As Hanlon-Deerfield School Building Construction Begins, SB Discusses Funding Gap, Bond Sale and More
Select Board received updates on how to address a funding gap for the Hanlon-Deerfield School Building Project at its meeting of August 1, 2022, while Select Board also approved, among other items, a $ 60 million bond sale to fund the Hanlon-Deerfield School Building Project.
Other items Select Board gave the green light to were to an intermunicipal health coalition agreement, a grant of authority to the Police Chief to assign police staff to Westwood’s polling location, the purchase of a new car for the Town Administrator, the posting of a warrant regarding the upcoming state primary, and committee/board appointments.
Town Treasurer James Gavin explained the $60 million bond sale of July 14, 2022 for funding the Hanlon-Deerfield School Building Project, which Mr. Gavin said had been “resized to $56.8 million.” Eight competitive bids were received with the winning bid coming from Mesirow Financial that offered a net interest rate of 3.7 percent.
Mr. Gavin emphasized that 3.7 percent interest is a good rate, given recent and likely future interest rate increases. He noted that Westwood’s AAA rating from Standard & Poor’s was again reaffirmed in this process, a rating which he estimates only about 20 percent of communities in the state receive.
Mr. Gavin noted that the school debt service will begin in Fiscal Year 2024, following the completion in Fiscal Year 2023 of the town’s payments on the 20-year bond for funding the high school.
Select Board unanimously voted to sign the bond documents.
Addressing Funding Gap in Hanlon-Deerfield School Building Construction
At its July meeting, Select Board denied a joint request by the School Building Committee and Permanent Building Committee that the board approve applying $1.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to an unexpected gap in funding. The gap was created because all contractor bids for the Hanlon-Deerfield School Building Project exceeded previous cost estimates. The lowest bid, which was accepted, exceeded cost estimates by $4 million. In July, Select Board Chair Robert Gotti requested “due diligence” on researching a variety of options for where the funds to address the shortfall would come from.
Town Administrator Christopher Coleman noted there exist “two buckets” of potential funding. After briefly referring to one option which requires action at Town Meeting, Mr. Coleman explained in more detail the option which would not require going to Town Meeting for approval and which uses ARPA funds.
After meeting with representatives of Norfolk County which administers the ARPA funds for the Town of Westwood, Mr. Coleman noted that certain expenses that will be incurred by Westwood may be funded by restricted funds under ARPA. Westwood has received approximately $2.7 million to spend as restricted funds under ARPA.
Costs related to the school’s proposed HVAC system have a good chance of being approved by the County under the ARPA restricted funding category, noted Mr. Coleman, referring to conversations with the County. He also noted $250,000 of $465,000 total expenses that Select Board previously approved to be paid under ARPA could qualify for payment from the restricted funds.
An implication of moving costs and expenses into the restricted funding category is that unrestricted ARPA funds may be freed to be used at the Select Board’s discretion.
“We certainly know that the board is in full support of the school project, and we are working with Norfolk County and the project team to do our best to [ ] make a recommendation to the Board so that you can allocate the ARPA funds for this project,” said Mr. Coleman.
“It’s actually very, very good news that these projects would be eligible for the restricted funds use because my recollection is we thought our hands would be far more tied for use of those funds. So, this is very good news, and look forward to continuing this conversation at our August 22nd meeting,” said Mr. Gotti.
Progress on Constructing the New Hanlon-Deerfield School Building
John Cummings, Chair of Westwood’s Permanent Building Committee, reported on the start of construction at the Hanlon-Deerfield School building site. He noted that the beginning of cutting a fire access trail would start on Monday, August 8th, followed by a walk-through by the Conservation Committee on August 10th. The next step would be to remove trees, and excavation is scheduled to being on September 19. Steel will be delivered on November 21 and roofing will be delivered on December 26. Geothermal wells (167 of them) will be installed using three machines to cut down on construction time.
In response to Mr. Gotti’s question of how abutting neighbors will be notified, Mr. Cummings stated that he is collecting emails and is asking neighbors to help inform neighbors. Residents abutting the project who want to stay informed may contact Mr. Cummings at John.Cummingsfirstname.lastname@example.org.
Intermunicipal Health Services Agreement
Westwood’s Health Director, Jared Orsini, described an agreement among Westwood, Canton, Dedham, Milton, Needham, Norwood, Wellesley, and Walpole to share resources related to public health. As a result of this coalition, Mr. Orsini noted that the group was awarded two grants by the state to fund epidemiology services and social work/mental health services. Mr. Orsini noted that as individual towns, these grants would not have been possible to obtain.
