Public Safety building update: BOS aiming for Presidential ballot; may vet out reappointment of opponents (Updated)

by beth on April 26, 2016

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Above: The BOS doesn’t plan to let preservation of the former Peter’s School annex block a new Public Safety Complex

Last night, the Board of Selectmen reassured volunteers that they are still prioritizing a Public Safety Building project. Chair John Rooney said it was unacceptable for our emergency personnel to “live in squalor”.

Rooney told the Public Safety Study Committee they are still in negotiations with St. Mark’s School for land acquisition. They hope to be finished within 2-3 weeks. The Town will be seeking to put borrowing and/or acquisition on the Presidential election ballot. First, they’ll need to get approval at a Special Town Meeting.

Selectmen and the committee addressed the challenge they’ll face to get approval by 2/3 of Town Meeting voters.

All were in agreement that a concerted effort would be needed to educate the public on the project needs and costs. Selectman Dan Kolenda remarked that he’d be shocked if residents didn’t show up “to support the people who support them every day.”

As part of selectmen’s effort, Rooney agreed that it makes sense to vet out opponents on Town Committees when reappointments are made this June. The statement was made towards the end of the discussion, in response to a suggestion by the committee Chair Al Hamilton.

Earlier in the discussion, Hamilton reiterated the worries he wrote about in a recent letter on this blog. He was concerned by the failure of two articles at Town Meeting earlier this month: Main Street Reconstruction and disposition of Town owned properties.

Selectmen and Hamilton perceived that the Main Street project was supported by the majority of residents. Member Paul Cimino said they need to learn how to better deal with a vocal minority.**

Nodding at the other article, Rooney said the public needs to know that the current police station “has no future” as a police station or other Town owned building. He said he didn’t want people to claim to be blindsided.

That was an apparent reference to Town Meeting opposition to disposing of the run-down but historic Fayville Hall. Opposition wasn’t made officially by any committees. But comments by two committee Chairs added to the opposition on Town Meeting floor.

Chair of the Historical Commission, former firefighter Joe Hubley, said his commission hadn’t been consulted about the building’s fate. He asked for them to have a seat a the table. Community Preservation Commission Chair Freddie Gillespie wondered if alternatives had been looked at for other potential uses. She suggested looking into it for the Buffalo Soldier Museum which selectmen had sought a home for in the past.

The police station is site of the former Peter’s School annex. Preservation of the annex was a roadblock to a past effort to replace the police station. At the time the Historical Commission recommended renovating and expanding the building. One outspoken member, Kate Matison, was even inspired to launch a preservation blog covering the building’s architectural significance.

Hubley, Matison’s and Gillespie’s terms all expire this June. Reappointments will be decided by selectmen.

Last summer, Kolenda pushed the board to hold off on reappointing members of the Historical Commission despite a continuing vacancy on the board. He urged instead promoting the openings to recruit a “larger pool of candidates from which to choose”.

At the time, Rooney and other board members disagreed.

Last night, Hamilton counseled selectmen to communicate Town policy to boards they appoint. He reasoned that voters elected selectmen by wider margins than the recent Town Meeting headcounts.

Hamilton said that his committee follows the board’s instructions even when he disagrees with them.*

Rooney accepted the point. After confirming that reappointments are the second week of June, he stated, “I do think certain vetting procedures need to be in place, especially with regards to this particular project.”

No other selectmen commented on the issue. (And selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf was absent.)

For now the committee’s work remains on hold. Selectmen hope to reach an Agreement in Principle with St. Mark’s soon. Once the committee learns what land is available, they can resume working with their consultant.

Hamilton told the board that they will need some “modest additional sums” to finish the site plan. Town Administrator Mark Purple confirmed that $15-20K should be available in engineering budgets.

*[Editor’s Note: I think it’s worth pointing out – The Public Safety Study Committee is an ad hoc committee created by the Board of Selectmen last year and can be dismissed by it. In contrast, many committees whose members are appointed by selectmen were created through acts adopted by Town Meeting. It may be reasonable for their members to perceive that they have an obligation to Town Meeting voters.]

**Updated (4/27/16 7:35 am): My original story didn’t clarify the order of the comments in the discussion. By first mentioning Mr. Rooney’s remark about vetting, it may have seemed that Mr. Cimino’s remark about a small minority referred to committee members. But his statement about a minority preceded discussion of committees and vetting.

While clarifying that, I thought it made sense to make sure readers understood that only Mr. Rooney made the statement. And the Chair did not specify what vetting would mean. Nor did he put targets on the backs of the committees or members I mentioned. But given the context of discussion, and the fact that those three members will be up for re-appointment this June, I believed it was worth examining.

1 Rebecca Deans-Rowe April 26, 2016 at 5:41 PM

As a member of the Historical Commission (speaking solely on my own behalf) I find the proposed “vetting of appointments” distressing. If the BOS wish to only appoint people who will not press for reasonable preservation and/or adaptive reuse of historical structures, why bother with a Historical Commission at all? Surely it is not the purpose or intention of any board, committee or commission to rubber stamp every project, or for the members to share identical views with the BOS? If this is the proposed response to concerns with town meeting, please know that the end result will be less democratic, not more.

A better approach might be to simply plan more effectively. When major projects are proposed, establish a process for all relevant boards or commissions to participate from the outset. Seek input and allow all views to be thoroughly expressed and presented to the voters well in advance. Then let the voters decide.

Suppressing any possibility of dissenting views by “vetting” volunteers on particular issues will effectively result in all decisions beginning and ending with the Selectmen. Some might be fine with this. Others might question how stifling differing views is ever more democratic.

