Schools Versus Municipal Needs

            It became a bit more of a debate versus brainstorming when the Master Plan Committee reconvened on May 5 to discuss schools, municipal building needs, and what the future might look like for those critical community structures.

            Coming out strongly on the side of “Our children should remain in Center School” was committee member Yamin Flefleh, saying, “It’s silly to move our kids on that side of Route 6,” referring to Old Hammondtown School. She expressed impassioned concern over discussions she said had taken place on the topic of a municipal complex at the Center School location. Flefleh said that moving all students to Old Hammondtown School would “change the culture of the community” and that Mattapoisett would lose an important social asset. “I don’t want to see young kids bused away from the village.”

            There was a palpable silence before committee member Shirley Haley asked, “Does she think Old Hammondtown School is a horrible place?” Flefleh said she does not think that, that Old Hammondtown School is a good place but that, “Maybe that’s where Town Hall should go.”

            Another member offered a different angle on where a new town hall might work, at the property now being used by the police and fire departments. Carlos DeSousa said, “It makes sense to put the Town Hall there.” He went on to say that buildings generally have a 30-year lifespan and that the Police Department is nearing that now but that, “People like a campus (style) for convenience; it makes sense to group them there.” DeSousa went on to say that it is necessary to look at sustainability and new technologies using LEED standards. LEEDS stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Standards, developed in 1994 by the U.S. Green Building Council to encourage more sustainable design practices.

            DeSousa went on to say that a facilities master plan committee should be deployed to study all options for new municipal buildings and/or repurposing. He also said that both elementary schools are about halfway through their life expectancies.

            Planning Board Administrator Mike Gagne said that about seven years ago the town acquired the Gomes property on Church Street in order to have the option of building a new town hall next to the police station. Conceptual drawings were executed by Field Engineering, he said.

            Outgoing Mattapoisett School Committee and Master Plan member Carole Clifford said it is an emotional point to keep Center School functioning as a school, but that declining enrollment with associated decreases in professional staffing is a reality.

            Moving away from this simmering topic, Gagne introduced Library Director Jennifer Jones, who shared the current level of services being offered within the pandemic restrictions and her hopes moving forward. Jones said that technology would replace some familiar items such as compact discs and some printed materials over time. She said she wants the library to partner with more local organizations bringing new programing to the community.

            Later in the meeting, the committee returned to the subject of Center School when Clifford brought up her opinion that the senior center deserves its own location, not limited to being part of Center School, and wondered aloud at what uses are intended for the now town-owned former Holy Ghost grounds. “Nothing is being done there; it’s not being used,” she said.

            Chrystal Walsh asked who makes the ultimate decisions regarding Center School. Gagne said the Board of Selectmen, but also the School Committee because they “have control and custody of the building.” He also reminded the group that a study by UMass would start soon with two goals, one of which is to study school building needs and usage, the possibilities and consequences of school consolidation, and a second study involving the transfer station.

            Swinging wildly from those village-related themes, the group spoke with outgoing Highway Surveyor Barry Denham, who reported that of all the public buildings in Mattapoisett, the highway barn located on Mendell Road is the oldest after Town Hall. He assured the committee, however, that he was not proposing a new building for the department but said ongoing upgrades need to include a sprinkler system and other safety improvements.

            On the subject of roadway conditions brought up by Planning Board and committee member Janice Robbins, Denham said most roads are in pretty good shape, but he reiterated his often spoken statement that there is never enough money to do everything. Denham speculated that, if he received not only the annual sum of $250,000 from Chapter 90 funding but an additional sum of $300,000 from the town, then, “We’d be able to space out projects [and] bounce between large and small projects.”

            Gagne took the roads discussion in another direction when he said that there is an impact on the personality of a community, in Mattapoisett’s case its “quaintness,” when new roads intersect with old country roads. He asked the group, “How do we address this in the Master Plan?” Gagne said that narrow old roads are impacted by new home construction and that Route 6 and rural roads are not built to absorb the increase of traffic from new roads. Denham stated of the older roads, “They’ll have to be widened.” Gagne responded, “Wider roads are not the answer.… Vehicles will only go faster. Maybe you limit density in some locations. The Master Plan committee needs to think about that.”

            Also visiting the committee on this night were Police Chief Mary Lyons and Fire Chief Andrew Murray.

            Murray reported that a grant has been secured for new traffic lights and signals at the new fire station. Lyons reported that she recently met with Capital Planning members to discuss the department’s needs and associated recordkeeping and that the police station’s current condition is “good.”

            The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Master Plan Committee is scheduled for June 2 at 7:00 pm, at which time schools will be revisited as well as the topic of open space and recreation.

Mattapoisett Master Plan Committee

By Marilou Newell

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