WILMINGTON, MA — Selectman Mike McCoy, as a private citizen, has submitted two petitioned warrant articles for this year’s Annual Town Meeting asking residents to spend $12.65 million from free cash to fund the planning and construction of a new senior center at either the Town Hall property or town-owned property next to St. Dorothy’s
McCoy submitted the petitions to the Town Clerk’s Office on February 4 (Town Hall property) and February 5 (St. Dorothy’s property).
The first petition reads:
“To see if the Town will vote to appropriate Twelve Million, six hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($12,650,000) for the Board of Selectmen to expend for feasibility studies, engineering, financial design, permitting, construction and construction administration of a Town of Wilmington Senior Center to be constructed at the 19-acre Town Hall property at 121 Glen Road, May 54, Lot 110 and to meet this appropriate that Twelve Million, six hundred and fifty thousand ($12,650,000) be transferred from Free Cash in the Treasury of the Town, or take any other action related thereto.”
The second petition is similar, but identifies the new Senior Center’s location as town-owned property that abuts St. Dorothy’s Church on Main Street.
Finance Committee & Town Manager React
At the end of the Wilmington Finance Committee Meeting on Tuesday, February 4, 2020, a short discussion regarding McCoy’s first article took place. (The second article hadn’t been submitted yet.)
The Finance Committee and Town Manager were not fans of the McCoy’s approach of lumping what’s traditionally two separate votes into one. Instead, they’d prefer what the town has done for past projects, including the high school — a vote to fund a feasibility study and schematic design (at $650,000) at this year’s Town Meeting, and a vote to fund the actual construction at the 2021 Town Meeting. The construction cost would be informed by the results of the feasibility study and the schematic design.
“There’s clearly a desire amongst many in the community to [build a Senior Center] now ASAP, which I can appreciate it,” said Town Manager Jeff Hull. “Many in the senior community have spent money on other building projects — the public safety building, the middle school, and the high school I get it. There’s a desire to focus on them now. But there’s more than one way of doing that. My preference is to take a graduated approach.”
Hull noted the $12 million construction estimate that McCoy is using is based on one conversation Hull had with an architectural firm the town used for the high school project. Hull noted that $12 million was a “rough estimate” without knowing the location, design, or features of the new senior center. Instead, it was based on the Master Facility Committee’s suggestion that a Senior Center in Wilmington should be 14,000-16,000 square feet, based on a review of other communities’ senior centers.
“One of the reasons I suggested we segment this was we get a schematic design, determine the building’s features, and then get a quote for an estimated construction cost at that, and then go through the bid process,” explained Hull. “We don’t know the exact size, its features, how many rooms, how many floors, HVAC systems, other building infrastructure, etc.”
Hull expressed concern that if $12 million isn’t sufficient for construction of a Senior Center, the town would have to go back to the voters at a future Town Meeting, or the project would have to be curtailed.
Hull also stressed that the feasibility study would help the town determine the best location for the Senior Center.
“An architect/engineer would help us take a look at 3-4 town sites, the town would chose the site, and then the architect/engineer would look at the geotech and associated issues of the selected site,” Hull added.
The Facility Master Plan Committee recommended a new Senior Center built at the current Town Hall site, and a new Town Hall/School Administration building be built at the current Senior Center site.
“I would expect that if the [Senior Center] were to go on this site, we’d have to eliminate the fields in the back,” suggested Hull. “I don’t know how else you could go this. Presumably, [the Town Hall] would still be operating here so for some period of time.”
In response to a question about the football and baseball fields in the back, Hull reiterated his belief that those fields would have to be eliminated to make way for the Senior Center.
“Clearly these fields would be taken off line… I don’t know what the vision was of that whole piece. I guess we’ll find out,” said Hull.
The Finance Committee agreed with Hull’s concerns.
“The first thing we have to do is get a feasibility study. It’s necessary. If you went to any other town or city, that’s exactly what they do,” said Finance Committee member Michelle Kincaid, who serves as Cambridge’s Director of Financial System and Operations. “I’m not quite sure what Mr. McCoy is thinking?”
Finance Committee member Marianne Gallezzo referred to the $12.65 million as a “guestimate” based on one conversation Hull had with an architect firm.
“So we have no idea how much the Senior Center would actually cost?,” stressed Gallezzo.
“This needs to be done in a logical progression. There are lots of unknowns,” added Finance Committee Chair John Doherty.
“It’s difficult to have a rationale conversation with so many variables,” agreed Finance Committee member Kevin Stokes.
Committee members also shared Hull’s concerns over paying the full $12.65 million from the town’s free cash reserves. (The town currently has $24 million in free cash and $14 million in capital stabilization funds.)
“If you look at the number of projects, just on the school side alone, and the costs associated with them, there needs to be a measured, deliberated approach towards using free cash,” said Hull. “There’s some assumption that we’re going to regenerate $4 million to $6 million every year in free cash. That’s a dangerous assumption. There is going to be a point in time when things slow down.”
