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Give the shoehorn the boot.

Byline: George Barnes


Shoehorning has been the way Gardner has most always done things.

A shoehorn, for those who don't remember when Ike was president, is a metal object used to slide your heel into your shoe. Today's shoes don't need such a contraption, but it once seemed essential.

In Gardner's case, shoehorning has been done with public buildings since the city was a town. Why build a new building properly set up for the future when you can shoehorn services into tight quarters and scattered buildings.

In the early 1970s Mount Wachusett Community College bucked the trend. It had been in a converted supermarket, a former church and an old school with students running from building to building, hoping to get to classes. In 1974, the college closed all those locations and opened a modern facility on Green Street that continues to grow and improve.

The Levi Heywood Memorial Library is the city's newest building, built in 2004. It had been in the converted supermarket previously used by the college. They made the space work for 26 years, but finally, for the first time since 1886, were in a building designed as a library. It should be noted that the library moved into the supermarket from the 1886 building.

But for shoehorn efforts, the police in the city may have earned the prize when, after bumping elbows in inadequate space in what is now City Hall Annex for many years, in the mid-1980s, they twisted, turned and fit themselves into what had been Stanley's Subaru dealership.

It was a better location than where they were before. People no longer passed by the cells on their way to the main desk. The department had more offices and a better dispatch center. But it was shoehorned to fit.

Nothing quite made sense, but the department stayed there for more than 20 years. In Gardner, they make do.

This bit of history is why it is so exciting that the city will be building its first real police station. When it was announced, you could see the excitement on the faces of Mayor Mark P. Hawke, Council President Neil W. Janssens and Police Chief Neil Erickson.

The excitement was not that they were getting something shiny new, a new toy to play with. Rather, it was because the city was looking to push forward at a time when many places are pulling back.

There is no question the city needs a new police station. The current station is moldy, with walls falling apart inside and out. It does not have the proper setup for a modern department. It is not completely handicapped accessible and lacks a safe place to bring prisoners in, book and lock them up. Officers often interview people filing complaints in the lobby because there is no other good place to interview them.

I could put on a sell job about why a new station is needed, but the best argument is that a community needs to keep up its buildings if it hopes to operate properly in the future.

Policing has gotten a lot more serious in recent years with the growing flow of drugs and the fact that as the number of jobs locally dwindles, more people are becoming thievery professionals.

There is no question the city needs a station and, strangely enough, with the economy slow, it would be false economics to reject building one because of the economy. With construction companies looking for work, and interest rates low, the city may get a pretty good bargain to build the station.

And if it does and gives Gardner a modern station it can take with it into the future, maybe it could put its shoehorning history in the past.

Contact George Barnes via email at
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 1, 2011
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