Committee urges city to fix 80-year-old structure
By Scott Bellile
The city of New London will consider repairing the stone wall that surrounds Hatten Park as early as 2018.
“We’ve got a beautiful park there, and then you ride around and the wall looks like hell,” New London Parks and Recreation Committee member Dennis Herter said at a Dec. 6 committee meeting.
“The wall needs to be addressed big time,” New London Parks and Recreation Director Chad Hoerth agreed.
The discussion began after Hoerth shared a 20-item list of the parks department’s proposed capital projects. At the bottom was Hoerth’s lowest priority: replacing Hatten Park’s steel entrance gates with wrought iron gates.
The committee agreed with Hoerth there’s no urgency to replace what he called the park’s “old cow gates,” before turning the discussion to the walls that surround those gates.
Committee member Henrica Bult said she would rank a wall repair above new gates. The wall is deteriorating faster than the gates, she said.
Since the 2017 budget was approved in November, the earliest that money could become available to hire a consultant to survey the wall is 2018, Hoerth told the Press Star Friday, Dec. 16.
At 120 acres, Hatten Park is New London’s largest park. It alone comprises two-fifths of the city’s park space. Up to a half-mile of wall may cover the perimeter, according to Hoerth.
The walls were built 80 years ago, so nature and vandalism have taken their toll over the years. Passerby may notice cracks, holes and portions where the stone caves in.
The existing wall would be patched up. It would not be removed or replaced.
“It’s gotta be done sooner than later by far,” Hoerth said of repairing the wall.
The job of just the engineering, the specs and the complete assessment of the wall could cost at least $30,000, Hoerth told the committee. This wouldn’t include performing the repairs.
It could cost $26,000 to replace the two gates at the east and south entrances.
“$26,000? Does it come with, like, a light and a computer talking to you and surveillance and everything?” committee member John Faucher joked. He added the city closes the gates twice a year for special events.
New London Mayor Gary Henke said of the price, “I’ve checked on getting heavy wrought iron fencing made [for home]. Unbelievable. I quickly had my wife forget the whole project.”
“I see the value of it,” Faucher said of new gates. “I’m just amazed at the price.”
The parks department wants black wrought iron gates because they would match the iron bars recently installed outside Hatten Stadium. The current gates are bright red and the paint is peeling.
The Parks and Recreation Committee took no action. However, replacing the gates will remain the lowest priority while fixing the walls in the coming years will be discussed at future meetings.
The stone walls were built when local laborers developed Hatten Park under Franklin Roosevelt’s Work Projects Administration (WPA) program under the New Deal.
According to records at New London Public Museum, the city bought 122 acres of Allen’s Woods for $10,000 in September 1935. The undertaking was a public works project organized to help local men earn incomes during the Great Depression.
Work began on the park in November 1935. It opened to the public in 1936.
Around 100 to 150 men were involved between working at the park and at the local quarry that supplied limestone for the walls, shelter house and later Hatten Stadium (the stadium came in 1938 on another WPA order).
Documents state the federal government paid about $67,600 toward the construction of Hatten Park. William H. Hatten, owner of Hatten Lumber Company, contributed $10,000. New London paid $780.
Architect Franz A. Aust prepared a September 1935 report for the parks committee in which he outlined several purposes for the stone wall: to give the area a unified look, reduce the cost of policing, prevent vandalism and “protect in part against prowling dogs.”