The Parks & Recreation Commission voted unanimously for Jonathan Lewitus as the new department director at its nearly three-hour meeting Monday night.
While members felt both Lewitus and fellow finalist Mark Kelly would be successful in the role, chair Dan Terry said it came down to an “onion-skin thin” edge for Lewitus because of his budgetary experience as the assistant recreation director for the town of Brookline.
Lewitus’ approval is contingent upon a completion of a background check and salary agreement.
Terry noted that there were nearly 30 candidates for the position. That pool was whittled down to seven contenders. Four semifinalists were interviewed at a meeting two weeks ago, which led to Lewitus and Kelly advancing to the final round of consideration.
Several commissioners noted that Lewitus seemed more “polished” during his interview two weeks ago. Interim director Pat Savage agreed, adding that he also expressed more energy than the other three candidates. Terry said both candidates had “excellent and glowing references” and were seen as problem solvers.
Commissioner Seth Kenney said the deciding factor was about who would be the best fit for the town. Commissioner Amy O’Donnell said she leaned toward Lewitus because he could better improve and expand its programming as Hopkinton grows based on his experience in a larger town.
Vice chair Laura Hanson said the decision presented a “conundrum” for her. While both candidates would be valuable in the role, she pointed out that Kelly has specialized experience in running programming for people with disabilities and complimented the Hopkinton resident on his “warmness” and knowledge of the town. On the other hand, she was impressed with Lewitus’ resume and enthusiasm.
Said Terry: “It’s a little bit about fit and a little bit about what we think the priorities should be.”
While Kelly has a strength in identifying community needs, connecting with local partners and creating a road race and camp expansion, Lewitus would be a better fit for taking Hopkinton’s current programming “up a level” because of his “attention to detail,” according to Terry. He also has experience in diversity, equity and inclusion policy.
Commissioner Ravi Dasari said Lewitus appealed to him because he believed he could implement projects quickly.
Tripled school facility use fees concerns commissioners
In other news, a major issue confronting the committee is the School Department’s decision to raise its facility use fees. Because it generates revenue, the Parks & Recreation Department is classified in the third-highest tier of users out of four tiers, which will lead to its fees tripling to $45 per hour.
Terry noted that he attempted to meet with School Committee chair Nancy Richards Cavanaugh, but the two could not confirm a time to discuss the fee hike, which will be implemented on Sept. 1.
Savage was concerned that the department would have to raise its fees for participants. The fees need to be set for fall programming. Most of the programming expenses go toward the facilities.
What also troubled her is that the decision was made without any outreach to Parks & Rec by the School Department.
Said Savage: “There should have been a relationship with the schools.”
Terry said it “doesn’t make sense to have interdepartmental charges,” unless it is at cost for expenses like additional custodial staff.
O’Donnell stressed that youth partner groups “are looking to move outside of our town” because of the anticipated fee hikes. She mentioned that the baseball and lacrosse programs are concerned.
“We are assuming that all of our youth partners can afford this, and they can’t,” she said, adding that some programs currently use both the school and department fields. “I think the schools need to understand that you’re going to start to see that folks can choose other programs. I don’t know that they understand the impact of this change, whatever motivated them around money or the coverage of the fields … has directly impacted a huge portion of our town.”
Terry said he intends to meet with the School Committee chair to see if the department can be moved into the second tier at $25 per hour because the increase would be “more palatable.” He also stressed that while Parks & Rec does generate some revenue, that revenue is mainly used to pay for the use of school facilities.
Savage agreed. She said an appeal for a move to the second tier recognized the School Department’s needs while not hamstringing Parks & Rec and the programs that use the facilities.
“People are going to vote with their feet, which we don’t want to have them do,” Terry said of the fee increase.
Accessible parking space removal at Town Common raises concerns
Hanson, who organizes the town’s Sunday Concerts on the Common series, brought up a concern that two of the three accessible parking spaces at the Town Common have been removed during the Main Street construction project. This caused an issue when a bus provided by the Senior Center filled with older residents did not have access to an accessible parking space. Some residents complained to her.
Savage questioned why the driver could not unload the people safely at the Town Common, park farther away and then pick up the guests at the concert’s end. The police also could have been called to ensure their safety, she said.
Terry said parking is not under the purview of Parks & Rec. Members suggested that the Planning Board, Select Board and town engineer Dave Daltorio could be consulted.
According to the ADA.com website, the accessible parking space ratio starts at one space per every 25 spaces in a parking lot.
Another concern regarding the Town Common arose because the Sustainable Green Committee requested that an electric vehicle be allowed to park near its table at the Polyarts Festival on Sept. 9. Because of increasing interest in electric vehicles, Hanson said the request was made so that people could check out an electric vehicle and receive education on EVs.
Savage raised concerns about potential damage to the grass because the car would be there all day.
O’Donnell asked if the EV could be parked on the street. This raised a safety concern about observers being in the roadway.
Amenities building issue addressed
Savage showed commissioners a video of the amenities building, which she described as “a mess.”
The sports groups have “thrown their stuff all over the place,” according to Savage. Some groups have not been able to access all of their equipment because material for the public cricket pitch purchased by the Hopkinton Cricket Club without prior town authorization is being stored there until its donation can be approved by the town. The donation approval is expected to be made at Wednesday’s special meeting of the Select Board.
Dasari, a cricket enthusiast who advocated for the material, said he would ask members of the cricket club to remove the turf.
Regarding the sports teams and equipment storage, the group discussed how space will be allotted to them considering the growing number of groups using the space.
Dog park plagued by improper disposal of dog waste
Savage requested that the commission approve the hiring of Poop Away, a Brockton contractor, to remove dog waste from the dog park, which the commission unanimously approved.
Problems have occurred because dog owners either have not been picking up after their dogs or disposing of dog poop bags in a regular trash barrel rather than in a specially marked container. This has caused an odor issue.
The commission also discussed moving the trash barrel closer to the entrance so that the Department of Public Works would be able to remove the trash there. The commission discussed potentially creating a friends group for the dog park that would help with maintenance there.
Skate park construction delayed
Construction of the skate park at EMC Park has been delayed until the spring, Savage explained, due to a drainage issue discovered on a site visit. Trees need to be removed, which requires a public tree hearing. This meeting will be discussed at the next Parks & Rec meeting on Sept. 6.
Sandy Beach to be closed due to lack of lifeguards
Savage told the commission that Sandy Beach will be closed the week before Labor Day due to a lack of lifeguards. Labor Day weekend will be the end of the beach season there.
Next year, the beach is planning to open on Memorial Day.