2 Concerned April 26, 2016 at 9:51 PM

I am not part of any town committe. I do agree with the opinion expressed by Rebecca.

Our town usually has difficulty getting people to serve on boards or committees. Why are people going to volunteer when people like the three mentioned in the article may be let go because they expressed personal opinions? They are three people who are very committed to their respective causes, have given many hours of their personal time and have shared their expertise on town issues. They will be very difficult to replace. Don’t let them go for sharing personal opinions.

If the selectman used these committes more to help reach decisions they might have a better outcome at the town meeting as issues could be discussed beforehand rather than at the town meeting. Those commitees should be used for the purposes intended. That is the whole idea of having them.

I think the last survey taken of the priorities of residents needs to be revisited or a new survey needs to be done. It seems like many members of the town government are not in tune to those priorities when they make some of their decisions.

3 beth April 27, 2016 at 7:45 AM

As I updated in the story above only Mr. Rooney made the statement. And the Chair did not specify what vetting would mean. Nor did he put targets on the backs of the committees or members I mentioned. But given the context of discussion, and the fact that those three members will be up for re-appointment this June, I believed it was worth examining.

4 Al Hamilton April 27, 2016 at 8:38 AM

I was a member and chair of the committee formed to draft the now enacted Town Administrator By Law. This was the culmination of a decade of work to move the town in the direction of moving the BOS out of the day to day management of our government and into a supervisory/policy making role. The BOS has stated that building a public safety building is among the highest priorities of the town. That is the policy of the BOS and they are completely within their rights and indeed are responsible for seeing to it that their policy is implemented and supported within the town.

Each of the Selectmen won an election and with that comes the responsibility to govern and to set policy for the town. That includes vetting all applicants for town committees they appoint. No applicant has a life time appointment, when their terms expire they must seek appointment just as anyone else might. It is perfectly reasonable for the BOS to take into account an applicants views on important policy issues. If an applicant is in opposition to an policy set by the BOS the board should take this into account in the appointment process. Town Committees are part of our town government and the BOS has the right and I would argue the responsibility to set policy for those they appoint and expect that they will conform and implement that policy.

The Public Safety Building Committee (which I chair) has been meeting every 2-3 weeks for the past 14 months to come up with requirements and site analysis. In doing so, we have been operating under the policy guidance of the BOS which has indicated that this is a major priority for the town. It will require a major effort to place a plan for a site and funding before a Town Meeting. It is fundamentally unfair to the members of this committee for other branches of the executive that operate under the BOS to be in active opposition of these plans. We take our policy directive from those we elected and other BOS appointed committees should also give due respect to the voice of the voters who chose the BOS.

No one’s voice is being silenced. However, if you serve on a BOS appointed committee you should be willing to follow the policy guidance of the BOS. If you cannot then the honorable thing is to resign and oppose those policies from outside of the government or to take out papers and run against those who’s policies you oppose.

5 SouthboroDave April 27, 2016 at 9:47 AM

Thank you for you time and service Al. I wholeheartedly agree with your comments.

6 Rebecca Deans-Rowe April 27, 2016 at 10:13 AM

Al, I fully appreciate the efforts of you and your committee to establish a better facility for our first responders. I think everyone can agree that they deserve a safe, functional and up-to-date working environment.

Having said that, I believe there is some distinction to be made between an adhoc committee and a commission established in response to the acceptance of MA General Law (Part I, Chapter 40, Section 8D), which clearly outlines the duties and responsibilities of a Historical Commission. I am happy to say that I did not read the phrase “conform and implement” anywhere in the legislation. Such a concept would be decidedly undemocratic and defeat the purpose of any committee or commission.

This does not mean I am personally opposed to the project under discussion, nor does it mean that I do not understand the importance of working with our elected officials and other committees as much as possible. In fact, I am wholeheartedly in favor of compromise and cooperation, which I see as the only path to effective government. The best solution is to work to advance the policies and goals of our elected officials whenever reasonable, but to also raise concerns and provide a different view when necessary.

A majority vote at Town Meeting is indeed challenging to secure, but it is far more likely if all interested groups work amicably together. Suggesting those with differing opinions be weeded out and eliminated from the process is an almost certain path to failure, as it suggests an autocratic leadership style that Americans tend to shun.

A far more positive approach would be to take the temperature of where relevant committees and commissions stand on the issue now, and work to resolve any concerns. I think you will find that people who, like you, volunteer hours to serve the town are fair and reasonable and eager to look for common ground.

Vetting the project should be the goal, not vetting volunteers in search of warm bodies who will “conform and implement.”

7 Al Hamilton April 27, 2016 at 3:28 PM

So, here is the chapter and verse of the state law regarding historic commissions:

The law clearly envisions our elected officials (Selectmen) as the final authority on whether preservation is appropriate and the Commissions authority is only advisory.

“For the purpose of protecting and preserving such places, it may make such recommendations as it deems necessary to the city council or the selectmen and, subject to the approval of the city council or the selectmen,”

We hold elections for a reason. In this case, the commission may advise but the final decision is clearly the in the hands of the Selectmen.

8 Rebecca Deans-Rowe April 27, 2016 at 6:53 PM

It appears that the portion following the comma got cut off. The full language reads:

“For the purpose of protecting and perserving such places, it may make such recommendation as it deems necessary to the city council or the selectmen and, subject to the approval of the city council or the selectmen, to the Massachusetts historical commission, that any such place be certified as an historical or archaeological landmark.”

The approval in this instance refers to recommendation to the Massachusetts historical commission for certification. Context matters, so it is important to view the entire sentence. It is helpful to know under what specific circumstances approval is required.

9 M April 28, 2016 at 1:43 PM

Rebecca, Thank you. So well said.

