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Town Manager provides update on work to link town properties with municipal, community needs

by | Jul 18, 2023 | Featured: News, News

Town Manager Norman Khumalo announced on Tuesday progress made on facilities planning work to evaluate how town properties can be utilized to meet current and future municipal and community needs.

The Permanent Building Committee spearheaded this effort. The idea for its involvement came about when the Center School Re-Use Committee in 2018 was evaluating options for using the building after it was vacated following the completion of the Marathon Elementary School. At that time, the Re-Use Committee referred the project to the Permanent Building Committee with the Select Board’s approval so that it could pursue a more detailed analysis of how it could fit the needs of town departments and jumpstart downtown revitalization goals.

In a March update to the Select Board, the PBC recommended expanding its study to encompass other town properties. These included the Elmwood School site and the Fruit Street property. The Select Board agreed that a broader study of town property would be beneficial before making a decision on the Center School’s future.

The PBC immediately began working with Abacus Architects to update the 2018 needs assessment. The 2023 assessment process consisted of interviews with each town department about current conditions and needs, projected space requirements and preferred locations.

Several departments indicated that they need more space for public interaction, including the Land Use Department, Board of Health, Town Clerk’s Office and Facilities Department, as well as the need for more space for the public nurse, which became evident during the pandemic. This year, all town departments indicated that they need more space to store public records as well as other equipment and materials. While a transition is being made to digital record-keeping, some departments, such as Land Use, require paper plans and other documents.

Abacus is focusing on the use of several town-owned properties, including Center School, Elmwood School, Town Hall, the Town Hall annex at 6 Walcott Street and the Fruit Street property. In April, prior to his departure, Hopkinton CFO Tim O’Leary indicated that the town could be facing capital projects, including schools, that could approach $275 million, according to a statement.

An initial public forum was held in May to gather public input to aid Abacus in its evaluation. Several needs were put forward, including a senior center, community center and subsidized housing for older residents, veterans and persons with disabilities. There also was a discussion about bringing in additional businesses to energize the town’s commercial tax base. Some concerns raised during this meeting included the potential increase in housing density and preservation of open space.

“Community feedback is important for our work as we move forward with the facilities planning process,” said Permanent Building Committee chair Dan McIntyre in a statement.  “We appreciate all those who took time to attend the first public forum in May and share their thoughts, and we look forward to hearing additional feedback from community members come fall. We are eager to identify inspired solutions that fulfill the needs of the town and its residents, businesses and visitors.”

During the summer, Abacus will be working to develop potential solutions to address municipal needs, public concerns, and site attributes as Hopkinton continues to grow.

A municipal needs assessment meeting sponsored by the Hopkinton Chamber of Commerce was held July 12 to share ideas and answer questions raised at the May meeting. At this meeting, an additional topic raised was that the town is facing a state mandate to adopt new MBTA zoning or face a loss of state funds. All of these properties mentioned need to be evaluated with regard to the state mandate. Participants discussed town needs versus wants at the meeting to narrow down the town’s objectives.

As part of the planning and evaluation process, the PBC also will be guided by the goals adopted by the town through its Master Plan and Vision Statement. Some of these goals directly related to the facility planning study, including developing plans that consider anticipated municipal needs for a changing population, providing more downtown parking, promoting sustainability and energy conservation, protecting open spaces and natural resources, and encouraging public/private partnerships that revitalize and invigorate the downtown. A copy of the Town’s full Vision Statement can be accessed here.

The PBC plans to hold another public forum in September. Later this fall, the PBC will refine the possible solutions to a smaller set of options based on community feedback. The refined options will be presented to the Select Board, likely in November.

“The Permanent Building Committee and the team from Abacus Architects are conducting a very thorough process,” said Khumalo. “The process will take into account our goals as a town and our community’s feedback with the objective of identifying the most cost-effective and efficient use of available town-owned properties.”

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