Residents OK additional funds for Pine Knoll
By Chris Maza
Recreation Director Colin Drury addresses residents at the Special Town Meeting on Oct. 21. |
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza
EAST LONGMEADOW – Residents at the Special Town Meeting on Oct. 21 approved the allocation of an additional $350,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding to replace the outmoded pool at the Pine Knoll Recreation Area.
Recreation Director Colin Drury explained that the additional funding was needed because the $450,000 appropriated at the Oct. 1, 2012 Special Town Meeting proved to be far too little to get the project done.
He said the figure requested in 2012 was the result of a recommendation made by Nationwide Aquatic Consulting, however, a second look at the numbers by Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype Inc. yielded a much higher estimate. At that time, the town opted to put the project out to bid to see which budget was more realistic.
“We received one bid with a price of $735,300,” Drury said.
The $800,000 would provide the town with enough money to complete the project with room for contingencies, such as increase in cost of materials and the possibility of unforeseen hazards.
“When you start opening up a pool this old, you’re not quite sure what you’re going to find,” he said, adding that asbestos is not usually found in pools of that age, but issues such as lead paint might exist.
The project will have to be put out for bid with a request for proposals (RFP).
Drury added that while costs may have risen, he believed the bid received in the Recreation Department’s first attempt represented a realistic estimate of the cost. He also said with the higher budget figure, it was probable that more firms would submit competitive bids.
“We have to include our budget in the RFP and a lot of companies probably looked at it and said, ‘They don’t have the money, so it’s not worth our time,’” he said.
Funding for the project would come from the CPA undesignated fund, which had $898,000.
Because of concerns about that figure, Town Accountant Thomas Caliento said he believed the additional $350,000 requested should be bonded, which created a buzz from the crowd and prompted a brief recess during which Caliento spoke with the Appropriations Committee and Drury, then withdrew his suggestion.
Residents also approved the spending of up to $325,000 from free cash to replace the tennis courts at East Longmeadow High School.
Resident Salvatore Pizzanelli, one of those who brought the article forward via citizens’ petition, said the courts have gone from “an embarrassment to a dangerous situation,” with poor, rusted fencing and large cracks in the playing surface.
Russell Denver, chair of the Appropriations Committee, voiced concerns about the funding, stating that the recommended value of the free cash account should be between 5 and 8 percent of the town’s budget. If this project was approved, the town’s free cash would dip below 5 percent.
Pizzanelli stated that the East Longmeadow Tennis Association was willing to donate $30,000 toward the project and further grant funding could be had from United States Tennis Association, which would lower the town’s cost for the project.
No action was taken on Article 1, which was pushed back to the end of the meeting and would have allowed the town to lower the tax rate.
Selectman Angela Thorpe told Reminder Publications concerns about free cash levels directly led to the decision.
“The tax reduction article was reluctantly pulled because due to the amount of money taken from free cash on earlier articles it would have been irresponsible to have moved forward with Article 1,” she said. “If passed, our free cash level would have dropped down to 4 percent, thus lowering our bonding rate since anything lower than 5 percent lowers the bond rating.”
The town also received permission from residents to pursue the purchase of property in town for municipal use at a cost of up to $1.2 million.
Board of Selectmen Chair Paul Federici explained that the town has the opportunity to purchase a building with 9,600 square feet of space in which town departments would operate.
The new building would not replace Town Hall, however, Federici said because the building is compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, most departments that deal with the public frequently would most likely be moved to the new space.
He further advocated the purchase by pointing out that the suggestions of Reinhardt Associates, which conducted a municipal space study in 2012, recommended the renovation of the old fire station on Shaker Road and an addition to Town Hall would not yield the amount of space or room for growth.
“It’s our contention that the money is best spent in this fashion rather than going with a 2,000 square foot addition,” he said.
Federici indicated he could not name the specific building because legally, the town had to go out for an RFP.
He added that any purchase of property would have to be approved at a future Town Meeting.
Residents also approved an amendment to the general bylaws that allows the town to take action on nuisance properties.
Under the bylaw the health agent now has the authority to determine whether vegetation, including – but not limited to – grass, trees, bushes or shrubs, pose an threat to the “health, safety or appearance of the neighborhood” and would give the town the authority to correct the problem if not rectified within 10 days of notice of a violation. The owner of the property would be responsible for the costs associated with correcting the problems, plus a $200 administrative fee.
Some criticized the proposal, stating that the meager fines and fees would not phase banks that have repossessed properties in town.
Others questioned the definition of “nuisance,” to which Thorpe responded that those definitions already exist in the town’s bylaws.