‘Too Early’ for VFW Building Use Committee

The Marion Board of Selectmen on February 21 deemed a request to form a senior/community center advisory committee to study long-term uses of the VFW building “too premature.”

Proposed by the Friends of the Council on Aging, the purpose of the committee would be to gather together representatives from the Council on Aging, Friends of the Council on Aging, the Recreation Department, and the Friends of the Recreation Department to share ideas on desired future uses of the building for each respective party.

Town Administrator Paul Dawson said that after meeting with members of the COA and Friends of the COA last week, he thought the proposed committee merited some discussion among the selectmen.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Jody Dickerson, also the Director of the Marion Recreation Department, was first to ask, do we think we are at this stage at this point?

Long-term planning is always a good thing, said Dawson, but perhaps it was a bit too soon to be looking so far beyond the current renovations that will simply bring the building up to code and make the place inhabitable.

A citizens’ petition brought forth as an article for the Annual Town Meeting on May 8, if approved, would start the process for exploring other uses for the VFW property site, which could change things further down the line, said Dawson.

“I guess my only concern is, while I’m not opposed to the long-term planning, we need to [first] understand the space requirement,” said Dawson. He said he would hate to see a lot of time and energy expended when a future exploration could advise further changes to any long-term plan formed now.

“Right now we’re just sort of polishing the place up … and trying to get it functional for the seniors and the other uses in the community,” said Selectman Steve Gonsalves. But a committee right now, Gonsalves and Selectman Stephen Cushing agreed, “doesn’t make sense,” as Gonsalves put it.

A committee is a good idea, selectmen concurred, but not just yet.

Priscilla Ditchfield, on behalf of the Friends of the COA, argued that now was the time to form a committee before occupancy by seniors and the community, hopefully by July 1.

“We need to get to know what each other has in mind,” said Ditchfield. “What are the plans that the Council on Aging has … and what does the Recreation [Department] have in mind, and what is shared between the two.”

Ditchfield said sitting together as a group now would be helpful towards answering those questions.

“There are needs,” Ditchfield added. “We’d like to get a start on knowing what those needs are.”

Perhaps those needs, she said, have to do with kitchen needs for Meals on Wheels, or other priorities for Marion Rec. It’s hard to raise money without knowing what the long-term plans are, said Ditchfield.

However, COA Director Heather Sylvia agreed with the selectmen.

“I share your sentiment,” said Sylvia. “I think that it’s too early.”

Cushing suggested the board just hold off for a couple of months to be sure of what the board would be charging the proposed advisory committee with achieving.

“Let’s keep it simple for now,” said Gonsalves. “Get it to code and get it occupied first.”

In other matters, the Marion Capital Improvement Planning Committee presented its list of 19 capital projects for fiscal year 2018, focusing mostly on the top five, according to the committee.

The Capital Improvement Planning Committee annually assists town department heads in identifying capital needs and developing their annual and five-year capital plans.

A capital project is defined as a purchase or project with at least a five-year lifespan and costing over $10,000.

The committee goes through the list and gives ratings to each project presented to formulate a list of priority projects.

Although the DPW complex has appeared on the list for a number of years now, committee Chairman Paul Naiman said it just didn’t make the top of it again this year, mainly due to looming wastewater treatment plan upgrades.

The list started out with 31 items, whittled down to the 19 presented that evening. The 19 projects collectively total $3.9 million, with $1.9 million directed solely at pressing wastewater treatment plant upgrades that must be done, regardless of any future federal permit requirements. This topped the list at Number 1. The project would be paid for out of the Sewer Enterprise Fund comprised of sewer fees.

Second on the list is $18,000 from the general fund for “turn-out gear phased replacement,” with third being radio repeaters replacement for $37,000, also from the general fund.

Fourth is the repaving of Point Road, Joanne Drive, Creek Road, Jenna Drive, and Spring Street at $450,000 from Chapter 90 State Funds, and fifth is for the design only of County Road water main replacement at $155,000 from the Water Enterprise Fund.

Also during the meeting, the board accepted a cash donation in the amount of $15,000 from Tabor Academy to support the renovations at the VFW building for the new senior/community center.

Dickerson said he reached out to Tabor Academy shortly after the Town acquired the old Benjamin D. Cushing VFW building, saying that Head of School John Quirk expressed an eagerness to contribute to the project.

“It was his way to reach out and be a part of the community … and I’m very grateful for what they could do and we’re very excited,” said Dickerson. “I think it will definitely help during the renovation process.”

Dickerson called it Tabor “being a good neighbor.”

“We definitely appreciate the donation,” said Cushing, before making the motion to accept the donation.

The board agreed to send a letter to Quirk and Tabor Academy for the generous donation.

In other matters, the selectmen approved an all alcohol license request for Armstrong & Grace, d/b/a, owners of Atlantic Bistro, a new restaurant to be located at 167 Spring Street. The board also granted the new establishment a common victualler license.

The next meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for March 7 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.

By Jean Perry


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