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Forum Wednesday on Northfield’s future

NORTHFIELD — What will this north county town look like in 10, or even 20 years down the road?

A lot of that depends on what residents have to say as the town seeks their input in drafting its new master plan.

All are invited to the first Master Plan Roundtable meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday in Town Hall.

“We’re really excited,” said Richard Fitzgerald, chairman of the Master Plan Steering Committee. “We’ve been working toward this for quite a while, and now, we’re ready to start the external process and get people involved.”

The committee, and master plan consultant Martha Lyon, will go over the master plan process Wednesday. Then, they’ll turn the floor over to residents.

They’ll ask Northfielders what they love about their town, and what aspects of it they’d most like to preserve. They also want to know what kind of changes people do want to see in town.

And, of course, there’s the elephant in the room.

What about the empty campus and its uncertain future?

The former Northfield Mount Hermon School, relatively unused since NMH consolidated to its Gill campus in 2005, is still without a permanent owner. All last year, the Green family of Oklahoma, owners of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain, and, until January, the campus, searched for a qualified Christian group to take over the former 500-student prep school property.

In December, the Greens announced that they would give the 217-acre campus to the National Christian Foundation, a nonprofit that helps wealthy philanthropists manage their cash and asset donations.

The NCF continues to seek a recipient, and may follow the Greens’ criteria of a Christian nonprofit group, preferably one involved in higher learning.

Or, they could sell the property to the highest bidder, and donate the proceeds to a nonprofit. It’s anybody’s guess; NCF representatives have been silent since they came to town in January to introduce themselves to officials.

The challenge in drafting a master plan for a town facing such a possible change lies in figuring out how to accommodate new growth, while maintaining the town’s character and preserving its historical resources, said Lyon.

While the campus is a big issue, said Fitzgerald, he hopes residents at Wednesday’s meeting will have plenty to say about other aspects of their town, too.

“Over the course of the spring, we’ll have several other wide-open meetings, as well as similar meetings with more targeted groups,” said Fitzgerald. Those groups could be neighborhoods, like West Northfield or the farms; community organizations like the Kiwanis, or demographic groups like local seniors.

In addition to their opinions, Fitzgerald hopes residents will offer something else — their time.

“We’d like to get people involved in the areas of the plan that interest them, and form different workgroups,” he said.

With areas like open space, economic development, historic and natural resources, and transportation, most everyone should find it covers something they’re interested in.

“If people want to get involved, this is the time to start,” Fitzgerald said.

As an extra incentive, there will be refreshments and door prizes donated by local residents and businesses at Wednesday’s meeting.

David Rainville can be reached at
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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