The Winchendon Courier
Serving the community since 1878 ~ A By Light Unseen Media publication
Week of October 24 to October 31, 2019
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Winchendon Fall Town Meeting ~ October 28, 2019, 7:00 p.m.
Murdock Middle/High School Auditorium. 3 Memorial Dr.

Warrant (PDF)
Presentation (PDF)
Town Manager's Video Presentation on Articles

Important decisions for Winchendon voters at Fall Town Meeting


20 articles will be put before voters at Winchendon's Fall Special Town Meeting scheduled for Monday, October 28 at 7:00 p.m. in the Murdock Middle/High School auditorium.

The Courier has looked at some of these articles in depth over the past two weeks. In the October 10-17 edition we reported on the four zoning bylaw articles in the warrant. These require a two-thirds majority vote to pass.

In the October 17-24 edition, the Courier covered Article 10, in which the Winchendon Public Schools request $124,024 from Free Cash to cover Special Education expenses. We'd like to add that Special Education costs are mandated by the state and school departments have only a certain amount of leeway in managing these expenses.

This week, we'll offer some explanation and background on the remaining articles in the warrant, based on information given by town boards and Town Manager Keith Hickey. If you are a Winchendon voter, you should have received a copy of the warrant in the mail. You can read or download a PDF of the warrant here.

Articles 1 and 2 are standard management items which do not involve any expenditures or changes to bylaws or regulations.

Article 3 asks voters to approve the town's borrowing $1,000,000 to replace water and sewer lines underneath Central Street at the same time as the Central Street Reconstruction Project (PDF) is underway.

Town Manager Keith Hickey explained that the Central Street Reconstruction Project itself, at a cost of $4.7 million, is being funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Engineering firm Tighe and Bond presented the draft plans for the project to the Board of Selectmen and Planning Boards in October, 2017. At that time, the Courier reported that the project's scope included full depth roadway reconstruction, upgrading the storm drainage system (separating storm water from wastewater/sewage), and enhanced pedestrian and bicycling accommodations (including removing some on-street parking to allow bike lanes and wider, ADA-compliant sidewalks on both sides of the street). Visibility will be improved at intersections, such as Grove Street and Central Street where parking spaces too close to the corner contribute to a high accident rate (more than double the state average). No changes to the intersection at Blair Square are planned, but all of Central Street from that intersection to Maple Street will be completely renovated. The Federal Highway Administration and the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) are covering the cost through the federal Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

Some elements of the project, however, are "ineligible" expenses and must be covered by the town. The most critical are the water and sewer lines. These are around 100 years old and at the end of their useful life, as the numerous water line breaks on Central Street in the last several years indicate. Mr. Hickey pointed out that there is no more economical time to replace the sewer lines than during the road reconstruction work when no additional excavation and road closing will be needed. Of the total $1 million, $550,000 will be allocated to the water lines and $450,000 for sewer lines, including the cost of upgraded manhole covers for ease of maintenance. These costs have been "inflated" by the contractor for the best estimate of 2020-2021 prices and may come in lower.

Mr. Hickey estimates that the tax increase for the debt service, if the bond is paid in 20 years, will be roughly $300 per year for an "average" home in Winchendon with an assessed value of $205,877. (The Courier works that out to $1.46 per $1000 of assessed value, so take your own home assessment and do the math--but remember that this is only a rough estimate. The current tax rate in Winchendon is $16.71 per $1000 of assessed value.) A 30-year debt service will result in a lower tax impact per year, but the town (and taxpayers) will ultimately pay more in interest. Paying off the debt as fast as possible saves the most money in the long run. (Reference: 2019 Tax Rates for 351 Massachusetts Communities.)

Replacing the water and sewer lines now will avert approximately $546,000 in future anticipated costs for maintenance and repairs, such as replacing hydrants, broken pipes, water damage to roads and so on, according to the DPW.

Another "ineligible" expense of the Central Street Reconstruction Project is replacing the existing street lights with more attractive ornamental lighting. Mr. Hickey says that the town will be applying for a Robinson Broadhurst Foundation grant to cover the costs of the street lights.

The Finance Committee voted 5-0 to recommend Article 3. It requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

Article 4 asks voters to authorize the town to borrow $853,200 for the design and bidding phase of upgrading the existing fire station on Central Street. The total cost of the project is estimated to come in at $11.8 million, and is the most economical way to fund the improvements needed.

The existing fire station was built when Winchendon had an on-call fire department with no full-time employees, and is not up to code. It does not have enough room to store equipment, and some equipment is left outside exposed to the weather. Winchendon Fire Chief Thomas Smith described times when first responders had to scrape icy windshields before responding to a call. There are no sleeping areas or showers for female staff. There is no way to keep hazardous contaminants from a toxic site (for example, the asbestos contaminating the Lincoln Avenue Extension demolition site) from entering the station when firefighters return from a call. Currently, firefighters have to walk through the kitchen and living spaces to get to the showers to clean off after a call. Space overall is tight and there is nowhere for the general public to come into the station.