10 Tim Martel April 27, 2016 at 10:49 AM


Your opinions are always a worthwhile read and I respect and appreciate them. I see your point and to a degree I’m with you, but I’m not sure I’m there 100%. Our government is a series of checks and balances, and the balancing of responsibility to BOS and Town Meeting is an important one – as frustrating as it may be at times.

I think Beth’s editorial note in the above article sums up the situation nicely – i.e. some appointed boards are not fully beholden to the BOS, and so shouldn’t necessarily have to “fall in line” with their policy. But I do fully support the selectmen’s ability to set whatever criteria they see fit for appointments (so long as its applied fairly and transparently, which it generally is). After all, that power is itself an important check on Town Meeting.

I also agree with others in that earlier communication between boards could prevent some of the opposition we’ve seen recently. Of course, that isn’t always an option as the Town doesn’t always control all angles in these situations.


11 Al Hamilton April 28, 2016 at 7:38 AM


Checks and balances refer to the relations between the various branches of government. I agree that the BOS has no special claim on Town Meeting.

However, when you ask to be appointed to a BOS appointed board you are asking to join the administration. This is no different than a cabinet post under the President or Governor. There may be vigorous debate within an administration about a policy objective but once the elected authority makes a policy decision they have the right to expect that that policy will be implemented and supported.

In effect when you take a position appointed by the BOS you are agreeing to be part of the BOS team, with the BOS being the Quarterback. Once the play is called each player has the choice to play their part, sit on the bench or join another team.

Unfortunately, today, we have the situation where the BOS calls a play and the players on the field execute whatever play they feel like. Chaos ensues.

What we have are a loose confederation of unaccountable fiefdoms that are self perpetuating and very nearly self appointing. If this is the case then we should either make all of these positions elected or just do away with elections all together.

12 Tim Martel April 28, 2016 at 1:27 PM

Public Safety Study Committee:
1. ad hoc
2. created by BOS
3. reports directly to BOS
4. appointed by BOS
5. I accept your opinion that members of this board ought to pursue the policy provided by the BOS.

Community Preservation Committee:
1. standing
2. created by Town Meeting
3. both State law & Town bylaw require the committee to provide recommendations directly to Town Meeting
4. appointed by BOS
5. I disagree with your opinion that members of this board must be subservient to the policies of the BOS.

1. I do not think the matter is as fully black and white as you’re suggesting. Instead, I suggest that each board has its own balancing of responsibilities to maintain based on its particular setup, within the greater scheme of checks and balances as dictated by state law and town bylaw.
2. I do continue to maintain that I support the Selectmen’s ability to use whatever criteria they deem fit in regards to exercising the power lawfully granted to them to make appointments.

As always, I appreciate the discussion.

13 Souse Bro April 27, 2016 at 11:42 AM

How unfortunate, Obama policies have arrived in town. If you do not agree with my lack of insight…you will be replaced.
In a few months the BOS will be moaning over how the residents don’t care and won’t volunteer their personal time on various boards. Good job Freddie, keep it up…

14 M April 27, 2016 at 12:56 PM

This is important for all Southborough citizens to take note. What is happening with our Town government? I agree with Rebecca. Frankly, the whole tone of the response from our BOS is outrageous to me and should be an alarm for everyone in town. They propose to only appoint members who AGREE with them?!! Their response to Town Meeting votes that basically said, you have not properly prepared and informed the public on the Article in question ( disposing of town properties) is to find new members of the Historical Commission and Conservation Committee that you know will abide by your wishes?! OUTRAGEOUS! We should be appointing people with knowledge in these areas, and hope for an openminded discussion and interaction with the BOS.

15 M April 27, 2016 at 1:19 PM

On another note, why does the BSO and Mr. Hamilton have the “perception” that the majority of citizens in Town supported the Main Street project? What is their reasoning? I never had this impression. My perception is that there was real opposition from the beginning, from many sources. There was a constant need for meetings and further committees to attempt to persuade the public, but resistance was always there. Saying that there was a “vocal minority” does not account for the actual vote. Stop it. Just accept that this project was not popular and move on.

I look forward to the final proposal from the Public Safety committee. I believe it is very important and worthwhile. I hope that some way can be found to integrate a little of the history of the old building, perhaps through the facade or design factors, but I personally plan to support your committee’s efforts and hope that all voices are heard and considered. The Main Street reconstruction and the Public Safety Complex are not the same. Please do not be fearful that all future projects are doomed because of the Main Street results. March on, AL, and thank you for your committee’s time and hard work.

16 Al Hamilton April 27, 2016 at 3:04 PM


I do not believe that I have expressed an opinion on the majority of the community supporting the Main St project although I personally did support it.

I have expressed concern about the difficulty of getting a 2/3 vote in the light of organized opposition, particularly if that opposition comes from within town government.

I do not want to see the efforts of the PS committee be thwarted as the efforts of the Main St group was.

17 M April 28, 2016 at 1:30 PM

My comments were based on the content of the original reporting on that meeting. I see from the Editor’s notes today that this “minority” comment was out of context. Regardless, I disagree in general with your view of the BOS’s interaction with Town Committees, as outlined again today in your posts. Perhpas that is a good discussion to have with Southborough citizens, prior to election. We all seem to have varied opinions.

On the matter of the Public Safety project, once again, I am trying to reassure you that the PS committee work does not seem to be receiving the same resistance.

18 Steve Phillips April 27, 2016 at 1:34 PM

As a member of the Main Street Working Group (speaking on my own behalf of course) I’d to comment.

