Local Meeting Roundup.
Building panel backs new school on West St.
AUBURN - After months of planning and considering a wide variety of options, the School Building Committee voted 7-3 Tuesday night to support construction of a new two-story middle school on West Street, behind the Randall School Building.
The Randall School Building on West Street houses school administration offices and the West Auburn Fire Station.
Early estimates put the cost of the middle school project at $42.8 million, with the Massachusetts School Building Authority expected to pay at least 54.16 percent of the cost, leaving the town's share at an estimated $19.9 million or less.
Project architect Eric D. Moore of Lamoureux-Pagano Associates Architects of Worcester said it is likely the town will be eligible for 2 percent additional state reimbursement, in part owing to planned "green" construction.
Mark W. Imse, committee chairman, said West Street was a good option, as long as the town gets additional land. He said he has already had initial discussions with representatives of the Joel H. Prouty Lodge of Masons about a potential land swap and purchase to add acreage to the new middle school site.
Mr. Moore said West Street is the town's preferred option, but not the only one that will be sent to the state for its consideration and possible approval.
Project Manager Paul H. Kneedler, of Skanska USA Building of Boston, said he will speak with the state to develop a revised schedule for plan submissions, since the West Street site involves a possible land swap or purchase. He said he expected the project to be delayed for at least two months.
Other options that will also be sent to the state include: a $44.1 million renovation/addition of the current school building; two plans, at a cost of either $45.1 million or $44.7 million, for a new school built on Swanson Road adjacent to the existing middle school building; and a $45 million school off Pakachoag Street, behind the new Dr. Arthur and Dr. Martha Pappas Recreation Complex. A site off Prospect Street was also considered, but rejected as impractical.
Schools Superintendent Maryellen Brunelle said the most disruptive option would be renovating the existing school, while the least disruptive plan would be building offsite.
"Leaving the current middle school building intact leaves us great options for our elementary schools."
- Ellie Oleson
Sewer rates hiked for North Oxford
OXFORD - It was deja vu all over again at the selectmen's meeting last night, when John G. Saad was unanimously named chairman at the board's annual reorganization. Mr. Saad, who has served on the board for 34 years, said he has been chairman "about a dozen times before." Dennis E. Lamarche, who was elected to his second term on Tuesday, was named vice chairman, and Michael Voas became secretary.
Among selectmen's first orders of business were raised sewer rates and returned storm drain grates.
Sean M. Divoll, director of the Department of Public Works, had reported last year that 10 cast iron 150-pound grates had been stolen from local roads. Worcester police recovered the grates when someone brought them to a city scrap yard. All 10 grates have been returned to Oxford, Mr. Divoll said.
In less popular news, he said it had been more than two years since sewer rates were raised, and to keep the sewer enterprise fund solvent, rates would need to go up. He said the fund receives no taxpayer dollars and is paid for entirely by sewer customers.
Selectmen voted unanimously to raise the rates from $8.70 per 1,000 gallons to $10.40 per 1,000 gallons for North Oxford customers who use the town's sewer system, which discharges through Auburn to the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District. This will result in an average cost increase of $99 per year for a typical single-family home, Mr. Divoll said.
Auburn raised Oxford's rate by 12 percent, and the Upper Blackstone increased the town's rate by 6 percent, which is "projected to go higher in 2013."
South Oxford customers, including those who will be hooked up to planned lines that will pass through Dudley to the Webster sewage treatment plant, will pay $16.70 per 1,000 gallons.
The rate set in South Oxford, which so far will affect only business customers on Old Webster Road, is based on higher costs for sewage treatment in Webster.
- Ellie Oleson
Wording discrepancies a procedural headache
TEMPLETON - Discrepancies found in the wording of several town meeting articles last night left many voters frustrated and officials scrambling to make changes.
When Article 22 was read, Daniel Keeney of the Board of Assessors told Town Moderator David Bergeron the source of money to pay for the article was not what his board had requested. Selectmen said they were not sure who made the change.
The confusion led Selectman Jeffrey Bennett to call for the meeting to be adjourned for a week.
"This will give us time to straighten this out," he said.
Mr. Bergeron, after consulting with selectmen, decided to move forward with the meeting but warned there could be other problems.
