WESTBOROUGH, Mass. – Residents said yes to a new fire station, but no to a new recreation center and renovations to Town Hall and Forbes Municipal Building. The decisions were made at a Special Town Meeting Saturday, March 17, held between sessions of the Annual Town Meeting.
Article 1 would have authorized the borrowing of $22 million to renovate the two town buildings and build a new recreation center. But in the half-filled auditorium at Westborough High School, concern about higher taxes and frustration that plans were moving too fast without enough forethought appeared to torpedo the article.
Resident Don Burn criticized the location of the recreation center, which would have been bordered on two sides by wetlands, while a third was designated a special resource area by the state. Burn stated the town's open space and recreation plan had called for community center that needed 12 acres. The recreation center, which would have included an NCAA regulation hardwood basketball court would sit on only two acres.
"To even pave the road will require a special permit from the conservation commission," Burn said. "Where they were going to put a recreation center and how the recreation center was designed was an afterthought."
Selectmen, planning and school boards had unanimously supported the measure. The Finance Advisory Committee's recommended it 4-3.
Kathy Rosenblum of the finance committee said she felt the town was "rushing the process, asking too much too quickly."
Resident Vincent Borkowski said he supported construction for the police department, but said that Article 1 "has taken a life of its own."
He said many residents have been unable to pay both their mortgages and their property taxes, and shouldn't be burdened by the project. "There's just too many hardships in the past few years. It seems to me that town government are insulated from the realities of what tax payers must endure every day."
In a presentation to voters, Town Manager James Malloy said the Town Hall renovations, which included fixing rot on the clock tower, upgrading an inadequate heating and air conditioning system, and fixing electrical problems, would have lasted 40 years.
Forbes Municipal Building, which houses the recreation department and police department, has holding cells that do not meet standard police regulations, and has inadequate space along with substandard wiring. Recreation space in the building is maxed out. Its basketball court, which sees heavy use, is non-regulation.
Article 1 would have required a two-thirds majority, but failed to get even a simple majority.
That was not the case with Article 2, where voters overwhelmingly voted to fund construction of a new fire station. The current station on 42 Milk St., constructed in 1888, is in dire straits. Several town officials said the building ought to be condemned.
According to Malloy, the current fire station is undersized and not structurally sound. There is no room for public records that must be kept there, and the station's foundation and electrical system constitutes code violations.
"We wouldn't allow a private business to have this kind of code violation," Malloy said.
To support the $11 million station, the town would spread its debt out over 20 years. The tax impact over that time span would peak at $122 on an average single family house.
A ballot vote must be held within 90 days of Article 2's passage to allow for an exemption under state tax law.
If that is passed, the current fire station will raised to make room for parking for the new, one-story facility.
A third article also passed. Article 3 authorized moderator Joseph Harrington to form a committee to recover money from the state as the school department explores renovations from the 1950s-era Gibbons School.