By Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW - Selectman Paul Santaniello hosted an information session on a vision concept for the town that he said would create additional revenue opportunities as well as streamline and improve services in the town prior to the Select Board meeting on March 17.
Santaniello said the concepts in the presentation represented a cohesive movement to complete necessary projects in the town, many of which had been identified in the town’s already developed long-range plan, which he said laid the framework for changes in the town, but was not followed through upon.
“Other than some of the low-hanging fruit that we took and converted, that plan has been sitting on the shelf for roughly about 10 years,” he said. “The heavy lifting of it hasn’t gone through.”
Santaniello’s concept called for the relocation of some departments and the change of use for some properties and he made suggestions as to what those plans could be, but stated they were not etched in stone.
“This is just a concept. It is not a plan,” he said. “This is not something the Select Board has adopted. It is something that will be discussed on an upcoming meeting once the agenda is cleared of budget items.”
When asked why this was being presented to the public now instead of after it had been shown to the Select Board, Santaniello said, “Because this is when it was completed,” adding that he had requested the Select Board meeting start at 6 p.m. so he could make the presentation at the meeting, but Chair Marie Angelides declined. He said with pending budget items on the agenda for that meeting, he didn’t want the presentation to be made at 10 p.m. “when no one would see it.”
He said changes needed to be made because the “status quo” doesn’t offer any potential for revenue enhancement or streamlining for services. He added that this concept would only work if the town departments and special interest groups worked together instead of worrying about whose project would get done first. That practice in the past, he said, has pushed needed projects back.
The multi-step concept calls for several changes, including the development of the water tower property for athletic fields and a comfort station; development of a new Department of Public Works (DPW) complex on the current site of the Wolf Swamp fields; the repurposing of the Blinn tennis court land for commercial development; the consolidation of the middle schools with a new or renovated building and the repurposing of one of the schools for a new adult center; and redesigning the current adult center for municipal offices.
The new fields at the water tower, he said, would require a bylaw change that would allow the town to regain control of the land and make the athletic fields and accepted use. He previously asked Town Manager Stephen Crane to look into that, he added.
The use of the land would give the town an additional 14 acres of field space and make the athletic fields more centrally located, which would help with the rapid expansion of the recreation programs in town.
The new DPW facility, he said, would take up approximately six acres of the land at the Wolf Swamp fields, a number that was identified as the amount of space needed by an independent study of the department’s needs. The remaining 12 acres would become baseball fields, Santaniello said.
“It gets the DPW out of the flood plain and gives them multiple access points,” he said.
He added that the land at the site of the current DPW building could also be re-used for a photovoltaic array, something that was explored for the town’s capped landfill, but deemed to be not cost effective.
The new commercial zone at the Blinn tennis courts, he said, would be bigger than the footprint of the Big Y and half the size of the Longmeadow Shops and would add more tax revenue.
In order to complete the consolidation of the middle schools, the town would renew its statement of interest for renovation or rebuilding of a school with the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The building and renovation would be overseen by a new, separate school building committee. In addition to reduction in expenses of running a building, with the combining of the two schools, there would be opportunities to save money through consolidation of staff.
In order to make the plan work, Santaniello said, the Select Board would have to appoint a steering committee, which would oversee the projects and determine the feasibility of any plan. Bylaw changes, cost benefits, and funding opportunities would have to be explored.
After that, the next step would be to host public forums to get community input and create partnerships with shareholders.
When asked by Reminder Publications what the methodology for developing the concept was and if department heads had been consulted, Santaniello indicated they hadn’t and that would be something to do once it was presented to the Select Board and a steering committee was created.