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The case for a Blackburn Hall Community Center

May 4, 2015

Part 1 of a two-part series on 180.

While the Walpole Recreation Department continues its search for a new director, the department is being overseen on an interim basis by Council on Aging Director Courtney Riley.

This temporary arrangement may be unconventional, but instead of filling the vacant Recreation Director position, the town might consider permanently consolidating both the Council on Aging and Recreation Department.

The fact is that both departments have similar goals and would be a lot more efficient in delivery of services by sharing resources. The Recreation Department routinely offers programs geared to seniors, including the annual sand and salt program with the Department of Public Works, and they have the staffing wherewithal and expertise to coordinate events and activities. The Council on Aging, for its part, has a need for expanded space and would benefit from a partnership with a department that could provide that space. The Recreation Department has use of both Blackburn Hall and Studio East (former East Walpole library), with room for expansion at Blackburn, according to the 2012 Maguire Group report.

The fact is that senior centers aren’t and shouldn’t be just for seniors anymore. In the 21st century, Councils on Aging integrate all members of the community, including non-seniors. This is a goal that the Walpole COA itself has sought, as they noted in their presentation to Fall Town Meeting in 2014 that “a new center [would] provide better meeting facilities for all that use it, not just the senior population but also their friends, families and other Walpole residents.”

The distinction between a senior center and community center is important, because Town Meeting will vote Wednesday on whether to appropriate about $400,000 to design a new senior center.

The current Walpole Council on Aging is housed in a former cafeteria in Town Hall, a former school. One large room is used for both events and smaller meetings. The COA does not have adequate space for some of its events, private meetings, storage, and health services.

According to the Mass Executive Office of Elder Affairs, the town of Walpole has approximately 4,926 residents above the age of 60, with this number expected to rise to 6,438 by 2020. However, in their FY 2015 budget request, the Walpole Council on Aging stated that between April 1, 2013, and March 6, 2014, they measured about 392 people total who were “active” participants in COA activities. Even assuming that this number is an underestimate because of the difficulty of compiling accurate counts, the number is low enough to require a serious discussion about whether a full-fledged senior center, as opposed to a community center, is in the best interest of our community.

Given the great connections between the Recreation Department and the Council on Aging, a community center, with shared space between both departments, would be a very reasonable idea.

A Community Center would address both the COA’s current space needs and the Recreation Department’s identified future needs. The Maguire Group’s 2012 report indicated that the town will eventually need more space for recreational activities, noting potential space shortages at Blackburn Hall.

The Recreation Department currently utilizes Blackburn Hall as its primary user, but the Maguire Group report indicates that an addition could be constructed to Blackburn Hall.

This addition could be built for both departments to share. Pursuant to the COA’s own stated goal from 2014, a combined Community Center would enable the integration of non-seniors into the COA’s activities. The COA would have priority because of the lack of any other dedicated space of their own. Whenever there is available time, the addition could be used by the Recreation Department to maximize the use of the building.

Putting a Council on Aging senior center within a larger community-centered building is not unprecedented. Mansfield, for example, with a 60+ (age) population of 2,763, has had a joint library-senior center facility since 1989, and the senior center space is available for community purposes when not being used by seniors. Wayland, with a 60+ population of 2,953, is in the process of exploring a joint senior center-library that would be about 40,000 to 43,000 square feet in total. Sharon, too, with a 60+ population of 3,516, has their Council on Aging housed within a larger Community Center on Lake Massapoag. Dover’s Council on Aging, with 1,068 60+ residents, occupies a part of the Caryl Community Center.

It is also important to note that outside of Massachusetts, many senior centers, community centers, and Councils on Aging are operated at the county level or at a regional level. This maximizes efficiencies in tax dollars in delivery of services vital to seniors, but still delivers quality. Though regional senior centers are uncommon in Massachusetts, the Walpole COA reports that as many as 15 to 20 percent of Walpole seniors regularly travel to other town senior centers to enjoy activities that the Walpole COA is unable to offer. This means that, generally speaking, the Walpole senior center does not need to be massive in size. Regionalization is the wave of the future, and the Walpole COA needs a dedicated space of their own while also furthering its ties to other area senior centers to allow Walpole seniors to enjoy a full range of programs and services from all over the area.

