STONINGTON — What local doesn’t drive by 350 Liberty St. and remember back-in-the-day trips down the waterslide, putt-putting or bumping around with moms, dads and gaggles of kids at Maple Breeze Park?
There’s even a Facebook page devoted to the amusement center first opened in the 1960s.
The playland was shuttered in late 2002. Owners Keith and Lois Main sold it to Wellspring Capital Group of Gales Ferry for a planned multimillion-dollar health club. Unbeknownst to the Mains, the FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission would soon charge the firm with what was actually a complicated Ponzi scheme.
Two years later, a developer from Norwalk wanted to build condos on the site, then a supermarket, both rejected by the town, and the developer went to jail. In 2013, the foreclosed site was sold at auction.
So now, after nearly 17 years and a few slippery hands, the former water park has a new life.
Hartford HealthCare has resurrected the long-dormant Route 2 location with its recently opened 24,000-square-foot health center.
The Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission approved a special use permit, subdivision approval and a groundwater protection permit a year ago.
“The opening of our new health center in Pawcatuck exemplifies Hartford HealthCare’s deep commitment to bring more services into the communities we serve,” said Jeffrey Flaks, Hartford HealthCare president. “This specially-designed center, along with our Mystic facility, which is well under way, will make it more convenient for shoreline residents from Rhode Island to Old Lyme to access a greater array of needed medical services.”
When asked about Hartford HealthCare’s move into Yale-New Haven Health System territory, parent of L+M and Westerly hospitals, and Northeast Medical Group, a spokesperson said it’s not about competition but serving patient needs.
“It’s more about community need than competition,” said Hartford HealthCare spokesman Shawn Mawhiney.
Yale-New Haven Health operates in shoreline towns, Waterford, Montville, and Fishers Island, N.Y. And it operates a walk-in on Voluntown Road, right up Route 2 from the new Liberty Street health center.
Mawhiney said, “We want to provide patients with more access to health care services at the right place, at the right time, close to home. Our new Pawcatuck health center will help us do that.”
Last year, Mawhiney said essentially the same thing. And L+M spokesman Mike O’Farrell agreed, saying the patient is the priority.
Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons was among local officials and business leaders who welcomed and celebrated the arrival of Hartford HealthCare medical services to the area.
“How exciting to see the old Maple Breeze Park property being renovated into a state-of-the-art health care facility by Hartford HealthCare,” Simmons said.
“And to know that what was a vacant lot for so many years will now be providing locally accessible healthcare to the Pawcatuck Village neighborhood.”
Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Konicki described the new health center as being not only a “valuable community asset by providing quality health care, it will serve as an attractive anchor facility that spurs commercial investments and economic development along that section of Route 2.”
“From our very first meeting, representatives from Hartford HealthCare made it very clear that they intend to be much more than a building where people can go for quality health care,” she said. “They intend to outreach and be an engaged and contributing partner in the community.”
In 2018, Stonington’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved a plan by Old Lyme developer READCO to construct the two-story medical office building on the 9-acre Liberty Street site. Construction began in September of last year.
Hartford HealthCare said the new facility was “developed with patients’ comfort and convenience in mind, offering easy access to primary care, pediatric and adolescent primary care, and rehabilitation services for patients in southeastern Connecticut and western Rhode Island.”
The new center will offer family medicine, primary, pediatric and adolescent primary care, internal medicine, and rehabilitation services including physical therapy, work injury rehabilitation, sports medicine and musculoskeletal injuries.
It’s not surprising that Hartford HealthCare would focus on the area, as abundant healthcare options are a good fit given the age demographic of Stonington. While the average age of a Connecticut resident is 40, in Stonington, the average age is 57, according to City Data, was 47 during the 2010 census and in the U.S. Census’ American Community survey of 2017, the median age was 50.
Mawhiney told The Sun in 2018 that with the state’s “aging population,” Hartford HealthCare needed to be “able to provide all of these services for the older population and the younger population.”
Hartford HealthCare owns and operates hospital and medical centers around the state, including in Torrington, Norwich, Willimantic, Hartford, Meriden and New Britain.
Hartford HealthCare’s North Stonington facility has transferred services to the new building.
In May, Hartford HealthCare also began construction on a $24 million, 47,000-square-foot medical building off I-95 and Coogan Boulevard in Mystic which will be home to a number of specialty services, including neurology and cardiology along with full imaging services and primary care.