The views stated here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of this newspaper.
Submitted by Peter Baird, Chair, Haddam Democratic Town Committee
(July 6, 2022) — When Haddam Elementary School (HES) closed, Higganum Center lost its largest employer and its social hub. As a result, fewer people are bringing business into the Center, and there has been a reduction in the number of children and families regularly visiting its shops and markets and enlivening its atmosphere. COVID-19 further impacted our businesses, our sense of community and our ability to come together for events. Higganum Center needs revitalization, as well as new businesses that appeal to a larger percentage of the population. The town-owned HES campus is an underutilized property begging to be enlivened. Our town would benefit enormously from using that space to create a community gathering place for a variety of outdoor and indoor activities for persons of all ages.
Higganum has two truly exciting opportunities coming up in the near future:
(1) The town received a $1.8 million grant to remediate the Scovil Hoe Buildings in Higganum Center, and at the May town meeting voters unanimously approved purchasing the buildings. This will ultimately result in the transfer of the property to a developer, at which point the property becomes taxable. The developer will invest up to $1 million renovate and rent out the space, bringing in much needed retail and dining options to Higganum.
(2) The Higganum Cove Advisory Committee is working with our Town Planner and Board of Selectmen in overseeing the preservation and development of a town park on this historic and environmentally sensitive site. We hired Kent & Frost to develop a master plan to make the cove an attractive park for passive recreation and educational activities. There’s already a welcome/information sign at the Cove and benches overlooking the foundations of one of Higganum’s earliest mills, a picnic table by the Cove and generally the whole area is more accessible. New hiking trails will be cut, and things will be developed to better view the lovely falls and make this a place we can all enjoy. Much more to come!
As Scovil Hoe and Higganum Center come online and serve as community resources over the coming years, an important question remains: what can we do now to revitalize Higganum in the interim? And how can we better leverage HES and our lovely Green in pursuit of that goal?
The revitalized Friday Farmer’s Market has been great, especially during COVID, as a way for us to get together and buy local produce and products. However, I’d propose that we, as a town, consider other “low-hanging fruit” that can help re-establish Higganum as a place for community gatherings and help attract families and prospective family friendly businesses.
- Annual “Hoe Down!” at HES: Everyone who had a child go to HES remembers the annual “Hoe Down!” It included raffles, a “haunted hayride,” music, dancing, face painting and various kid-friendly events like bounce houses. The town, or some organization in town, could re-create this annual event in the autumn. It would be nostalgic, not just for parents, but for children who went to HES and are now adults. And it could provide a new way to bring people of various ages and backgrounds together for a much loved, but lost, community event.
- Movie Nights: I remember fondly taking my child to “movie nights” on both Higganum Green and on the HES property, with the movie displayed in front of the gazebo, or on the large wall facing the basketball courts. This again would be a low-cost, but nice community event for people to gather in Higganum Center.
- Concerts on the Green: Until COVID, there was a concert on Higganum Green held after the Farmers Market. I also remember Friday night concerts from before the Farmers Market started. These musical events would be a great opportunity to bring a diverse group of Haddam residents together, as well as showcase and support local musical talent.
- Better utilize the HES property: This is a more complicated question, but one that deserves significant thought.When the town voted in referendum to purchase HES, we took ownership not just of the building, but close to 10 acres of land– everything on the south side of Bible Rock Brook. From the public charrettes and public survey on Higganum Center, as well as from many conversations around town and at town meetings, we know that there’s significant support for using HES as a town resource: either consolidating town functions in that building, or at least using it for various community organizations (like Senior Services, HK Rec, Youth and Family Services, etc.). There also is significant demand for recreation in our town—nearly every day in summer, the basketball courts are filled with teenagers playing, the trails behind it are used by hikers, some families set up impromptu Pickleball courts in the driveway, and there are significant numbers of children on bikes in the Center, but with too few safe places to ride.
While the eventual use of HES is yet to be decided, what can we do now to make HES a better resource for Higganum? Some low-cost options, as well as some that will require some resources, are listed below.
- Rebuild the playground so that it can again be a resource for children and families. I know the town is seeking funding for a multi-generational playground that could greatly enhance the town center.
- A dog park—such parks are extremely popular in many towns around us, and there’s clear demand for such a park.
- Pickleball courts, a popular new sport enjoyed by people of all ages.
- A disc golf course. This is a free and increasingly popular sport and the HES land may easily support such activities.
- Mountain bike parks that would appeal to younger and older bicyclists alike.
I’m sure there are many other ideas worth exploring. The Haddam Democrats would like to invite everyone in our town to think creatively about this—discuss our ideas with each other, present them at Board of Selectmen and Economic Development Commission meetings, talk to the great people at the Farmers Market and perhaps form a “Friends of Higganum” group that can help inform our revitalization. We all should eagerly work with town leadership and with each other, regardless of affiliation, to get this done. Higganum is a beautiful part of Haddam and deserves more attention and care from all of us. Let’s work together on this!