I agree with Ms. Deans-Rowe that the role of the Historical Commission should be to advocate for sensible preservation of historic properties in our town, and that their mission extends beyond the limited role of implementing the policies of the Board of Selectmen. While I haven’t always agreed with every decision made by the Historical Commission, I think that this group has done a wonderful job of looking out for the long-term interests of our town, and the vast majority of voters at this year’s Town Meeting seemed to agree.

I’d also like to speak to my own role in the Main Street discussion. My name was first proposed for the Main Street Working Group by John Rooney on the floor at 2014 Town Meeting, when he proposed this group as an alternative to the citizen’s committee article, which ended up failing by three votes. As an abutter who had vocally expressed my concerns about this project, I understood that part of my role was to ask the difficult questions and make sure the concerns of abutters and residents were heard.

The Working Group was charged by the BOS specifically to look for ways to improve the Federal/MassDOT TIP project rather than evaluate alternatives to it. This charge severely limited the design changes we could advocate for the road since the federal standards are much more restrictive than what we could do as a town, and it also left us without a clear picture of what this project would look like if we chose to pursue this without TIP funding. While I had hoped for a less restrictive charge, over the past two years I’ve respected my responsibility to try to find ways to improve the TIP project rather than to fight against it.

Early this year, I became concerned about the issues raised by local business and income property owners who thought this project would affect them disproportionately. I felt that their concerns were important enough to justify a full discussion by our elected Board of Selectmen before the easement process was finalized and the road design locked in place. For this reason, I thought it was premature to move forward with this article at a Spring Town Meeting, and I proposed that this article should be deferred until the fall to give the selectmen time to review the remaining abutter concerns. I expressed my opinion directly to the Board of Selectmen as well as the Advisory Committee and the Working Group, and it would have been irresponsible for me not to have advocated for a delay in the easement process at Town Meeting as well. I think the town would have been better served if we had been able to involve the selectmen earlier to search for the best possible solution before bringing this article to Town Meeting.

Now that Town Meeting is over, we’re looking at a different landscape. Although it’s difficult to determine the reasoning behind any particular vote, it appears to me that the overwhelming vote at Town Meeting to reject the easements was primarily influenced by concerns about the scale of the design, particularly the expansion of the intersection, and the impact of the project on the small-town character of Southborough as a whole. For this reason, I believe that if the town intends to pursue the TIP project at a future Town Meeting, we need to present voters with a fair and thorough evaluation of the alternatives to the TIP project. How much will a limited repaving and repair effort cost, and can this be done with the existing state-funded Chapter 90 revenue stream? What would this look like, and what design choices could we make which would affect the costs or impacts of this project?

If the TIP project is really better, then the right way to present this at Town Meeting is “here are the alternatives, and here’s why we think this one is better for the town” rather than leaving these alternatives unexplored. If we’re going to move forward with this project, we need more than just a better sales pitch for the article which failed last time. For this reason I’ve signed on as co-sponsor for a warrant article in support of a prompt repaving/repair project as an alternative to the TIP-funded project. I believe that all of the alternatives need to be explored — thoroughly and fairly — and presented at Town Meeting so that the voters can make an informed decision based on the tradeoffs involved.

I serve at the discretion of the Board of Selectmen and would only continue on the Working Group for as long as they feel that my role is helpful in advancing the goals of the town. Now that Town Meeting has spoken, I believe that if this group moves forward, it needs to be with an expanded charge which allows it to explore all alternatives rather than just the TIP project. If I can serve a useful role on this group I will be glad to continue, but this is the selectmen’s decision to make. In any case I’ll keep working to advocate for a solution which fits the needs of our town.

Along the same lines, I understand Mr. Hamilton’s frustration that the hard work of the Public Safety Committee is not guaranteed to result in approval at town meeting, but I think that the better approach is to accept that part of his committee’s role is to make the case for why this project is important enough to justify demolishing Peter’s Annex, as well as the other costs and benefits involved. We can’t pretend that tradeoffs don’t exist with these types of projects, and I think that it’s much better to put all of the alternatives on the table and let the voters decide.

19 M April 28, 2016 at 1:40 PM

Steve, thank you for your hard work on the project and for this clear explanation. I believe that you very well expressed and understand the frustrations of those who were opposed to the Warrant and yet who may have approved an alternative. I hope that the BOS accepts your offer to continue.

20 Al Hamilton April 27, 2016 at 1:47 PM

Let us be real clear here. The elephant in the room is the so called Peters Annex (now the police station). For the record, the Public Safety Building Study committee did meet with the Historic Commission to discuss the fate of the Peters Annex and it was clear from the meeting that the Commission would oppose the demolition of this building.

It should also be noted that the previous attempt to build a Public Safety Building was thwarted at least in part by the efforts of the Historic Commission over this same issue.

The Public Safety Building Study committee evaluated a large number of town owned sites and recommended that the existing site with some additional land was the best solution. Unfortunately, that will probably require the removal of of the Peters Annex. The BOS has made it clear (properly in my mind) that the Peters Annex has no future as a public building.

4 different sets of architects have told us that the building cannot be reasonably renovated as a police station. It is in terrible condition (not to mention ugly). It lacks modern amenities and is not ADA compliant. It stands between us and building a public safety facility on this site.

So, the Historic Commission cannot say they were not consulted but the grim reality is that we cannot realistically build a public safety building building on that site without removing this building.

The Historic Commission is appointed by the BOS. The BOS has indicated that building a public safety building is among its highest priorities. Is it appropriate for a BOS appointed board to openly oppose the policies of the Town as determined by the BOS? I respectfully suggest it is not. If a member feels so strongly about a policy then the only honorable thing to do is resign.

