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Some Town Fields Will Re-Open, But Playgrounds & Basketball Courts To Remain Closed

by Connie Sartini
At their virtual meeting with Parks Commission, Hazel Grove Agricultural Association (HGAA), Sargisson Beach Committee and Country Club, Groton Select Board wrestled with opening each of these areas, and if they were to be safely opened, how would it be done and what was necessary to follow the guidelines of social distancing and limits on people at these locations.
     Selectman Josh Degen started the discussion by asking Town Counsel Paul DeRensis about the Public Duty Rule and the protection of the town from liability. Degen asked, “If we were not to charge for the use of a park (or a pool) then the town would not be held responsible?” Attorney DeRensis replied, that if the town charges for use, then “you (the town) are liable. If a waiver is required to be signed, then you are not liable such as for a pool membership.”
What’s Open?
Hazel Grove Park
     Hazel Grove Park on Jenkins Road is a 14-acre Equestrian Park. Its amenities include: 1/2-mile Standardbred Training Track, Infield Cross Country Course, including a bank jump, ditches and jumps from Elementary to Novice, two fenced arenas for groundwork, extensive trail riding network, wash stalls, porta-potty
and parking.
     The Park is home to both the Groton Riding and Driving Club which was founded in 1932, and the Groton Pony Club which was founded in 1957.
     The HGAA leases the park from the Select Board, in agreement with the Parks Commission, and it pays its own liability insurance.
     HGAA Chairman Laurie Smigelski asked for a copy of the waiver that the town uses so she would have the same documentation as the other parks or swimming areas.
     Smigelski said that the HGAA would take care of the two porta-potties, and their cleaning for six days per week. She expected this to cost the HGAA $2,000 per month. They will also follow the guidelines for social distancing, limit to groups or no more than 10, and set up time schedules, blocking out half hours for the equestrians and keeping the hand sanitizer station filled.
     The Select Board voted to open Hazel Grove Park, using the protocols outlined, subject to the Park Commission approval.
One or Two Other Parks Will Open
     Town Manager Mark Haddad advised that he, Police Chief Michael Luth, Fire Chief Steele McCurdy and DPW Director Tom Delaney met with the Parks Commission, and “commending strongly against opening the parks this year. We will keep the baseball fields taken care of so we don’t lose it.”
     Parks Chairman Don Black told the group that his commission meets tomorrow (Tuesday) night and is establishing protocols for re-opening – but just the fields, not the playgrounds or the basketball courts.
     Parks member Anna Eliot said that she has invited some of the user groups to their meeting. “We will follow the state guideline. Other towns are not opening sanitary facilities. This is short term and would allow for limited uses. Of particular concern is our use groups who are going to parks in other towns. It is a sad commentary.”
     She said that a family could organize races for their kids, or broad jumps – anything that doesn’t require contact.”
     Becky Pine added that she felt, “We should allow family units to use public land, but no team sports.”
     Chairman Alison Manugian noted that this is a difficult decision, and “we are spreading police more thinly. Rules don’t make sense unless they are enforced.”
     Selectman Josh Degen said, “We need to open the parks, not the playground or the basketball courts. We need to allow kids to run around, ride bikes, kids just being kids. We’ve got to do something here.”
     Pine pointed out, “The Rail Trail is open and overcrowded. There is nowhere else to go. A
family without a large yard needs the kids to have a park to go to.”
     Member John Giger suggested opening one or two parks, put porta-potties there for convenience.
     Following lengthy discussion, the Select Board voted to make a recommendation to the Parks Commission that they open one or two parks with no organized sports or a playground, potties cleaned by professional cleaners and “see how it goes.”
• Sargisson Beach
     Town Manager Mark Haddad advised that Sargisson Beach has been closed per the Select Board. There are no lifeguards there at this time. The Board of Health recommends that if the Select Board opens the beach, they also plan for porta-potties and sanitizing and cleaning them. Any consideration of opening this town beach would require a compliance officer to enforce the social distancing and limited parking.
     Select Board member John Giger noted that people are ignoring the closed signs and suggested blocking off the beach with construction fencing.
     Sargisson Beach Committee agreed that with the requirements for porta-potties and their cleaning, coupled with the need for an enforcement officer, it may be best if the beach stays closed.
     The Select Board agreed and voted to keep Sargisson Beach closed for the season with signs and no parking at the site.
• Country Club Pool
     While Country Club Manager Shawn Campbell presented a very detailed pool opening plan, including a capacity of 25 percent, sectioning of 12 areas of the pools, separated by 10 feet, requirements for reservations, special area and time set aside for seniors, requirements for masks, disinfecting plans for chairs and picnic tables and enforcement
of protocols by the staff, several Board members struggled with the proposal.
     Campbell said, “I feel that we have all the pieces in place to open the pool.”
     Selectman Josh Degen said he would not support the pool opening, saying, “We should not be in the pool business. This is not a time to take chances. I suggest that we waive the fees and maybe have it for free.” Chairman Alison Manugian said that she “can’t conceive of social distancing in a pool.”
     Town Counsel DeRensis cautioned that any waiver for families using the pool has to be signed by an adult and the parent of any children.
     Responding to Degen’s suggestion, Haddad said that he was “adamantly opposed to making the pool free. We are trying to cover the cost of lifeguards. If we do not charge, then I am not in favor of opening.”
     On a 3 to 2 vote, the Select Board shot down a motion by Becky Pine to open the pool with Manugian, Degen and John Giger opposed to opening the pool while John Reilly and Pine voted to open it.
     The Groton Park Commission is allowing for a limited reopening of the Cow Pond Fields, Town Field, Cutler Memorial Field, and Sgt. William Woitowicz Field beginning Tuesday, June 9, 2020. Residents must observe all Social Distancing etiquette. Transitory use of the fields will allow no more than 10 people to a group. Face coverings or masks will be required while at the fields as well as remaining 6 feet away from non- family members. Activities will be limited to run and dash type of events. Contact and Organized sports are not allowed. Strict adherence to all site- specific rules, regulations, and posted signage must be obeyed.
     Sanitary Facilities will not be available.
     All Playground Structures and Basketball Courts will remain closed for the foreseeable future.
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