So, in summary, a Council on Aging should have two goals in mind:

Serve not just seniors, but also non-seniors
Not attempt to provide every possible service to seniors, competing with other towns

A new “Community Center” addition to Blackburn Hall would provide office space for the Council on Aging staff, a program room, space for games and smaller meetings, and health rooms for medical services. Given the need for maximum handicapped accessibility, Blackburn Hall’s elevator and overall access would need to be upgraded, which has been a town goal for many years anyway.

In designing the addition, every effort should be made by the town to design it using blueprints from other communities, to cut design costs. Also, the addition should be free of “wants” rather than “needs”, like gift shops and bocce courts, that have been suggested in previous proposals for a new senior center.

In attempting to determine the cost and size of a proposed new Community Center, it is necessary to examine the sizes of other senior centers in the state with comparable senior populations to avoid compilation of incomplete data.

Although there is no comprehensive statewide database of senior centers and square footages, the state’s elder population statistics provide a basis for comparing Walpole to other towns, in terms of comparable senior populations. For the purposes of this article, below is a list of the square footages, if available, of senior centers in communities with senior populations comparable to Walpole.

Walpole’s 60+ population of 4,926 ranks 81st largest among all municipalities in the state, according to the Executive Office of Elder Affairs. Below are the square footages of the 80th-70th largest ranked communities, all communities that have slightly larger senior populations than Walpole. Not all senior center square footage information was available, and some data was only available through online publicly accessible Assessors records and may be simple estimates.

Wakefield (4,935 60+): 17,000 sq. ft.
Dedham (4,966 60+) – PROPOSED 16,000 sq. ft., still in the planning stages
Belmont (5,063 60+): 20,000 sq. ft.
Burlington (5,069 60+): could not be found
Wellesley (5,070 60+): 14,000 sq. ft., still being completed
Milton (5,103 60+): 6,852 sq. ft.
Somerset (5,119 60+): 18,000 sq. ft.
Wareham (5,201 60+): could not be found (shared space)
Chelsea (5,202 60+): could not be found
Canton (5,251 60+): 4,400 sq. ft., still being completed, renovated former K of C Hall
Milford (5,256 60+): 17,000 sq. ft.

In addition, here is a list of area senior centers, including all towns bordering Walpole, regardless of population comparability to Walpole:

Foxborough (3,318 60+): 6,000 sq. ft. (with preliminary plans for a 10,000 sq. ft. facility)

Norwood (6,235 60+): could not be found

Norfolk (1,512 60+): 5,600 sq. ft.

Medfield (1,932 60+): 11,000 sq. ft. (opened in 2008, $3.1 million, two-story, with multipurpose room, computer rooms, library, fitness area)

Sharon (3,516 60+): 14,000 sq. ft.

Westwood (3,426 60+): 5,000 sq. ft.

Dover (1,068 60+): could not be found, shared space in Caryl Community Center

Franklin (4,552 60+): 16,100 sq. ft. (opened in 2007, $6.2 million, common room, cafe, gift shop, exercise, computer rooms, greenhouse, project room)

Other communities in the state that have recently completed, or are in the process of completing senior centers include, in no particular order:

Marshfield (4,803 60+ residents) –
12,000 sq. ft (with unfinished second floor for future expansion)
Two-story, multi-purpose/dining room, reception area
Opened in 2003
$3.5 million

Webster (3,776 60+ residents) –
9,000 sq. ft.
Still being completed
$19.5 million (including 66 senior housing units)

Stoughton (6,120 60+ residents) –
7,500 sq. ft.
Full service kitchen, multi-purpose room, game/crafts room, health exam room, COA offices

Rockland (3,755 60+ residents)
9,273 sq. ft.
One-story, full service kitchen, 2,000-square foot cafeteria, fitness room, health clinic
Opened in 2014
$2.6 million

There is no denying that some communities have constructed large senior centers even with smaller senior populations, but there are also a few communities who have opted for more modest facilities even with larger populations. This is likely a result of each community’s distinct goals and funding wherewithal. Also, as in Walpole, a community’s total elder population is rarely equivalent to the actual number of people who use the senior center regularly.