No one is being muzzled. No one is being denied the right to organize against a particular policy. I am sure no one is being denied a voice in this forum. But I do think it is fundamentally dishonorable to accept an appointment from an elected board and then work to undermine the polices of that board.

What is fundamentally unfair is to ask one set of volunteers to work hard to implement the policy goals established by our elected leaders while other boards appointed by the same leaders work to undermine those goals.

21 Rebecca Deans-Rowe April 27, 2016 at 2:49 PM

Al, you ask if it is appropriate for a Historical Commission to openly oppose the policies of the Town as determined by the BOS.

The short answer is yes. Again, I am speaking only on my own behalf when I say this. Appointed members are not (nor should they be) beholden to the BOS for appointing them and assumed to comply with every policy regardless of a contradiction with the duties and responsibilities set out in MA General Law. That would be an absurd expectation that would render the entire Commission toothless and pointless.

Should any group set out to deliberately obstruct or impede the policies and goals of the Selectmen? No, of course not. Somewhere in between blind compliance and obstruction you will find where actual fairness and honorable service to the town lies.

Please review the purpose of a Historical Commission at Nowhere will you find language supporting your opinion that a Commission should carry out its responsibilities solely in accordance with the priorities of the Board of Selectmen.

I understand your very genuine concern about seeing the new public safety complex through to completion. I respectfully suggest that a more effective and productive path might be to work on promoting the value of the project rather than attempting to stave off opposition. Such an approach rarely works.

22 Al Hamilton April 27, 2016 at 9:12 PM

Ms. Deans-Rowe

I respectfully suggest you see my other post where it is clear that the responsibility for decisions in this are is the responsibility of the BOS.

23 Steve Phillips April 27, 2016 at 4:09 PM

Mr. Hamilton — just so I understand, you really believe that it is “dishonorable” for a member of the Historical Commission to oppose the demolition of a historic property, and that the Board of Selectmen should stack the Historical Commission with pro-demolition advocates to improve your project’s chances at Town Meeting? Is this the real Al Hamilton speaking or has someone hijacked your email account?

24 Al Hamilton April 27, 2016 at 9:11 PM


The short answer is mostly yes.

It is clear, at least from my reading of the state authorizing statute, that the responsibility for making the decision with respect to the recommendations of the Historic Commission lies with the BOS who are charged with governing based on their having won elections. If the BOS decides in a way that differs from the recommendation of the Historic Commission then I do not believe that it is appropriate for the Historic Commission to continue to act in opposition to that decision. They are appointed by the BOS and ultimately report to that board. Once a decision is made they need to move on. If they want to actively oppose that decision then resignation is, in my opinion, the honorable thing to do.

Trying, as a member of an appointed committee, to undermine a decision made by your appointing board is in my mind duplicitous. I believe that the BOS members by virtue of being elected have won the right and responsibility to govern. One of the things that governing means is taking the steps to make sure that your policies are not hollow pronouncements. It is perfectly reasonable for the BOS to appoint committee members who are willing to respect their policy directives and to suggest to those that want to oppose them that there may be better ways to serve their community.

Sorry, but possibly the only thing I agree with Bush the Younger is that “Elections have Consequences”. At some point the people that ran for election and earned the responsibility of governing need to be shown a minimum of respect.

How in the world can they ask citizens to take on difficult and time consuming challenges that implement their stated priorities if other boards they appoint and oversee actively oppose those priorities. All that will result is failure and frustration.

25 Rebecca Deans-Rowe April 27, 2016 at 10:26 PM

I believe you are reading the statute incorrectly, but I will clearly not make progress pursuing this with you.

I find the use of such words as “dishonorable” and “duplicitous” uncalled for and discourteous, and I am truly sorry you felt the need to characterize dedicated service to the town in that manner.

Best wishes with your endeavors.

26 Al Hamilton April 28, 2016 at 7:57 AM

I am sorry if you feel offended but I am not sorry for using these words. I clearly feel strongly about his matter.

Let me ask you the following questions:

You serve in an unelected position in the executive branch of our government. You have been appointed by elected officials.

To whom are you accountable?

Should the policy objectives of your appointing board be given serious consideration in the execution of your duties?

If you disagree with a policy directive of our elected leaders that falls within the span of your official capacity do you believe it is appropriate to work against those objectives while remaining in the government?

I am really curious about how you would parse this question because the answers seem clear to me.

27 Rebecca Deans-Rowe April 28, 2016 at 9:49 AM

Okay, one last swing at furthering understanding and bridging differences. I think my answers might be surprising and challenge your assumptions.

To whom are you accountable?

The Board of Selectmen. But this does not mean I will not hold an opinion that contradicts the BOS on occasion. By your standards, every board, committee and commission member would be bound to vote in support of every objective the BOS put forth. I think this is, on its face, a ridiculous scenario.

As you know, the Commission votes to take a position on a relevant issue (given time to do so). The majority vote prevails. Individual members are still entitled to voice their opposition, and vote as individuals at Town Meeting. Personally, if the SHC voted to support the BOS, I would not vote against the Commission. If the Commission had not voted to take a position on an issue, I am free to vote as I see fit as an individual citizen.

Should the policy objectives of your appointing board be given serious consideration in the execution of your duties?

Obviously, yes. 100 percent yes. And contrary to your perception, they are given serious consideration.

If you disagree with a policy directive of our elected leaders that falls within the span of your official capacity do you believe it is appropriate to work against those objectives while remaining in the government?

I am not entirely sure what you mean by “work against,” but, in the context of your earlier remarks, you seem to be implying subversive tactics. If you are referring to voting in support or not as part of a Commission, then, obviously, yes, it is appropriate to vote according to my belief. I would feel quite silly sitting on a Commission taking an endless stream of automatic, unanimous “yes” votes in favor of the Selectmen’s policies regardless of the impact on historical preservation.

