Public get rundown on Nichewaug survey

  • The original Nichewaug Inn structure as seen from the area of Petersham Common. The current building was constructed in 1899. Staff Photo/Greg Vine

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 3/1/2021 3:34:36 PM
Modified: 3/1/2021 3:34:33 PM

PETERSHAM — The public got a chance to see and discuss the results of a survey taken to provide guidance on the future of the Nichewaug Inn and Academy in Petersham. The remote meeting was hosted by the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission and facilitated by senior planner Karen Chapman of the MRPC.

“We do want and need to move forward,” said Selectboard member Henry Woolsey. “It’s important to remember, however, that many parts of the building are in pretty rough shape. Time has not been kind to the building.

“As a reminder to town residents: any re-use options for the property that require an expenditure from the town’s stabilization fund or involve conveyance of the property to another entity — either of these actions requires a two-thirds vote at a town meeting. That has been our obstacle in the past.”

He said a broader agreement on appropriate uses for the property is needed. To that end, he continued, the Selectboard appointed a Nichewaug Inn and Academy Committee (NIAC) to develop a proposal for the future of the complex, which occupies a prominent place in the center of town.

Chapman told the meeting that, out of a population of approximately 1,019 residents 18 years old or older, 136 people responded to the survey — a 13 percent response. She said the response also represented about one-quarter of all households — or “occupied units” — in Petersham.

“It’s a fairly good response,” said Chapman. “Obviously, we would have liked more since this topic has been around for a really long time. People are probably tired of answering the questions, but we wanted to try and get a sense of what people were thinking about the property now.”

Chapman said residents were asked which parts of the property they would favor repurposing. The largest number of respondents, 62 percent, favored saving the inn’s original stone features, such as the fireplaces, portico and front terrace wall. Another 61 percent wanted to see the original historic inn building repurposed, and 59 percent felt the chapel/music room should be saved. A majority of those taking the survey essentially favored the demolition of the rest of the complex.

When it comes to exactly how to repurpose the property, several choices were presented in the survey.

“The number one, by far,” said Chapman, “was outdoor recreation, at 78 percent; a senior/community center, 71 percent, senior housing at 64, mixed uses — which is housing and small service businesses — at 59 percent, and performing arts — artists, musicians, play and work space — 56 percent.”

She added that neither the Selectboard nor the NIAC have decided on whether to pursue ways to accomplish the top three suggested uses or the top five.

“That hasn’t been determined yet,” she said, “but at least we have a strong sense of what the people who responded to the survey are in favor of.”

She added that possible ways of financing any of the proposed alternatives will be discussed a future public meeting, hopefully when COVID restrictions are relaxed.

NIAC Chair Anne Lewis responded to a question regarding the impact of any redevelopment on the town’s library, which sits adjacent to the inn.

“We do plan to include the library and the library’s needs in our deliberations as we go forward,” said Lewis. “We will be meeting with representatives of the library at some point.

“What we are trying to do is come up with something that is good for the town, and it could be good for the town in many ways. Certainly, helping the library with some of the problems that it has — such as sewage and water access — are beneficial to the town and the town center.”

For the purpose of discussion, Lewis asked attendees if more outdoor recreational opportunities are really necessary, “given that we live in a town where at least a third of the land is open space.”

She then added a caveat: “I’m just being argumentative here. Don’t take what I say as what I think.”

“When you’re talking about outdoor recreation,” said Chapman, “there’s a very wide range in what that means to people. If you’re looking at green space, that’s on one end of the spectrum. On the other end is tennis courts, ice skating rinks, exercise paths, that sort of thing.”

In a brief statement at the start of last week’s meeting, state Sen. Ann Gobi, on behalf of herself and state Rep. Susannah Whipps, who was unable to attend, offered any help possible when a decision on the future of Nichewaug is made. She also praised those citizens who have given time to the project, as well as to the MRPC.

The NIAC will now move forward with the survey results and try to determine the most feasible future for the inn and academy property.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.


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