An upgraded station will fit on the existing lot and include a second story and a wing with bays added to the back of the building. The building will have additional bays for equipment, including both ambulances. It will have contained "hot zones" and a de-contamination shower and laundry for firefighters returning from a call. The "hot zones" will be contained with pressurized areas to prevent particles or hazardous materials getting into the rest of the station. There will be quarters and showers for female staff. A meeting room and hallways will be contained and separate from the working parts of the building, and will provide space for staff trainings that now have to be held off-site. A triage area will allow injured persons to be treated immediately. Emergency vehicles will no longer exit directly onto Central Street, reducing traffic risk. The new building will meet the town's projected needs for decades to come.

Several options were considered, including building an entirely new facility in a new location, or razing the current station and constructing a new one from the ground up. Building a new station would require finding and purchasing a suitable lot. The current station is optimally located for fast response to most parts of town. Razing the station and rebuilding would require a temporary location for storing equipment, at an overall cost of over $1 million (on top of all the construction costs). Building an all-new station was estimated to cost over $17 million, $500+ per square foot.

The renovation plan allows the current station to stay in use while the construction work is done in parts. The $853,200 pays for designs, schematics, documentation and the bidding process for the work. This will provide a definitive cost to present to the town in the future, not just an engineer's or architect's estimate. We'll have a concrete budget for a contractor to sign, and this will prevent the overruns that have occurred with past projects.

The tax impact on the "average" home assessment would be about $28 per year for a 10-year bond.

At their October 9 meeting where this information was presented, the Finance Committee questioned whether the project had been presented to the Capital Planning Committee, and suggested that it be deferred to Annual Town Meeting in May. They pointed out that the town is looking at several large capital projects and these should be considered all together as part of a comprehensive plan. Chief Smith said that he thought they had been including the town committees in the process, and that several meetings had been held at the fire station with town boards.

If the debt articles are passed and require a Proposition 2-1/2 override, voters will be asked to approve the override via a ballot vote at the polls.

The Finance Committee voted 4-1 not to recommend Article 4 (and to take no action on Article 5), stating that they wanted the Capital Planning Committee to look at the project in depth. This article requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

Articles 6 through 19 are recommended 5-0 by the Finance Committee.

Article 5 asks the town to approve transferring $200,000 from Free Cash to pay for an Owners Project Manager for the fire station project. This article is moot if Article 4 does not pass.

Article 6 asks the town to approve transferring $280,000 from Free Cash for a portion of the costs of replacing the culvert on Robbins Road. The existing culvert is corroded and the road above it has Jersey barriers on the sides to keep cars from driving into the brook. The new culvert is being funded by a $500,000 grant from MassDOT and includes guard rails on the sides of the overpass. This is the town's share of the cost.

Article 7 asks the town to approve transferring $606,393 from Free Cash to cover "ineligible costs" of the Central Street Reconstruction Project, as discussed above.

Article 8 asks the town to approve transferring $20,000 from Free Cash to the DPW for highway repairs. Because of the road-destroying weather last winter (multiple freezes, thaws and re-freezes), the DPW has run through its $100,000 budget. This will allow them to continue necessary repairs.

Article 9 asks the town to approve transferring $15,000 from Free Cash for the town's share of replacing the boiler in the police station. Most of the $86,000 for this project was paid for from a $200,000 Green Communities grant that Winchendon was awarded and has used for various projects.

Article 11 asks the town to approve transferring $24,000 from Free Cash for preliminary work related to planned improvements to the Old Murdock building, which houses the Winchendon Council on Aging/Senior Center. The company was supposed to begin temporary repairs the first week of October, but wants more solid fencing to protect people from hazards. Bricks have fallen from the facade of the building. The contractors may put up a movable chain-link fence like the one at the Lincoln Avenue Extension demolition project.

Article 12 asks the town to approve amending the FY20 Wastewater budget downward to reflect a dramatic decrease in energy costs thanks to the landfill solar energy array and new processes introduced for treating the wastewater. The savings will be applied to a new truck for the wastewater plant workers to use for plowing snow and other tasks. Our wastewater treatment is contracted out to Veolia, but the truck will be town property.