But I am only one person. If I am in the wrong on an issue and the BOS have the correct view that aligns with the electorate, then the Commission will likely vote in support. Again, the majority will prevail. I have a great deal of faith in democracy. And, again, I would not vote against the majority vote of the Commission at Town Meeting.

Really, Mr. Hamilton, healthy, democratic opposition is not something to fear, suppress, or cast aspersions on. It is the best part of our government. I still don’t know my final thoughts on the ultimate fate of Peter’s Annex, because we don’t have all the information yet. I think you are in danger of creating problems where none might exist. I really do hope you will move forward in a positive spirit and work on building support for the project you so clearly believe is worthy.

All the best.

28 southsider April 27, 2016 at 5:41 PM

It’s rare that these standing committees are put together for a single issue or project.
I think members should be “vetted” based on their knowledge, qualifications and willingness to work hard for the Town’s interest.
This one item litmus test perspective just seems wrong to me and will eventually make it difficult to fill some of these roles. Taking this a step further, will any change at the Board of Selectman level result in widescale non-renewals for lots of Committee members?
Too hard to get enough volunteers as it is, in my opinion, to begin weeding out applicants based on one opinion.

29 Al Hamilton April 27, 2016 at 9:21 PM

The flip side is it will be very difficult to recruit members of committees to explore needed projects if they cannot even count on other committees to respect the policy directives of their appointing officials.

Really, this is a prescription for stagnation and failure. Why would anyone sigh up for that?

30 Alison Craftsman April 27, 2016 at 8:36 PM

We owe a big “thank you” to MySouthborough. Without this story we would have no record of the political scheming which is underway, as displayed at the Selectmen’s Meeting this week. (I could not find it on Southborough Media or on TV).

Is it any wonder that Selectmen have trouble getting residents to volunteer for Committees? Here is proof that they will be vetted on whether they support Selectmen’s policies. What happens if they don’t? Are they to be removed, as Mr Hamilton suggests? Or asked to resign?

It is clear from recent letters to MySouthborough (on other issues), that the matter of political control and vetting has been led by Mr Hamilton, who is on his familiar campaign to reform our government. What is deeply disturbing is that he is now being abetted by certain Selectmen. Why? Clearly it is because Town Meeting voted resoundingly against their opinions. For example, they (Hamilton and the Selectmen) wanted to sell Fayville Hall — without even asking the Historical Commission to do a study of its potential uses. Town Meeting voted against that sale, resoundingly. Similarly, Mr Hamilton and the Selectmen wanted numerous land takings (easements) for a big Federal/State highway passing through our historic downtown. Again, there was no study of the obvious alternative: a small-scale road repair, under local control, which would preserve our unique character. Instead of 2/3 in support, that Article lost by 2/3. It was an overwhelming rejection, which is a good indication of Town sentiment toward historic preservation.

Mr Hamilton insists that all Committees follow the policies of the Selectmen. But what policies should the Selectmen follow? The Town Master Plan calls for historic preservation and protection of small-town character. Is that Plan no longer valid?

The disposition of the police Station building is premature. St Mark’s has not yet made a decision on how much land they may provide, if any. There may be enough land to allow the building to remain, or not, assuming it is considered worthwhile. Also, there has not yet been any official examination of potential reuses of the building.

In spite of this lack of readiness, and instead of waiting until the issues have been clarified, Mr Hamilton has proposed a preemptive strike. He wants the Selectmen to remove potential opponents, from other Town Commissions, in advance of next Town Meeting. This is really quite shocking.

If sensible procedures were to be followed, there would be no need for this naked power play. If anyone should resign, it should be Mr Hamilton, because we now have good reason to question his ability to provide an objective, unbiased study, and communicate fairly with other Committees.

31 beth April 27, 2016 at 9:43 PM

SAM did post the meeting:

32 Al Hamilton April 28, 2016 at 7:21 AM

I serve at the pleasure of the BOS. They can have my resignation anytime they want it. That is what it means to give deference to the BOS policy objectives. That is why we have elections.

33 M April 28, 2016 at 2:22 PM

Al, your arguments regarding the Executive Branch of our Federal government perhaps may have finally distinquished the difference in your view from other citizens’ views of how our Southborough town government should be led. One serves at the pleasure of the President of the United States, e.g. in a Cabinet position, yes, and should resign if that appointee cannot continue in good conscience to support the President’s policies. This does not mean,as an example, that the Attorney General cannot bring legal action that is in opposition to the President. The Cabinet positions still have responsibilies to serve the people as well.
However, Southborough Town government has open meetings and public records and volunteer! citizen appointments and resulting votes at Town Meeting on the Warrants which differentiate us from the above Federal scenario. I believe, (and I ask others to submit their own interpretations) that every committee, every appointee, every elected official and every employee is still obligated to follow the will of the voters in this town, as expressed at Town Meeting. We elect the BSO to carry out the will of the voters, do we not?

34 Al Hamilton April 29, 2016 at 10:05 AM

“We elect the BSO to carry out the will of the voters, do we not?”

I think you have put your finger on the root of our difference.

I believe we elect the BOS to run our government and to implement their policy goals. Their vision for how to accomplish these things is a very proper topic for an election. Once elected I expect the BOS (or any other elected executive) to govern along the lines they put forth in the election.

There is, quite frankly, no mechanism in between elections, including Town Meeting, to discern what the “will of the voters is” that is only expressed at the ballot box. What we do have is a loose set of special interests who often claim to represent the “will of the voters” in pursuit of their own policy goals. I do not fault them for this but neither should we believe that they have some super powers that enable them to instantaneously divine the”will of the voters”.