However, with such variability in sizes of senior centers (from Mansfield, Milton, Canton, and Stoughton which occupy very small spaces, to communities like Wellesley, Dedham, and Belmont that have constructed larger facilities), it is difficult to precisely determine what the appropriate size of a senior center in Walpole should be.

Even many Walpole seniors would agree that a 20,000-square foot facility is too massive, while a facility smaller than 10,000 square feet is too small. An appropriate compromise, therefore, is somewhere in the middle that still balances cost concerns, between 13,000 and 15,000 square feet.

With a 5,000 square foot addition included with the 12,000-square foot Blackburn Hall, the total facility would expand to about 17,000 square feet, with about 5,000 square feet solely dedicated to the Council on Aging, and a majority of the remainder of the space shared between the COA and Recreation Department.

As of 2014, Dedham was assuming that a senior center construction costs about $283 per square foot. The Maguire Group, meanwhile, projects the cost per square foot of a senior center at about $250, and an addition to Blackburn Hall at about $300 per square foot. Using a conservative estimate of about $300 per square foot, plus related costs (such as design, insurance, and other “soft” costs) we can conservatively assume that a 5,000 square foot addition to Blackburn Hall would cost about $2.6 million. The construction itself would cost $1.5 million.

The biggest concern expressed by members of the COA to putting a senior center addition to Blackburn Hall is that there will be too much noise from users of Blackburn Hall. This issue can potentially be addressed by soundproofed walls, and thicker walls and floors.

Even if construction costs rise, $2.6 million is still a reasonable target even if the square footage has to decrease.

Non-construction costs include up to $225,000 in sitework, fees for construction contingency, construction escalation, and “soft” costs for design fees. The town would also have to pay bond interest costs.

Funding a Blackburn Hall “Council on Aging” addition, without an override – $2.6 million (with a 10-year bond):

$210,000 from the one-time sale of the old library
– This has been identified already by the town as a revenue source. This is available for expenditure. The old library sold for $213,000 in total.

$700,000 (POTENTIAL) from Community Development Block Grant
– This has been identified already by the town and the Maguire Group as a POTENTIAL revenue source, however the town has not been promised a grant.
– The CDBG grant funding, from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, can be used for infrastructure like senior centers and playgrounds.
– Walpole last received CDBG grant funding in 2009, for economic development.
– The average CDBG grant amount in the state is $741,000.
– Massachusetts communities received about $27.5 million in federal CDBG grant funding in 2014.
– If it turns out the grant is unavailable, simply reduce the cost of the community center by $700k, or increase the necessary private donations (see below)

$1,000,000 from private donations
– This is not unprecedented. The new library was funded in part by $1 million in private donations. The senior center would attract much of the same group of donors that the library did. In addition, the former Friends of the COA has previously said they could build a new senior center at least in large part using private donations. Since this proposed facility will be a “Community Center,” it would also attract the support of the Recreation Department and their ties to potential donors.
– Other senior centers that have been funded in part by private donations include Rockland and Cohasset.

$690,000 from the new library surplus
– This has been identified already by the town as a revenue source. This is available for expenditure. The surplus is actually $900,000 total, but the remaining $210,000 can be utilized for other facilities.

Total: $2,600,000 in 10 years

New Assistant Town Administrator to be outside hire

April 22, 2015

Thomas Gregory, a Worcester resident, will take over as Assistant Town Administrator in Walpole next week.

Gregory, 40 years old, currently serves as Assistant to the Town Manager in Shrewsbury. He has served in that position since 2011.

In December, he was an unsuccessful finalist for the Town Administrator job in Rutland, Mass.

Read a 2013 profile of Gregory in the Worcester Business Journal.

180 does not know at this time if Gregory will move closer to Walpole. Unlike the Town Administrator, the Assistant Town Administrator is not required by the Town Charter to live in Walpole or in proximity to it.