Article 13 asks the town to authorize the Board of Selectmen to convey town-owned vacant property on Oak Street--the former Poland and Streeter Schools--for the express purpose of converting it to low-income housing for veterans. This proposal was voted down at Annual Town Meeting in May because some voters felt the wording allowed too much leeway for a developer to use the property for purposes not suiting the neighborhood. As the Gardner News reported at the time, not much information had been communicated to voters, and many were unaware that these buildings had once been used for veterans' services, and the plan was to reimplement those services with the view of expanding into housing. The current article dedicates the property to be used only for low income veterans' housing. The work will be put out to bid with this stipulated in the bid. The outside facades of the buildings will be kept intact, but the interiors will be gutted and remodeled into housing units with some offices and community space. An enclosed walkway between the buildings is planned. The playgrounds will be maintained and open for the public to use. The Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center in Gardner met with the Board of Selectmen with their proposal, and hope to create 25-30 units of low-income housing if they win the bid.

Article 14 asks the town to authorize the Board of Selectmen to acquire a parcel of land east of the Winchendon Community Park which will add several acres of waterfront property to the park.

Article 15 is basically a housekeeping article allowing the town to adjust deadlines so Town Hall won't have to pay to be open extra hours.

The Finance Committee voted 3-2 not to recommend Article 20, which would change the Adult Use/Medical Marijuana Facilities Retail Overlay District. In the October 9 hearing, the FinCom acknowledged that there had been "a huge outcry" from abutters of the "E Stuffin' Things" site due to an adjacent school bus stop, the lack of nearby security cameras and other concerns. Winchendon Director of Planning and Development Tracy Murphy told the FinCom that the homeowners there were very happy about the proposed change. But FinCom members questioned whether the overlay district, established only two years ago, was being swapped around to accommodate business owners instead of being plotted out with a view of what's best for the town. They felt that a comprehensive plan was needed.

Voters with questions about the warrant can call the Town Manager's office at 978-297-0085, or bring your questions to Town Meeting.

The Winchendon Water Department is flushing hydrants starting October 9th and continuing through the end of the month.

Tap water may be discolored for a day or two, but it will clear up.

We appreciate your patience in this matter.

Winchendon Trick-or-Treating will take place on THURSDAY, OCTOBER 31 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Please have a spooky and SAFE evening!

Stone-Ladeau Funeral Home

Winchendon Subway

Engraved bricks installed in Veterans Pathway in Legion Park

Families who have purchased engraved bricks for the Veterans Pathway can see their bricks in place in Legion Park. John LaPlante and his crew have been working hard for several weeks to complete the walkway before cold weather sets in. Legion Park is located on Pleasant Street next to Town Hall.

Ken LaBrack, Chairman for the Legion Park Pathway, says,"The Town of Winchendon and the Winchendon American Legion are still taking orders for bricks. Now would be a good time to order with the coming of Veterans Day and Christmas. Orders will continue to be accepted until there is no longer any room. Engraved Bricks can be ordered via an order form which can be found at the American Legion, Not Just Produced and the Town Hall Tax Office window, or ordered on-line at http://www.townofwinchendon.com/pages/index. Click on the Town of Winchendon Legion Park Veterans Roll Call Pathway. Any bricks ordered after 10/21/2019 will not be installed until spring of 2020.

"Our plan was to have a dedication this year but John was so busy with other projects he didnít get to it until recently," Mr. LaBrack said. "The Legion is discussing a possible mini-dedication during the Memorial Day exercise when the parade stops at the park, just to recognize those veterans who have their names on the bricks. If this happens we will make it a part of the Memorial Day activities."

The Courier will keep you informed of future plans.

Quick Action by Murdock High School Principal helps police respond to threat

The Winchendon Police Department released this statement on October 24:

"On Thursday morning October 24th 2019 Winchendon Police were alerted by the High School Principal of a social media post made by a Murdock High School student that was threatening in nature. The posting included an image of what appeared to be a firearm; later determined to be a realistic looking BB gun and a comment that alluded to a call for violence. The student responsible for the post was identified and detained upon entering the building. With consent from the student and parent of the student, a search of the student's vehicle by Winchendon Police revealed the same BB gun identified in the internet post. The BB gun was seized and the student was removed from the school. This incident remains under investigation."

Work commences on UU Church of Winchendon stonework


Preliminary work has begun on the front face of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Winchendon building. As this work proceeds, the church will continue to host Our Neighbor's Kitchen dinners and the weekly AA meeting on Monday nights. Please visit set-in-stone.org for updates and information about this major project. Donations are welcome!

Toy Town FYIs

Tuesday, October 15: The annual draw-down of Lake Monomomac will begin and will continue until it reaches the new winter draw down level of 3 feet on or around December 1st. The drop in the water level during the winter months allows property owners to do maintenance to their waterfront, including docks, walls, and beaches. It also helps with the weed control.

Be aware that the lower level increases the danger of hitting submerged rocks, trees or other hidden obstacles. Extreme caution should be taken by boat owners if you are planning to get in some late fall boating or fishing.

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