So, I believe, that in reality the BOS is in a real sense representative of the “will of the voters”. They ran, were elected by substantial numbers (far more than attend town meeting) and I believe they have won the right and responsibility to govern not to constantly stick their fingers up in the air chasing some mythical “will of the voters”

35 M April 29, 2016 at 1:04 PM

“no mechanism in between elections, including Town Meeting, to discern what the “will of the voters is” ?? Then what is the point of Warrants? Why do we vote at Town Meeting? Why do we have committee work at all? Why not just allow our elected BOS do what they want?
Strangely enough, Al, this is your best argument because it is much more in keeping with our small town view of government. Perhaps we can now compromise, and I suggest that if the BOS allows for diverse opinions in their committee appointments and listens to all arguments, dissenting views, etc instead of vetting for those only in agreement, then the BOS will a receive a broader view of the “will of the voters” on a weekly basis. THIS is the mechanism. This is what citizens want. Citizens would like their voices to be heard, all year, at open meetings. They would like their elected candidates to fulfill their promises but at the same time be flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions. The officials are elected not just because of their policy ideas, but for their integrity and intelligence.

36 Al Hamilton April 30, 2016 at 10:35 AM

Town meeting, of which I am a fan, is most certainly not the “will of the voters”. It is the town legislature. It taxes, authorizes spending (but does not actually spend), and makes laws. It does not wield executive power and except by the above mechanisms and does not have the authority to make the executive (BOS, School Committees, Library Trustees, Town Clerk etc) do anything. Most of the authority exercised by these executives does not flow from town meeting but state law.

Town Meeting has all the good and bad attributes of a legislature. It is a fine forum for vigorous debate and clear rules of procedure. It is also easily dominated by special interests and systematically discourages participation by members with small or school age children and those who work. (I am not complaining but I don’t think we should be blind to this form of legislature’s faults)

No, the only place where the “will of the voters” is expressed is at the ballot box. That is the only place where there is a true secret ballot. Every year, voters (not town meeting) choose a set of people to exercise the executive functions of our government. More people perform this simple act, (which is far less burdensome on some who are discouraged from attending TM) than attend Town Meeting by a factor of 3 to 10. So, like it or not, if you want to see the expressed “will of the voters” then look at your School Committee or Library Trustees, or the BOS. That is where it resides.

37 M April 30, 2016 at 1:33 PM

Uncle! I give up. If what you say is true or valid, then I am not wasting my time at another Town Meeting. Why read any Warrant? Why go to committee meetings? Why volunteer to serve on committees? And why voice my opinion in this blog? Let’s just all go to the voting booth on election day and hope for the best.

38 Steve Phillips May 1, 2016 at 3:21 AM

I agree with Mr. Hamilton that our Town Meeting is completely ineffective. The citizens of Southborough are so cheap that they haggle over every dime and shoot down every budget expenditure —- wait, that didn’t happen??? We voted in the entire budget request with almost no discussion or controversy? And we approved a significant expenditure to preserve perhaps the most important historic property in Southborough? Forget about all that good stuff though — our Town Meeting is truly an affront to democracy.

So what is the basis for Mr. Hamilton’s crusade to abolish our town’s system of government? First, a bloated and disruptive road project which has been so controversial we’ve been arguing about it for TWELVE YEARS failed to gain approval. Second, a proposal for the town to dispose of several historically significant properties was rejected because nobody ever thought to run it by the Historical Commission.

I would suggest that, instead of spending his time lobbying to reinstate the Divine Right of Kings, Mr. Hamilton should be working with the Historical Commission and others to make sure that any issues with the public safety proposal can be explored BEFORE they reach the floor at town meeting.

39 Steve Phillips May 1, 2016 at 4:12 PM

By the way, I’m saying all of this in good fun and have the highest respect for all of the hard work Al and others are putting in towards the public safety complex. I just believe that healthy debate results in the best solutions and hope that our town will do everything we can to encourage this.

40 Al Hamilton May 2, 2016 at 8:37 PM

Steve, be careful, I spent some time reviewing the original Charter from the King. Negative Critiques of his majesties servants could be considered and act of treason.

41 Alison Craftsman May 1, 2016 at 5:07 PM

If Mr Hamilton’s procedures are followed, (blind obedience to Selectmen’s “policies”, or else resign), then the arguments over the Police Station are likely to follow the pattern of Main Street.

Why have we been arguing for twelve years over the Main Street project?

One obvious reason is the incredible stubbornness of the previous three Selectmen. They refused to examine the obvious alternative — a local project, designed primarily to preserve and enhance our unique historic character and value, and to minimize through traffic and more asphalt. As opposed to what they proposed (but failed) — a huge State highway designed under Federal rules to relieve future congestion.

Ask yourself whose needs would be served by Federal/State funding? Obviously the priority is given to State highway needs, not our local needs. The State priority is congestion relief. We would have become the fastest by-pass for Rte 9 blockage. They have no solution along Rte 9 itself. So widening Main St becomes the Rt 9 solution !

Local alternatives were not even allowed to be discussed by the Main Street Working Group. Their hands were tied — DELIBERATELY. Yes, you read that right. They were forbidden from examining a solution designed with our local needs as top priority.

So what did the Working Group do? It did what it was told to do — to find the least impact using State rules. They did a good job with that. But, not surprisingly, the minimal State solution they found is still way too big for our small town. No surprise there.

The Group did not do what it was forbidden to do — to find the least impact improvements with local rules. What a shame. What a waste of time. What a guarantee for failure.