“[Drawing this all from free cash] would have a negative effect on the town with its bonding agencies,” said Chair John Doherty. “This would cost us more money in the long run. It’s not a good idea at all.”
“We’ll be bonding all these future projects at a higher rate,” agreed Finance Committee member Kevin Stokes.
Selectman Mike McCoy Responds
Wilmington Apple reached out to Selectman McCoy to ask him some follow-up questions after the Finance Committee’s discussion of his article. Below are responses in his own words.
QUESTION: Wilmington Pop Warner Parents are concerned about possibly losing the Glen Road fields. If a senior center is built on the town hall site, where would they practice and play if a senior center is built on the fields? Pop Warner feels they would have limited options in town without Glen Road fields. Where would you try to find them space elsewhere in town?
ANSWER: Here is my response to the entire question: The fields and concession stand are going nowhere. The diagram below indicates that this is a “concept for discussion only” (see the top right corner). On Friday February 7, 2020 at 10 a.m. I called Wilmington’s Town Engineer, Paul Alunni. His telephone number is 978-658-4499. I brought to his attention that the concession stands are not on this preliminary plan. He responded “you’re correct”. He looked at it and confirmed that the concession stand will fit. If you want to confirm this, give him a call.
The attached design was prepared by the Wilmington Town Engineer, Paul Alunni, and was given to the hockey rink committee just a few months ago. I have been a member of that committee for about seven months. The hockey rink is NOT going to be built at the town hall site, however, this is one of the many sites we looked at. So let’s look at an example of what could fit on the town hall property which consists of 19 acres. A hockey rink with a building size of 130 feet x 300 feet. Building size: 39,000 square feet. The proposed senior center, from the town’s consultant would be a building of about 14,000 square feet. Parking: 304 spaces. THE EXISTING BALL FIELDS AND CONCESSION STAND WOULD ALL STAY. However, the town hall would need to be removed to accommodate this specific plan.
While I may be the person who brought forth the articles, this has been in the making for the past four years but it appears that many people in town have been asleep right up until the time I wrote these petition articles and brought them forward so we could finally take action rather than just talking about it. This is public information. There have been dozens of public hearings. This has even been discussed publicly with the school committee, the Wilmington Board of Selectmen, the Permanent Building Committee and the Master Facility Plan Committee.
Now let’s talk about the proposed senior center. In December of 2015, a facility master plan committee was created. On June 20, 2017 the master facility plan committee voted unanimously alternative M2. The M2 scenario includes a new senior center would be built at the current town hall site on Glen Road.
The Wilmington Facility Master Plan report states (and I quote directly from that plan) “new senior center at the existing town hall site–a new expanded senior center can be best, be provided at the site of the existing town hall. This site has several benefits including the proximity to outdoor spaces and adjacency to the recreational facilities that will activate the area. The town hall site is adequately large to accommodate the senior center either prior to its relocation to the Swain School site, or after its relocation and demolition of the former town hall building”. In a nutshell; the existing 19 acre town hall site could accommodate a new senior center, keep the existing ball fields, additional parking and keep the existing town hall building where it sits until a suitable site is found for its relocation.
At the February 4, 2020 finance committee hearing at the 48 minute mark, it is crystal clear that the town manager should have dusted off the Wilmington Facility Masters Plan report because he is absolutely wrong when he said that the ball fields have to be removed if Selectman McCoy’s petitioned article for the May 2, 2020 town meeting passes. With that one statement, he fear-mongered the parents of Pop Warner and Little League and sent everyone involved into a panic.
QUESTION: And do you support a new Senior Center at the St. Dorothy’s site OR at the Town Hall site? What’s the rationale behind submitting 2 articles with 2 different locations? Want to let the voters decide?
ANSWER: I personally prefer the St. Dorothy’s site for a new senior center. My rationale behind submitting the two articles with two different locations is simply to let the voters decide. Don’t forget–on January 20, 2017, the Master Facility Plan Committee voted unanimously for the construction of a new senior center at the town hall site.
I’ve attended Elders Service Commission meetings. I’ve spoken to many of the seniors. They have expressed publicly and have spoken to me directly saying that they want a senior center now. I’m doing what the seniors want by presenting these articles because they asked me to. I authored two articles. Article one proposes a senior center to be built at the town hall, which will in no way eliminate any ball fields. Article 2 proposes building a senior center at the St. Dorothy site. The process will first start on Tuesday, March 17, 2020 at 7 p.m. at the town hall auditorium which is the public hearing of the Planning Board and Finance Committee for petition articles. Residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinions.
I encourage residents to attend the meeting and weigh in on where they would like to build a senior center. From that consensus the next step will be the annual town meeting on Saturday May 2, 2020 at the Wilmington High School Joanne Benton Auditorium beginning at 10:30 a.m. At the 10:30 a.m. start, I will submit in writing to the town moderator one of the two articles to be withdrawn without prejudice so that we’re only voting on the one most popular article. I hope to see all of you on March 17, 2020 and then again on May 2, 2020.
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