About 9 p.m., problems boiled over when resident John Waskiewicz called for adjournment for a week. After a protracted debate, and after selectmen discussed the problem, it was decided to continue but delay voting on the town budget until Monday.
On the first night of the meeting, on Tuesday, voters defeated efforts to remove fluoride from town water, and last night refused to reconsider the defeat.
On Tuesday they also approved asking for special state legislation to ratify the town's February recall election.
The legislation is being requested because the election was not properly posted by the Board of Selectmen.
Voters also rejected an effort to change the annual town meeting from the Tuesday after the annual town election to the Saturday after the election.
- George Barnes
No license revocation for New Great Wall
NORTHBORO - The Board of Health Tuesday night voted 2-1 not to revoke the food permit of the New Great Wall restaurant, which has been ordered closed four times in two years because of serious health code violations.
Instead, the board placed the business on probation until its next meeting June 12 with several conditions. If a critical violation is found during the probationary period, the restaurant will be closed and permit revocation will be voted on at the meeting.
Among the conditions are that the restaurant will remain closed until a newly hired consultant, Sam Wong of West Boylston-based MD Consulting, spends a day retraining and setting up a system in which the manager has a daily check-off list of regulations she must ensure. Also, the restaurant must hire an outside agent to do unannounced inspections.
Dilip Jain and Chairman Glenn French voted to give the family-owned restaurant one last chance. They said it was only because the business has hired Mr. Wong, who also is health director for the town of Hudson.
Member Deirdre O'Connor was prepared to revoke the food permit. She said the restaurant repeatedly has critical health code violations. Five critical violations were found during a May 8 inspection.
"I'm not willing to put the public at risk any longer. It's a question of (their) livelihood versus lives," she said.
- Elaine Thompson
Voters OK budget, firefighters' equipment
PRINCETON - Voters took less than 90 minutes at the annual town meeting Tuesday night to approve 23 of 24 articles on the warrant, including an operating budget of $8.8 million for fiscal 2013.
The budget includes a combined total of $5.1 million for the Wachusett Regional School and Montachusett Regional Vocational School districts.
Several articles supporting Fire Department initiatives passed unanimously. These included $18,500 for a repeater radio; $19,000 for new turnout gear; $15,000 to provide for fire pond upgrades and construction of new fire ponds as part of a five-year plan to improve fire protection; and $30,000 to either rebuild the fire pump on Engine 5 or buy a used fire engine as a replacement.
An amendment to change the town meeting bylaws to allow for a 2 percent quorum of voters at special town meetings passed 59-46 after a card count was called. Town Moderator Harry A. Pape had initially declared that the motion had been defeated.
The town also voted unanimously to pay the unexpected expense of $152,554 for the transportation of students in Grades 3-5 from Thomas Prince School to Glenwood School in Rutland while a pollution problem is being fixed, and approved an article that will enable police officers to be paid more quickly for detail work. This article is part of the completed collective bargaining agreement between the town and the police officers' union.
- Carol Costello
School board rejects offer of police officer
STURBRIDGE - The Tantasqua Regional School Committee said no thanks Tuesday night to Sturbridge selectmen's offer to fully fund a school resource officer.
School Committee member James P. Ehrhard made the initial motion, which passed 12-2, with only Susan Waters of Sturbridge and Eric Iller of Holland voting in favor of the officer.
Mr. Ehrhard, who is one of five school committee members, objected to Sturbridge selectmen putting $60,000 to $70,000 on the town's proposed fiscal 2013 budget to fund the position without any consultation with the school administration or the school committee.
"If we, as a committee, do not affirmatively say, at this time, for this year, we're not going to allow the placement of that officer in this school,
then we're going to have a real problem if it passes town meeting (on June 4)," Mr. Ehrhard said. "If it does, a police officer will walk in our school with arrest powers with no memorandum of understanding, no relationship or discussion whatsoever with the administration or the school committee."
Mr. Ehrhard said the last time Tantasqua had a school resource officer, it was after a very comprehensive memorandum of understanding signed in 2006 between then-Sturbridge Police Chief Thomas R. Button and then-School Superintendent Kathleen H. Reynolds. The district hasn't had such an officer since 2007.
If the current school committee wants a school resource officer, there has to be a discussion between the police chief, the school superintendent and school committee, Mr. Ehrhard said.
