The Marion Planning Board held a pre-submission conference for a site plan review for Tabor Academy’s new proposed campus center. The Hayden Library presently sits turned away from the facility itself and onto Spring Street, a nagging problem that Planning Board members believe could be helped should Tabor use its project in part to expand on-campus parking.
Planning Board Chairman Will Saltonstall was in the odd position of not being able to comment because he is the architect of the project. As a professional involved with the project, Saltonstall recused himself from the November 16 discussion, while members of the board, including Chris Collings and Andrew Daniel, addressed Spring Street’s long-standing congestion.
Daniel called Spring Street “a disaster to traverse” and “impossible” for large vehicles. He blames the narrow passageway to Tabor parking and barrels in the crosswalks.
“Is this an opportunity lost to expand on parking and get people off the street?” Daniel asked. “The building is getting larger, so are we losing even more parking? That road’s a disaster right now, it’s amazing that it’s been allowed. I’ve gotten out of school events where you couldn’t get down that road.”
Representing Tabor Academy, Robert Field of Field Engineering said the new parking lot configuration would add two spaces, raising the number from 48 to 50 while improving traffic flow in and out.
Daniel said he would not be in favor of waiving the traffic impact study, one of two waiver requests, the other being an environmental assessment for building out of a coastal flood zone. The building itself is outside the flood zone, according to Field, but incidental grading that will touch the coastal flood zone.
The basis for the waiver request for the traffic impact study is no significant change in traffic impact. “We are not expanding the size of our school or our student population, rather we’re just reworking the program spaces into new, more exciting, and functional spaces for our students and our faculty,” said Interim Head of School Julie Salit.
Board member Chris Collings called Tabor’s traffic patterns fragmented and wondered aloud if this project presents another opportunity to improve the school’s traffic flow.
“You either enter or leave on Front Street, or you enter or leave on Spring Street,” he said. “I’ve always felt that there’s a missed opportunity here to simplify and decrease impact on town streets, if there was a functional crossover that would enable your traffic pattern to come in on one street and exit on the other, allowing for your guests to disembark while on a crossover street.
“I’m wondering with this significant redesign of your campus facility, which is a marvelous design, I think – I look forward to seeing it – is this the time to think about sort of up improvement of the traffic flow for the campus in a way that I’ve described?” Collings continued, “It doesn’t make sense to ask for a crossover that you guys can utilize to take your traffic flow off of our streets when you’re doing your transfer, drop-off, and so on.”
Field said his team could certainly look at it. Tristan DeBarrows, also representing the project, added that Holmes Lane crosses through, but most of the traffic in question is Tabor traffic and that the existing perpendicular road that does not connect Front and Green Streets is not a publicly known way.
“I’m not talking about a town road, I’m talking about developing a traffic flow for your patrons, guests, and students that you could use that in a more formalized way…. I just think it’s an opportunity to simplify things for the town,” said Collings.
“We’ll certainly take a look at it, Chris,” said Salit.
The proposed Campus Center itself, a 22,750 square-foot facility, was lauded with compliments.
Salit described the project as “truly a community center, house library, and academic student support services, student union, community life offices where boarding students, day students, and faculty can gather for collegiality, camaraderie.”
The building will be constructed on the same plot as the current Hayden Library. Tabor found that the existing structure does not lend itself to renovation, so the focus shifted toward a new build rather than a rebuild.
The new campus center would also bring the work of the Dean’s Office and the Office of Equity and Inclusion closer together. Students who would be passing by en route to the student union or the library would travel that route. In the campus center, students will be able to enjoy a larger space for events like a speaker series. It’s just a comfortable area for day students waiting for their ride. As of now, those students wait in the hallway.
“I said that this would be a community center, a place for all the members of our community to come together,” said Salit. “As we’ve experienced these last nine months, it’s never been more important…. There’s divisiveness on political sides, and we’re all trying to find that common ground among all of us…. This kind of community center would help us build the necessary relationships that we want to build here so that we can learn, we can live, and we can grow together as a community at Tabor.”
Noting that Lillard Hall has a more formal space called the Lillard Livingroom, Salit said, “We expect that this center will be more like the family room of a home, something that’s been missing from our campus at this particular time.”
The existing Hayden Library covers approximately 12,000 square feet and is mostly one story. The new campus center sitting on the same space will have a basement measuring 2,761 square feet, a first floor measuring 11,799 square feet, and a second floor measuring 8,190 square feet for a total of 22,750 square feet.
Planning Board member Norm Hills agreed with Tabor’s representatives that Tabor personnel doesn’t drive from location to location around campus. Instead, they walk, as do the students. Collings reiterated his point that, despite not being the cause of congestion, any major project is an opportunity to help the town improve the situation.
Tabor got both of its votes for waivers, with Eileen Marum, Hills, and Joe Rocha voting in favor, and Collings and Daniel voting against in both cases.
A continued pre-submission conference for site plan review of the solar plan for the Benson Brook capped landfill was heard. The Planning Board recommended $3,000 as an amount for a site plan review for engineering support.
“If this does go forward, don’t we have a significant amount of oversight that we have to review?” said Collings.
Town Planner Gil Hilario said, “We’re not sure if this project is moving forward, so we don’t want to assign too high of an amount.”
Saltonstall, who presided over the Benson Brook discussion after handing the floor to Marum to monitor the Tabor discussion, said that the next step in the Benson Brook case is for the applicant to apply for the full minor site plan review application, if and when they’re ready. Once that application is formally filed, there is a 60-day deadline, but an extension can be requested while awaiting a response from Eversource.
“Depending on the cost of power upgrades, it determines the amount of income the town receives. That will determine the final lease price,” explained Hilario. “The Eversource connection application will determine the final lease payment to the town, and I think that’s why we can decide whether or not it’s good to move forward or not.”
A motion to approve the value of $3,000 to be included in the application for an engineering consultant review unanimously carried.
The Planning Board unanimously voted to accept the Fiscal Year 2022 budget as prepared by Hills. The budget will be submitted to Town Administrator Jay McGrail. Marum publicly thanked Hills for his work on the budget.
This month, Kristen Saint Don-Campbell resigned from the Planning Board. Saltonstall publicly thanked her for her service, calling her “one of the hardest working people I know.” Saltonstall said the Board of Selectmen had posted an advertisement for a replacement for her seat on the Planning Board.
The board also voted to hold 2021 meetings at 7:00 pm.
The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for December 7 at 7:00 pm.
Marion Planning Board
By Mick Colageo