of both the park and the athletic field are contained in the Allen report.

Hubbard Park, as previously mentioned, is set aside for Little League baseball. it contains approximately 5 acres.

A fourth playfield of limited use also exists at the Wilbert Snow School. It has facilities for softball and touch-football and a Little League Baseball field.

Other school sites can contain playfield facilities, especially the new Van Buren Moody School and the four proposed sites. The addition of tennis courts at several of these locations will be especially poplar with adults and, by charging small fees, could be made self-supporting.

In Chapter 6, we have recommended the removal of Middletown High School to an outlying site of approximately 100 acres. This would provide the major athletic facility of the City with an adequate stadium and several fields for all sports. The proposed site may combine junior and senior high school facilities.

In connection with the proposed high school, consideration should also be given to an indoor swimming pool for community as well as school use. Another facility to be considered there is an artificial skating and hockey rink.

Large City-wide Parks
The only existing major park which serves a large part of the City is Veterans Memorial Park, a 39 acre tract. This park also contains a well-equipped playground and serves a growing residential area. The Allen report includes specific recommendations for improvement here.

The City also owns approximately 40 acres of land at the south end of Crystal Lake. Unfortunately, this body of water is now empty, and the dam must be repaired. The Plan proposes that the land area be considerably expanded. This park should have facilities for picnics, fires, boating and swimming, as well as informal games. It is hoped that this project can be advanced without delay.

One city-wide facility which is now lacking in Middletown is a golf course. The Allen report has suggested that this deficiency be remedied by the construction of "Par-3" courses, which are modified and shortened courses which take much less land area than a full course. They present many advantages, both to the community and to the player. However, it is not certain whether they can take the place of the standard course for great numbers of golfers.

Whether Middletown should have one full sized 18-hole municipal golf course or two or three Par-3 courses is a matter to be decided after consultation with the interested golfers. In either case, facilities for golf should be largely supported by user fees. We recommend that a special study should be made to discover how many golfers there are in Middletown who would use any public facility, and to ascertain the preference type of course and the fees which people would be willing to pay.

City Forest
In the extreme northwest corner of the City the Plan proposes that a large area of rugged land should become a city forest and wilderness park. As the community becomes more completely saturated with development, an area such as this will become more and more important to the residents. It can provide for activities such as camping, picnicking, hiking, horseback riding, boy scout or girl scout activities and many others. Also in this part of the City there is a body of water known as Highland Pond. The Allen report recommends that the area around this pond should be a large city-wide park, with swimming and boating facilities. This area could be connected by greenbelt strips with the city forest just mentioned, as shown on the General Plan.

Conservation and Park Development
The Plan shows many areas of wetland and stream valley which should gradually be acquired for conservation purposes. By degrees these could form greenbelts, protective stream flow and important easements for extension of sewer and drainage systems. At various places these greenbelts may be widened to form park areas of useful size. Much of the land shown on the Plan for these purposes is naturally unsuited to normal development. At the present time the federal open space program may provide from 20 to 30 per cent of the cost of acquiring open land and the state program may cover 50 per cent of the balance. An active local program under a Conservation Commission could take advantage of this assistance to accomplish these ends.

 

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