Time for your feedback

April 15, 2015

Thank you.

New entity to take over WCTV

April 7, 2015

A long saga involving the town’s community television station will officially come to an end in a few months, with a planned consolidation and reorganization into what is intended to be a more accountable, efficient cable access entity.

Walpole Community Television will soon move out of its longtime East Street headquarters, and morph into a new Walpole Media Corporation, to be based out of Walpole High School. The new WMC will oversee the town’s three PEG community cable channels – public, educational, and government – and will be closely aligned with the high school’s existing television production courses.

The phase-out of WCTV, founded in 1985, marks an unceremonious end to three years of intense battles between the WCTV Board of Directors and the Board of Selectmen. In 2012, then-Cable TV Advisory Committee Chairman Matthew Fearnley began uncovering alleged improprieties in the organization’s spending, which is funded from PEG fees on Walpole cable bills. Selectmen began pushing for more oversight of WCTV’s funds, while criticizing WCTV for offering only minimal community programming and little support for the town’s technology needs.

Selectmen cut off WCTV’s lucrative revenue stream in 2013, totaling about $400,000 per year, and charged a task force with developing a new community cable access entity. Since the revenue stream was cut off, the town has diverted about $700,000 in total cable revenue that legally can not be used for any purpose other than community television-related expenses.

The task force, chaired by former Selectman Eric Kraus, was able to come to terms with the existing WCTV Board, which had little leverage due to the loss of revenue, and the two boards merged into a nine-member Board of Directors earlier this year to oversee the transition to a new entity.

The Board’s plan is to spend the next few months setting up WMC, and then hold elections in September or October for cable subscribers to elect a new Board. The makeup of the Board will likely be reduced at that time, and will also include permanent representatives from the School Committee and Selectmen. Subscribers will also vote to ratify a new set of bylaws in the election.

The Board plans to hire a new Executive Director before the summer, and the station’s two existing full-time employees are expected to stay on, at least initially. WCTV’s former Executive Director, and a part-time secretary, were both laid off last year as part of the organization’s efforts to conserve costs.

During the summer, the high school’s cable studio and an adjoining custodial room will be renovated into a larger multi-room production and classroom complex with its own secure access separate from the school. On a short-term basis, until the separate access is complete, visitors to the studio will be required to go through the school’s main entrance, and will have to obtain a visitor pass.

The renovation will cost about $130,000 and will be paid for through the PEG fee revenue. The work will be performed by the town’s Building Maintenance Department.

The Board plans to complete negotiations with Selectmen to obtain permanent control of the PEG revenue stream and also to take over the existing $700,000 pool of diverted revenue.

The Board is hoping to convince Selectmen to allow WMC to pay rent for the studio of no more than $1 per year, in exchange for the organization’s technical and financial support of the high school’s television production program and of the district’s technology needs. One component of the studio renovation project, for example, is to purchase brand new computers for the television production courses.

The Board envisions that the partnership between WMC and the school district would be similar to that in Norwood, where Norwood Public Access Television (NPA-TV) occupies space inside Norwood High School and shares staff and resources.

Although federal law prohibits use of PEG cable revenue for purposes unrelated to cable access, the money can be used for technology and services that relate to the core mission of community cable television. WMC may buy computers for the schools, as long as they relate to editing videos and are involved with the school department’s video production program. Similarly, the cable corporation may use PEG fees to subsidize some of the high school’s utility and personnel expenses if they are used in any way by the corporation. The director of NPA-TV, for example, also works for the Norwood schools, allowing shared salary expenses between the schools and the non-profit NPA-TV.

The new partnership with the schools will also allow WMC to cover more school-related extracurricular and athletic events. Perhaps in a reflection of how connected the entity will be to the schools, the nine-member Board of Directors is made up of five current school employees, one former school employee, and one former School Committee member. Three of those former school employees had come from the Selectmen’s task force before the two boards merged.