Select Board unanimously agreed to sign the intermunicipal agreement for Westwood to formally become a part of this coalition.
Voting and Elections – Early Voting Option
Unless the town opts out, early voting in-person and by mail is now a “permanent” feature in Westwood, Town Clerk Dottie Powers informed the Board. The change was made under an election reform bill signed into law this June. Ms. Powers distinguished the option for early voting from absentee voting, the latter which is restrictive as to eligibility.
The early-voting polling location for the upcoming September 6, 2022 primaries will likely be the Westwood Police Station. Early voters can cast their votes there between August 27 and September 2. Registered voters will have received a card in the mail from the state regarding early voting. More information is posted on the town’s website.
Mr. Gotti noted that the state primary election will be September 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. with voting open that day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Offices on the ballot will be Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Auditor, Representative in Congress for the 8th
District, Councilor for the 4th District, Senator in General Court for Norfolk and Suffolk County Districts, Norfolk District Attorney, Norfolk County Sheriff, and Norfolk County Commissioner.
Select Board unanimously approved posting the state primary warrant online and in Westwood’s five precincts. It also unanimously approved the granting of authority to the Police Chief Jeffrey Silva to assign police to the polling location.
First Use of Select Board Reserve Account for Fiscal Year 2023
The Select Board also unanimously agreed to move from Select Board reserves the amount of $57,000 for the purchase of a new vehicle for the Town Administrator. Mr. Gotti noted that the expense was approved on June 21, 2022 and represents the first use of Select Board’s reserve account for Fiscal Year 2023.
Library Director Elizabeth McGovern presented an updated mission and vision for the Westwood Public Library, stating, “We want to provide easy to access resources, services and experiences that invite people of all ages, cultures and interests to connect, explore, relax, problem solve and thrive.”
Regarding the library’s vision for the next three years, Ms. McGovern described it as a “destination for inspiration, ideas, information “and the “dynamic, responsive beating heart of the community here in Westwood.”
The Strategic Plan was put together with community input, including over 1500 responses to a community survey, focus groups, and collaboration with town organizations such as Westwood Early Childhood Council, Westwood Media Center, Westwood Recreation, Westwood Youth and Family Services and Westwood Council on Aging. It contains six initiatives:
- Start Here: Draw more people in. During the pandemic, visits to the library dropped off, and the library will seek to have patrons return by demonstrating its relevance. The Islington Branch will also be promoted as a creativity center.
- Think Blue: Increase quality of life. According to Ms. McGovern, blue zones are where people live to be over 100 years old. Based on the desire to help Westwood become a blue zone, the library will invite authors and speakers who promote health. Use of outdoor spaces will be encouraged for gatherings for concerts, entertainment, and community
- Better Together: Connect people and ease divides.
The library will be deliberate about inclusivity and create safe and inviting spaces. An example was creating a world language collection.
- Anytime, Anywhere: Expand availability, reach & impact. The library will employ strategies like have a Bookmobile visit readers, such that readers need not visit the library to reap library benefits.
- What’s Next: Surprise, delight and uplift our community. The library just ordered two pickleball sets and will be expanding its library of things.
- Excellent: Make our processes and organization increasingly efficient and effective.
Board of Library Trustees Chair Maureen Von Euw noted that the Trustees seek to ensure that the library “remains the vibrant welcoming place and a twenty-first century library responding to the needs of the community.”
Board and Committee Appointments and Openings
Select Board unanimously approved the appointment of RJ Sheer to the Conservation Commission, Jim O’Sullivan to the Council on Aging, Maureen O’Sullivan, Julia Thistlethwaite and Sarah Thomas as Elections Officers and Tom McShane and Michael Tinsley to the Pedestrian Bike & Safety Committee.
Select Board also noted a number of openings on town boards and committees and encouraged interested residents to apply. The board announced openings are for members of the following:
- Commission on Disability (looking for residents with disabilities or with family with disabilities)
- Cemetery Commission
- Housing Partnership/Fair Housing
- Pedestrian Bike & Safety Committee
- Recreation Commission
- Westwood Cultural Council
- Westwood Environmental Action Committee
Interested applicants may send a resume and statement of interest to the Select Board by email to email@example.com
or U.S. mail to the following address: 580 High Street, Westwood, MA 02090.
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