| Sarah Heinonen
WILBRAHAM – The Town of Wilbraham is moving forward in normalizing operations with a “soft opening” of the town hall on Oct. 5. At the Sept. 28 select board meeting, Town Administrator Nick Breault explained that residents can make appointments with town offices to conduct business, though the doors will remain closed to walk-ins. Visitors to the municipal offices must self-certify that they are without symptoms and provide their contact information should contact tracing become necessary.
Breault emphasized that much of the business residents have with the town can be completed online at www.wilbraham-ma.gov. The public will not be allowed to attend board and committee meetings during the soft opening phase. Public spaces in other town buildings, such as the Brooks Room at the Wilbraham Public Library and the Community Room at the police station are still closed.
The board approved the automatic extension of outdoor dining for the seven restaurants in town that have the amenity. Gov. Charlie Baker recently released updated regulations for eateries, including expanding the number of people allowed in a party to 10, allowing food to be served at the bar and the continuation of outdoor dining for up to 60 days after the declared state of emergency ends. The board had a choice of whether to force businesses to apply for the extensions, but Chair Robert Russell noted that the businesses had already passed all requirements. Should any of the eateries that have dining under tents use outdoor heaters, Fire Chief Michael Andrews said the fire department will have to inspect the set-up.
The Department of Public Works (DPW) garage project was awarded to Westfield-based Forish Construction. The company’s bid came in at $714,676, but DPW Director Tonya Basch explained that although the building is a substantial cost to the town, it will be critical to storing town vehicles and performing maintenance. She said that the original scope of the project was estimated at over $1 million, but that components had been removed from the plans and the size of the building shrunk to bring the cost down.
The contract for the municipal broadband masterplan study was awarded the Entrypoint, a company that has worked the town’s broadband committee in the past. At $20,000, Breault said that Entrypoint had the lowest bid of the two companies that submitted estimates for the project’s entirety. Two other companies expressed interest in bidding on the project once it was in a further stage of development.
The board approved a plan presented by Police Chief Robert Zollo for how to dispose of three police cruisers that have been replaced. The first vehicle, a 2013 with 80,000 miles on it was given to the town for use. The second, a 2015 with 69,000 will be kept in the fleet to be used when a contractor requests a cruiser detail for use on town projects, a requisition for which the department charges $20 per hour. This use would generate approximately $26,000 to $27,000 in revenue for the general fund, Zollo said.
The last vehicle will be traded in. Zollo said that this would allow the department to outfit the new cruisers with a “brush guard” to protect the vehicles in an accident and therefore protect the department’s investment.
Breault sent a letter to his counterpart in Hampden, Interim Town Administrator Bob Markel, regarding the cost of the dispatch service in Wilbraham. Breault informed Markel that emergency dispatch runs approximately $650,000 to $700,000 per year. The two towns are in talks regarding regionalizing the dispatch services to serve both towns. Wilbraham may be eligible for a $250,000 reimbursement grant for salary and overtime, Breault said. He noted there are other regionalization opportunities for the towns, including the use of a shared conservation agent.
A third-party report has found that MGM Springfield has had “no discernable impact” on Wilbraham after the casino’s first year in operation. The town receives surrounding community payments from MGM totaling more than $300,000 over five years. The report will be used as a baseline for a more comprehensive five-year review in 2024.
Road work has been done on Hollow Road to create an access point to the Rice Nature Preserve. There is now room for five to six vehicles to park off the road and access the preserve. Several residents on Highmoor Drive, the main access point to the preserve, have complained to the select board in recent months about hiker’s vehicles blocking driveways and the potential to impede emergency services.
A condenser at the shuttered Memorial School has broken and will require a new part estimated to cost between $10,000 and $30,000. Breault said that a temporary fix can be made, but that the expenditure will eventually have to be made.
Former Select Board Member Sue Bunnell was appointed to the finance committee. Three applicants had originally thrown their hats into the ring, but one withdrew at the last minute. Select Board Member Carolyn Brennan noted that it was important that the finance committee appointee have some knowledge of the town’s finance history since the Town Accountant Nancy Johnson is retiring.
The rates of COVID-19 in Wilbraham are down, with only five active cases, Public Health Nurse Jill Consolino reported to the board. Fire Chief Michael Andrews said that the town’s levels of personal protective equipment were sufficient and reminded residents that coronavirus testing is ongoing through Oct. 31 at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield.
The board discussed issuing a ban on trick-or-treating in advance of the upcoming Halloween holiday. Russell noted that the CDC has cautioned that trick-or-treating may be an opportunity for transmission and Brennan noted that she had concerns regarding crowding small streets, but all three select board members said that they had to trust that residents will use good judgement.
A dropbox has been installed outside town hall and is available for residents to drop off forms, correspondence and election ballots. The box is checked at least twice a day, Breault said. Early in-person voting begins Oct. 17 and runs through Oct. 30.
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