Town leaders present visions, goals at ‘All Hands’ meeting

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Town department leaders presented their visions, goals and budget asks and took questions from elected officials during the town’s “All Hands” meeting Wednesday night, a warmup for the May 3 Town Meeting.

“One of the fundamental reasons the community of Hopkinton has successfully navigated this stressful 12 months living under COVID-19 is the community’s distinguished collective planning efforts over the past years, which include amongst meritorious achievements making the necessary smart investments that have made Hopkinton a $4.5 billion community, the No. 1 public school system in the commonwealth and the safest small town in the USA,” town manager Norman Khumalo said in introducing the meeting. “That planning was achieved through collaboration. It stands therefore to reason that the future of Hopkinton begins with our continued collaboration.

“Tonight, once again, we gather in the spirit of the old African proverb: If you want to go fast, you should go alone. If you want to go far, you should go together. Working together tonight, as we have done in the past, through shared dialogue, we will be able to expand our institutional capacity, enhance our capabilities, inspire collective intelligence, and expand visibility into our decision-making while shaping the town’s priorities in the coming year.”

A few of the questions that followed the department heads’ presentations were directed at superintendent of schools Carol Cavanaugh, who had indicated that expanding or replacing schools to adequately meet enrollment increases is a priority.

Asked about creative alternatives to adding classrooms — such as staggering classes, expanding hours and using remote learning — Cavanaugh said those options didn’t seem likely to solve the problem.

“There are things to think about, but I don’t know that we would ever get to a place where we could eliminate such a vast number of students that we would say we can stop thinking about square footage in our schools,” she said. “I don’t want to totally discount it, but I’m very skeptical, especially after having been through what we started on March 10th of last year and what we’ve been trying to do in the way of educating kids on either an everyday basis or a remote basis. Those things have been very challenging.”

COVID and life in the aftermath of the pandemic was a consistent theme. Asked what the town can do to help local businesses, Khumalo said the town has been “in conversations” with the Chamber of Commerce, but, “We do not have a specific plan at the moment.”

Health director Shaun McAuliffe added: “There are business that are currently opening in Hopkinton right now. We just opened the fish market [on Lumber Street]. There’s another enterprise looking to open up in the former Old Town Liquors facility [on Main Street]. Once we get beyond case management, this is going to be a focus, on what we can do as the Health Department and how can we engage other operations in the community to help support reopening.”

Select Board member Brian Herr, noting the focus this past year on inclusion and diversity, asked town clerk Connor Degan if it was appropriate to encourage people from minority communities to run for public office.

“I personally think it’s appropriate,” Degan said. “Our department has actually been working on that, as just part of our general community outreach and civic engagement initiatives, usually in tandem with other organizations in town as well.”