While he agreed with Mr. Ehrhard that Sturbridge should have been presented the proposal before placing it on the budget for a town vote, School Superintendent Daniel G. Durgin said he has always been in support of a school resource officer. He just didn't want the school district to fund it.
"For the record, the intent of a school resource officer is not to place an officer in the building to make arrests," Mr. Durgin said. "It is providing our students with another resource, another adult for (the) administration, another set of eyes, another trusting individual that students can relate to at times during the day. It was very successful in the past."
- Craig S. Semon
Accused official will not be ID'd
WEST BROOKFIELD - Selectmen Tuesday night voted 2-1 to omit from board minutes the name of a town official previously identified and accused in closed session of having told Fire Chief Paul J. Lupacchino to look the other way when the chief was inspecting an unnamed local business.
Selectman Michael H. Frew cast the dissenting vote. He said - as he did last month when the town official's name also was missing from the original draft of the minutes - that the person's name should be included, so the person knows of the accusation.
At that point, selectmen sought a legal opinion from Barbara Saint Andre, town counsel, and just recently she told the board it could include the name or not. It was up to the selectmen to decide.
Executive Secretary Johanna C. Barry said after the meeting that Ms. Saint Andre also said inclusion of the name means it could be made public at some time in the future if a member of the media sought a copy of the minutes.
Selectmen Barry J. Nadon Jr. and Mark A. Long voted in favor of leaving the person's name out of the minutes. They said the person was not disciplined because there was no witness to the reported conversation between that person and Chief Lupacchino. As a result, they said, the matter would end up as a he-said, she-said situation if the selectmen pursued it any further.
So, the allegation has been dropped. The unidentified person will not be called before selectmen to explain what did or did not happen.
- J.P. Ellery
Town to pull out of regional dispatch
HOPEDALE - Voters at the annual town meeting Tuesday night approved $172,565 for salaries to bring police and fire dispatch back to town next fiscal year.
Hopedale currently shares dispatch services with Mendon and Millville under a contract that expires this fall. The budget includes $34,500 for the remainder of the contract, which brings the total dispatch expenditure to $207,000.
Fire Chief Thomas M. Daige said the regional dispatch has mishandled calls.
The Fire Department will also receive $67,500 to buy advanced life support equipment for ambulances, such as cardiac monitors and other specialized equipment used by paramedics, which will allow the department to provide a higher level of emergency medical services.
Town Coordinator Eugene N. Phillips said the total fiscal 2013 budget voted at the meeting, including enterprise operations funded by receipts, was $21.6 million. After state offsets, total expenditures will be $22.7 million. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
Voters increased the value of property tax exemptions to low-income seniors age 65 or older to $5,342.20 in valuation, or $670.01, whichever is larger, from the current levels of $5,204.28 in valuation, or $652.71. The exemption is allowable under state law.
Article 20, a proposal for the town to acquire approximately 3.2 acres in the center of town next to the junior-senior high school, was passed over with no action.
- Susan Spencer
Site of new police station will be on Main Street
GARDNER - What may have been the worst kept secret in the city is now public.
City Solicitor John Flick told members of the Finance Committee yesterday afternoon that the city is looking to take an apartment building at 168 Main St. by eminent domain to build a police station. The site of the new police station has been correctly speculated about, but not announced for several months as the city negotiated with owners of four properties.
Executive sessions by the City Council and the Finance Committee were held to discuss acquiring the property for the station. Mr. Flick said the reason for the executive sessions has expired and information on 168 Main St. should be made available to the public.
Although the council is being asked to take the property by eminent domain, Mr. Flick said it was a cooperative effort by the city and the owners, Donald and Wendy Shepherd, to transfer the property. The price will be $233,500, which Mr. Flick said the owners plan to spend on another property in the city.
Mayor Mark P. Hawke said he is not yet at liberty to say what the three other properties are, but they are adjacent to 168 Main St. He said he expects negotiations to be completed in a week.
The Finance Committee voted to recommend that the council approve taking the property. It also voted to approve $55,000 for Fire Department overtime, but the two members attending the meeting were split on whether to recommend the council vote its support for efforts by the mayor to control overtime. Councilor Joshua Cormier said the council would be intruding on management responsibilities.
Council President Alice Anderson said the overtime issue needs to be looked at closely.
- George Barnes
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/DON LANDGREN JR.
CUTLINE: Site for new middle school