Fearnley, who had previously criticized WCTV for ending its scholarship program and for offering only minimal support to the school’s television production program, said he was “hopeful for the new WMC” but “saddened by the lost decade of opportunity that Walpole High School students experienced” with WCTV.

All three legs of the town’s PEG channels – public, educational, governmental – will be operated out of the consolidated high school location. Previously, WCTV had overseen the public channel from their East Street location, while the high school studio operated the educational channel, and Town Hall controlled the governmental channel. The consolidation will reduce the duties of the town’s IT Director, who had been running the government programming, and will also allow for more efficient use of the TelVue servers that are used to broadcast the channels, and equipment in general.

“We will eliminate a major duplication of effort, equipment, facilities, and particularly people, both paid and volunteer, which will allow us to make the best possible use of all our resources,” Board member Jim D’Attilio told The Walpole Rebellion last month.

In the long term, the Board hopes WMC will broadcast all elected board meetings on the governmental channel. Currently, only Selectmen and School Committee, along with select meetings of other boards, are aired.

Two more jump into Selectmen race

April 1, 2015

Two more candidates jumped into the race for the Walpole Board of Selectmen last night, coincidentally at about the exact same time.

Precinct 4 RTM David A. Salvatore, a local attorney, took out papers to run for one of the two three-year terms available on the Board this year. About five minutes later, former Selectman Eric Kraus also took out nomination papers to run for the Board. Both men signed each other’s nomination papers and wished each other luck in the campaign.

Salvatore was joined by his son, David L., who took the opportunity to register to vote a few weeks after his 18th birthday. He was also one of the first people to sign his father’s nomination papers.

Soon after taking out papers, Salvatore embarked on the first leg of a town-wide “listening tour,” going door-to-door in an East Walpole neighborhood. Afterward, he posted on his Facebook page that the residents he met were “very receptive” to his message that the current Selectmen are out of touch.

Kraus collected signatures from town employees within a few minutes of pulling papers.

Both Kraus and Salvatore join incumbent Selectwoman Nancy Mackenzie in the race. Selectman Chris Timson is not running again.

In a press release a few hours before taking out papers, Salvatore said he was intent on running a grassroots campaign.

“Now that my son is registering to vote, I hope to earn not only his vote but the votes of thousands of residents,” Salvatore said. In the press release, he said he would be “gathering signatures over the next couple of weeks and listening to voters.”

“I think that I am going to continue to find that [the voters] are in agreement that it is time for more creative, fiscally conservative thinking on the Board of Selectmen,” he said.

Salvatore, largely unknown outside his Precinct 4 constituency, will seek to become the first political newcomer since David Sullivan to secure a spot on the Board of Selectmen. However he is not new to the political arena, as his father served two terms as a City Councilor in Providence during the 1970s.

Kraus, who served on the Board from 2010 to 2013, has touted economic development and a pro-business mindset as his major accomplishments as a Selectman. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the town’s new community cable access station, Walpole Media Corporation, and is on the board of the Walpole Little League. Although Kraus supported overrides during his tenure as a Selectman, he is well-respected by many top fiscal conservatives for his frequent propitiatory approaches to some issues.

David L. Salvatore,  Town Clerk Ronald Fucile and David A. Salvatore shortly after the elder Salvatore took out nomination papers. (picture submitted by Salvatore campaign)

David L. Salvatore, Town Clerk Ronald Fucile and David A. Salvatore shortly after the elder Salvatore took out nomination papers. (Photo submitted by Salvatore campaign.)

2014 town salaries now available

March 27, 2015

You may now view the complete 2014 Town of Walpole payroll (download in Excel), exclusively on 180, in the Resources section.

The payroll spreadsheet also includes the town departments and job titles of all employees who earned more than $75,000 (this information added by 180.)

As always, you may also take a look at past year payrolls on the same Resources page.

The town’s total gross payroll rose from $49,943,900.66 in 2013 to $53,128,412.35 in 2014.

Even so, total overtime costs and stipends town-wide went down somewhat between 2013 and 2014, with overtime decreasing from $1,638,518.05 in 2013 to $1,609,307.98 in 2014; and stipends dropping from $3,092,110.37 in 2013 to $2,958,147.52 in 2014.

