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Select Board hears options for town buildings presented in facilities study

by | Dec 20, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The Select Board at its meeting Tuesday night heard several options for the future repurposing of four key town-owned properties.

To gain more insight into the best ways to use the buildings, the Select Board unanimously approved the issuance of requests for proposal (RFP) this winter for Center School for private development. Members noted that once the best use for that property is determined, they will be better able to discuss how to maximize the potential of the other three sites.

Dan McIntyre, chair of the Permanent Building Committee, presented a facility planning update to the board on the potential reuse of Center School, the current Elmwood School building, Town Hall and the town’s Fruit Street property. Options for these assets under consideration include building reuse, redevelopment or razing in an effort to bring needed space to town employees while providing opportunities to build the commercial tax base and provide affordable housing.

The process began this spring when leaders of town departments and their staff members were interviewed about their space needs. An architect was involved in the discussions to determine how much room departments required, forming the basis of an architectural study.

Two community forums were held, McIntyre noted. In addition, discussions with the Planning Board, the Historical Commission, Schools Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh, Parks & Recreation Commission chair Dan Terry and the Hopkinton Chamber of Commerce provided feedback.

The key takeaway from this effort is that Hopkinton’s employees need about 30% more physical space for the current staffing levels and programs. The need for storage space and meeting rooms was a common thread.

Stressed McIntyre: “We’re shy by quite a bit of space.”

A new issue that was raised during this process was that Cavanaugh would like to move the integrated pre-kindergarten classrooms out of the Marathon School to another site to free up classroom space. Parks & Rec also brought up the need for a gymnasium, which the department lost when the Center School building was closed.

McIntyre described the domino effect that the need for affordable housing creates, which would in turn further stress the school system’s capacity. Increasing property taxes concerned residents, while the commercial tax base that could offset the impact has remained relatively stagnant.

“Large capital projects are just taxing people out of town,” said McIntyre. “We really need to consider how we can use our town assets to help reduce the tax burden when we do capital projects.”

Capital projects also need to align with the town’s master plan and vision statement, he added. Downtown revitalization is a priority, as is the creation of a cultural district.

One option discussed was splitting town employees between Town Hall and Center School. Another scenario that was deemed to be less feasible was building an addition to the back of Town Hall. A new Town Hall could be constructed at Center School, freeing up Town Hall for housing or retail use. Also considered was moving all town services to the current Elmwood School building. In that scenario, Town Hall may or may not be kept as a municipal asset.

McIntyre made the point that Parks & Rec and Youth & Family Services should be kept together because they serve the same population. At this point, chair Muriel Kramer noted the need for a recreation center that would provide activities for teens after school.

“We struggled with what a youth center really is,” replied McIntyre. “What it came down to basically is we need space — big open spaces or spaces we can partition off.”

Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch noted that a recreation or teen center would make more sense downtown so that it would be in walkable distance from the middle and high schools.

The current Elmwood School site could be retained by the town for future use, McIntyre said. Another idea was to have a fire station there. The Elmwood site could be rezoned for multifamily or mixed use housing. The building could be razed and the land sold for development.

Potential uses for the Fruit Street site include a new gymnasium, a Facilities Department building or affordable housing.

One concept McIntyre brought up is to keep the downtown more “business oriented” by allowing development of the property there and possibly keeping the town’s departments relating to finance in Town Hall.

These concepts will be examined more closely once the RFP for the Center School site is received in the spring. The site contains two parcels, of 5 and 6 acres. The back one had been considered for affordable housing.

A report from the Permanent Building Committee will be presented at Annual Town Meeting in May.

Board unanimously approves appointments

The board unanimously approved the appointment of Kristin Merrill to the Fire Chief Screening Committee. She will replace former Human Resources Director Maria Casey, who recently retired.

The board also voted 5-0 for Shawn Masterson to serve as the new associate member of the Board of Appeals. Also in contention for the vacant seat was Walter Garland, who did not attend the meeting. The term expires June 1, 2026.

Masterson highlighted his experience as an attorney for the last two decades. Members agreed that a lawyer’s perspective would be a helpful addition to the board. Masterson is licensed to practice law in five states.

Town considers requests for parcels near Lake Maspenock

Assistant Town Manager Elaine Lazarus noted that four different entities have expressed interest in purchasing eight parcels from the town in the Lake Maspenock area over the past several months. After considering potential municipal uses, she recommended that the town retain six parcels for town use, which would include trail development and stormwater drainage.

She noted that one parcel, at 0 Knoll Road, had been authorized to be disposed of at the May Annual Town Meeting. The deal fell through when the potential buyer did not have the funds to pay the fair market value. This property could be put out to bid again.

Another small parcel of 0.09 acres off Duffield Road did not appear to be buildable, Lazarus added. It might be valuable to an abutter. It could be submitted for a warrant article for dispersal at May’s Annual Town Meeting.

The board decided to give the matter further consideration. Vice chair Shahidul Mannan said it would be helpful if the descriptions of the properties contained more information about their attributes, their value to the town and “what would be lost if we don’t take it.”

1 Comment

  1. Annie

    The town needs to give residents over the age of 70 an exemption from paying school construction projects

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