The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center submitted plans to the Town of Stonington on Oct. 31 for the next chapter in the life of Mystic’s historic Coogan Farm.
The plans for the Coogan Farm Nature and Heritage Center are the culmination of three years of work by the Campaign to Save Coogan Farm, and the realization of a vision first considered more than 10 years ago. Kent + Frost Landscape Architects and Lindsay Liebig Roche Architects are overseeing the design of the project.
Plans call for the renovation of the historic Coogan Farm house and barn, construction of an outdoor education pavilion, creation of a greenway pedestrian/bicycle trail that will connect Clara Drive to Greenmanville Avenue (Route 27), and other improvements to the existing trails and area. In addition, the Giving Garden community garden that supplies fresh produce to the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Bank will be reconfigured to maximize production.
“We’re at the point where our visions and dreams are becoming reality,” said Maggie Jones, executive director of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, which owns Coogan Farm. “For 10 years I have been concerned about the fate of the Coogan Farm property, and to be able to begin to see the fruits of our labors of the last 2 ½ years materialize is very exciting.”
The designs are a contemporary interpretation of a farm, said landscape architect Chad Frost, the project leader. “We wanted to pay homage to 350 years of history without simply replicating it. New improvements should be rooted in history, but reflect that they were constructed in 2015. We want the new to work harmoniously with the old.”
There are three main areas for the project:
1. The Coogan farmhouse and adjacent parking. The farmhouse will be renovated into a welcome center/retail shop on the ground level, which will be called the Avery Welcome Center, named for Coogan Campaign supporter John Avery. The first floor of the farmhouse will be used for classrooms and meeting spaces. The top floor will be offices.
This part of the project also includes the renovation of the small white barn across the driveway from the farmhouse into classroom/exhibit space.
“This will be good for us and good for the community,” said Jones. “It will provide us much-needed classroom space for school groups and adults. We will be able to do programs aligned with the Giving Garden. We will have an easily accessible retail space for many of the unique items we offer in our Nature Store. And we will have a multi-purpose gathering space for arts, culture, nature and history.”
The parking lot will be constructed in the lower field next to the farmhouse. The farm’s original driveway will be widened and used as a secondary entrance. A gathering plaza made of permeable pavers will be constructed between the farmhouse and the white barn.
The main entrance will be to the parking lot, which has a ‘low impact environmental design,’ utilizing gravel rather than pavement and a stormwater runoff/drainage system that naturally filters runoff. A retention basin built as part of the neighboring Precious Memories project will be rebuilt as a pond designed to accommodate both the daycare center and Coogan Farm runoff. Plans call for 41 parking spaces, including two handicapped, and LED fixtures in the lighting.
The plans “protect the wetlands and improve the water quality on the site,” said Frost. A natural filtration system will be installed to remove sediment and clean the water before it goes into the pond and the wetlands.
2. The Giving Garden area, which is up the farm road to the left, will remain two acres in size, but the garden is being completely redesigned to maximize vegetable production and efficiency. An outdoor classroom will be configured next to the Garden in an area known as the Quarry, which was a real quarry at the farm for decades.
The Hamm Pavilion and Outdoor Classroom will be constructed up the hill next to the stone foundation known as the Paddock. Named for Coogan supporters Charles and Irene Hamm, the pavilion will be a post-and-beam structure on a concrete slab. The mowed pasture will serve as the seating area for visitors to programs, and artifacts collected from the site will be decorations.
The Greenmanville Trail will take visitors from Route 27 to the Hamm Pavilion. The naming of this trail invokes the history of the area. The farm was owned by the Greenman family and the farm property makes up the northern boundary of the Greenmanville Historic District. “We want to raise local awareness of the rich Mystic history,” Jones said. “This gives us a wonderful opportunity.”
3. The final main aspect of the project is the construction of the bicycle/pedestrian trail from Clara Drive through the property to Greenmanville Avenue (Route 27). Bicycle racks will be located at both ends of the trail, and elsewhere on the property. Three parking spaces are proposed for the Clara Drive entrance.
“This will create a greenway corridor from one end of the property to the other,” Jones said. Existing trails on the site will be formalized, improved upon and marked as well.
The plans will be going through the Town’s approval process for the next few months. Construction is anticipated to begin around March 2015 with the project lasting 1 year to full completion.