The number of town employees who earned more than $100,000 was 68 in 2014, compared to 51 in 2013. For comparison purposes, this number was just 30 in 2009.

The total number of school employees who earned more than $75,000 in 2013 was 213. This number increased to 226 in 2014.

The number of town employees overall who earned $90,000 or more was 131 in 2013; the number of town employees earning $90,000 or more was 170 in 2014 (111 of these were school employees.)

The payroll will also be published in the 2014 town report next month.

According to the Department of Revenue’s statistics, the town of Walpole’s payroll spending is somewhat out of whack with comparable communities.

For example, Walpole has three fewer town employees than the town of Westwood, yet we spend almost $13 million more than Westwood in total payroll. Walpole has about 20 fewer employees than Milton, yet we spend almost $8 million more than Milton in total payroll. Walpole has about 200 fewer employees than North Attleborough, yet we spend almost $7 million more than North Attleborough in total payroll. Walpole has about 220 fewer employees than Medway, yet we spend almost $26 million more than Medway in total payroll. Walpole has about 400 fewer employees than Wayland, yet we spend almost $11 million more than Wayland in total payroll. Walpole has about 560 fewer employees than Dedham, yet we spend almost $1 million more than Dedham in total payroll.

Nobody at Town Hall has been able to explain to 180 why there are such differentials.

180 makes no judgments on the quality of work provided by town employees, and is simply providing the payroll for informational purposes because taxpayers have a right to know. 180 readers may do what they want with the information.

Rockwood appointed 58 people

March 23, 2015

Town Moderator Jon Rockwood was first elected in 2004. He announced this month he will not run for re-election this year.

During his 11-year tenure, he appointed a total of 39 different individuals to the three committees that the Moderator appoints – Finance Committee, Capital Budget Committee, and Personnel Board. On top of that, he also re-appointed 19 people who had been appointed by previous Moderators (in most cases, those appointed by his immediate predecessor, Jim Brady.)

(Rockwood technically made 40 new appointments, but one of those, William Ryan, was appointed separately to the Capital Budget Committee and Personnel Board two different times.)

Here is an unofficial list compiled by 180 from Town Clerk records and Town Reports of all of the people he either appointed, or re-appointed.

This list does not include people who served on any of the three committees at the time Rockwood took over but who may not have been re-appointed by Rockwood or may never have even asked for re-appointment or resigned, thus not giving Rockwood a chance to specifically re-appoint them. Also, 180 makes no guarantee of completeness given potential gaps in town records, but every effort was made to compile a complete list.

* = re-appointment of a previous Moderator

Finance Committee
Carol Lane *
Thomas Bowen *
Ralph Knobel *
John W. Stadtler *
Thomas Jalkut *
Mary Ann Boragine *
Stephen F. Connell *
E. Stanley Kelliher *
James E. O’Neil *
Lynn Donovan *
John J. Carty
Steven M. Rose
Michael F. Barry
Kristin Morrison
Mark Gallivan
Mary Hickey
Mary Kent
Joanne Muti
Larry Pitman
Alice Susan Lawson
Josette Burke
Julie Lowre
Joseph M. Denneen
Daniel Bruce
Donna Dicenso
Dennis Crowley
Anne Healy
Mark Trudell
Ann Ragosta
Ann Walsh
Timothy Williams
Michael Iwanowicz
Patrick Hinton
Joseph McDermott
Paul Stasiukevicius
Deborah Burke
Sheila Ahmed

Capital Budget
Edward C. Forsberg *
Robert Connolly *
Mark Comiskey *
Joanne Wohler *
John “Jack” Dean
William Ryan
William Abbott
Elizabeth Gaffey
John M. Spillane
David Sullivan
Eric Kraus
Albert Tedesco

Personnel Board
Brian Davis *
Mary Campbell *
Phillip Hinds *
William Prescott “Scott” Golding *
Madeline Conroy *
Elizabeth “Betsy” Doak
Nancy McCabe
Albert DeNapoli
William Ryan
John Sheppard

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