WILMINGTON, MA — Incumbents Greg Bendel and Kevin Caira, and challengers Rob Fasulo, Mark Maselli, Dan Murphy, and Suzanne Sullivan, are running for TWO three-year seats on the Wilmington Board of Selectmen.
Wilmington Apple is asking the candidates multiple questions each week leading up to the April 27 Town Election.
The latest question:
What do you feel should be Wilmington’s next TWO municipal or school building projects? Why do you prioritize these two projects over other projects?
Below are the candidates’ responses, in their own words:
The two municipal buildings I would prioritize would be the Roman House (School Administration Building) and Wilmington Town Hall. This is one of the biggest project recommendations in the towns Master Plan. It makes sense to start this project sooner to satisfy the space needed for the school administration and Town Hall departments. Both buildings are very dated and the cost of delaying construction for them will only increase the longer it is put off. Bringing these together in one new building located on the old Swain School lot keeps the School Administration department in the same general area it is now and it will bring better visibility and accessibility to Town Hall offices.
I prioritized this because it is very much needed and it is a less complex project then some of the others. We already have the empty lot of land that is ready to be built on. Let’s get this done and move onto the more complex projects pertaining to our schools, which are also a high priority.
The Town has prepared a Municipal Facility Master Plan that outlines various building options for the Town to consider over the next 20-30 years. The plan involves recommendations for both school and municipal buildings. I concur with the conclusion to discontinue the use of the Wildwood School and believe that in its place a new elementary school should be built. Additionally, upgrades should be made to the other four elementary schools. This would result in placing pre K to grade 5 students in appropriate configurations among the five schools and would enable the Town to repurpose the use of the Boutwell School.
On the Municipal side, I believe it is time to construct a fire substation in North Wilmington. This year’s operational budget includes funds for eight additional firefighters which would enable the Town to move closer to adequately staffing both the central and any new substation.
The Town also needs to consider consolidating Town and School administrative operations into one multipurpose municipal facility. This facility would allow all school and municipal offices to be housed in a central location and eliminate the woefully inadequate Roman House. The current Town Hall could be revitalized for another purpose such as a recreation or a senior center.
The plans may be ambitious, but the positive news is that the Town has built substantial capital reserves, nearly $35 million, which could be used to assist in financing new construction.
I think a plan to address the elementary schools is the biggest concern along with the Public safety issue aka fire sub-station. These two should be a priority for the town.
The combined cost for the schools is around 100 million dollars. That’s crazy. There had been talk about consolidating grades, or schools years ago. It makes sense to me to consolidate and have two buildings instead of five. But the plan was somewhat silent on this issue. I will always see education as the priority and these current building are just not adequate anymore. They were in bad shape when my children went to elementary school 15 years ago. If/when the schools are consolidated then one of the remaining schools, maybe the Woburn Street, could be revamped and used for a town hall. Plus I would like to see some initiatives for greener buildings and the plan is silent here too. Other towns are taking their responsibility on this matter seriously but our town remains behind.
The sub-station was supposed to be addressed when I was on the Board of Selectman 12 years ago and it never has been addressed. Now the already minimal train stops at the North Wilmington commuter rail are being held hostage. This is a very bad idea. This is the opposite direction we want to go in. What is holding back the sub-station? No land? Then buy the farm! Good place to put an ice rink too and save some open space for us tree huggers and the other animals we share the planet with. Sorry I digress. There was some talk years ago about doing a land swap for the parking are at the end of Jefferson and using this for a commuter platform. I do not know what happened to that idea. Or maybe we could share the Tewksbury facility on Main Street? These types of collaborations are not that uncommon. None the less we need a sub-station somehow somewhere and we have obvious space needs. It seems that the town has been paralyzed when the same issues 15 years ago are the same issues today. Let’s start rolling our sleeves up and start finding real solutions.
I believe that Wilmington’s next two future municipal building projects should be the construction of a North Wilmington Fire Sub Station and the construction of a new Buzzell Senior Center. A North Wilmington Sub Station is vital to the safety of the residents who live in that area. Specifically for those residents who live north of the train tracks, decreased response times could be the difference between life and death. Our Senior Center is bursting at the seams, and currently space is very limited. Built in 1935 as the Buzzell School, the current building is only 8,308 square feet in size and does not have room for all of the robust programs we currently offer and the facility lacks adequate parking. As our population gets older, participation at the Senior Center is growing rapidly and we have outgrown our current Senior Center. I believe we need to create the new and larger Senior Center that our senior population deserves. If I had a very close third choice, it would be the construction of a new Wildwood Elementary School. Built in 1955, it is the oldest of all of our schools, and our students will someday need to a new elementary school. This issue will need to be addressed in the very near future as well. I recognize that these projects will cost money, but they are crucial to our town’s future and we are fortunate that Wilmington has done a good job of preparing for capital improvement projects like these by putting money away in reserve accounts. These reserve accounts will allow us to take on a major project like one of these with very little or perhaps no added costs to residents.
Before I go into my answer for this question, I will pose a question for readers to think about. Every election, candidates claim they are looking out for seniors in our community and that they are being priced out of living in town once they enter retirement age. Once elected, has anything been done to actually address this issue? The town budget since 2015 has risen over 19 percent, Social Security payouts have only risen 5% in that same time. This year we were all shocked when we opened our tax bills to see what we would now be paying just to live here. At a time when we are still paying off the 86 million dollar high school (which was built smaller than its predecessor), we are now going to ask residents to foot the bill for two more large projects? If we are being asked this question, I have to seriously question the sincerity of those that have once said they care about our seniors remaining here.
Here is my answer to this question. I have put forth several times my desire to bring the St Dorothy’s land back to the Selectmen with the intention of following through with a long term lease with a private developer where the town can negotiate as part of the acquisition of the property said developer would include a new Senior Center on that site along with a truly affordable and senior development. This is a way we can truly take care of our seniors, obtain a new senior center costing taxpayers little and take action since politicians have been promising to do something for years.
The only large scale project I would entertain in the short term is to deal with our elementary school problems. Consolidation of schools is clearly the future and our elementary schools are in need of attention. A new school that could house grades K or 1-3 which would eliminate 2-4 schools may be the answer. This plan is not without its problems as we would need to find a decent size lot of land within town that we would be able to properly build this size structure while continuing to educate those that are already in the system.
On a smaller scale I would like to finally begin the process of a fire substation in North Wilmington as it has been talked about at least since the early 1990’s yet nothing has been done to move the idea forward. One idea I believe the town should look into is a model that was used between the city of Revere and Malden located at 3 Overlook Ridge Drive in Revere.
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