Now I hear that over 200 residents have signed a petition to get the alternative (local repair) on the next Town Meeting. About time. It has been 40 years since the downtown section was repaved. It is an embarrassment, full of potholes.

Mr Hamilton’s political games with the Police Station is following the same pattern. He wants to deliberately obstruct other Committees from putting forth other alternatives. He wants them to follow “policy”, or resign.

The policy for Main Street is simple: to improve Main Street (not build a State Highway). The policy for Public Safety is simple: to improve Public Safety Facilities, It is not to jam Mr Hamilton’s preferred solution through without examining all alternatives. That is a recipe for failure, again.

The solution to all these issues lies in our new 5 member Board of Selectmen being more receptive to full participation and full examination. Selectmen must ensure that ALL alternatives are studied, legitimately, not less. Avoid bias, inertia and vested interests by ensuring that all viewpoints are represented on all committees.

42 Al Hamilton May 2, 2016 at 8:34 PM

Ok, I have a thick skin but let’s deal with the facts here.

1. A committee appointed about 10 years ago by the 3 selectmen to investigate a public safety facility met regularly and in the end, due to the condition of the building and the constraints of the sight concluded, with the help of an architect, that the “Peters Annex” could not be reasonably rennovated and that it needed to be torn down due to the constraints of the sight.

2. The First plan was torpedoed by a small cadre of people which included members of the Historic Commission who did not want the Peters Annex torn down

3. About a year and a half ago the 5 member board appointed a committee to tilt at this windmill again. I am a member and the Chair. For the past 16 months or so this committee has met every 3 or 3 weeks and has hired architects to help us figure out what we can do. The architects we hired and 2 of the other firms we interviewed all came to the same conclusion about the viability of the Peters Annex. This committee also met on several occasions with the BOS and met with the Historic Commission. These meetings have been televised and public.

4. Last fall the committee recommended to the BOS that we build a Public Safety complex on the existing site provided that we can acquire some additional land from St. Marks. The committee has not taken a formal position on the fate of the Peters Annex but it is hard to envision a use for the building given a decades worth of study.

I care little for the barbs cast in my direction but to assert that a broad set of alternatives have not been considered by 2 different groups of citizens and town employees who have worked tirelessly to try bring about this needed public infrastructure is deeply insulting to those dedicated volunteers, officials and town employees.

Unfortunately, I am not sanguine about the prospect of achieving multiple 2/3 votes on the floor of Town Meeting for this project. This project will change the look of “downtown”, hopefully for the better but will require certain changes which will be controversial. My great concern is that a small, vocal opposition will again torpedo this needed program.

43 Pat D May 2, 2016 at 12:11 PM

An excellent post, Alison — you hit the nail on the head! Thank you for a concise overview of the Main Street and Public Safety Facilities issues!

44 southsider May 3, 2016 at 10:46 AM

I’m late to the game on this one but am wondering if there were other considered solutions that might be more acceptable to the majority who seem to prefer not to change the look of “downtown”.

45 Al Hamilton May 3, 2016 at 1:22 PM

Assuming you are talking about a Public Safety Complex. Here are the design issues that drove the current recommendation.

1. A public Safety Building needs to be located near the Rt 9/85 overpass. The committee looked at other sights but concluded it was very important for Ambulance and Fire equipment to be near the only centrally located non grade crossing of Rt 9 in town. If we were to only build a police station then our location options would be far greater but that is not the task the committee was charged with by our elected leaders.

2. If you accept #1 as important that pretty quickly reduces the choices. The most obvious alternative was the Transfer Station. This was studied extensively and in the end rejected for several reasons including. Difficult access that is often clogged with traffic, Steep Grades, The Need to Reconfigure DPW operations as part of the project.

3. The committee also considered the Senior Center, the St. Marks Meadow, and a number of other sites.

4. In the end the Committee recommended that we develop the complex on the existing site if we could acquire some additional land to the west (towards 85) from St Marks. It is not a perfect solution the site remains constrained and the principle constraint is the Peters Annex. If we build on this site, it will probably have to go and at any rate has no function as a public facility (of which we already have too many).

If we build on that site, the look of “downtown” will change. The designs that disrupt fire operations the least push the new building towards Rt 30 and Rt 85. Designs that are more disruptive of fire operations during construction set the building further back.

There are no easy answers to this highly constrained system.

46 southsider May 3, 2016 at 1:55 PM

got it. Thanks for the quick reply.

47 Stu Evans May 3, 2016 at 1:12 PM

Mr Hamilton.

Regarding Alternatives for Police station

I understand your dilemma. Your issue seems to be the lack of land area, causing some people to call for demolition of the existing police building, which some may consider historic, or worth saving for other reasons. It may well be that you cannot think of other uses for it right now, but government needs change over time, and it is perfectly situated. With expanding population, with huge new housing projects underway, it is inevitable that the town will need more governemtn space eventually, and schools will fill up again.

So, if the land area is the problem, then why not consider more alternative sites ?

I don’t understand why the new police station has to be next to the Fire Station. There are many many examples of towns with police and fire in separate locations

What are some of the possible alternatives? Maybe less that ideal from your point of view, but still alternatives. For example….

1. Behind the DPW. I read that you eliminated this site because the entrance road off Rte 85 (traffic signal) is shared by other users. But why can’t the entrance be modified if necessary ? E.g. The exit lane might be widened to have two exit lanes. … Plus Police cars have sirens and cars do pull over. This alternative could be reconsidered.

2. Two sites south of DPW, along Rt 85.

A. Large vacant area on the opposite side of 85 from Post Office. Behind this land is the Comm Gas/ Eversource building. It must be several acres.

B. Or – section of Gulbankian land on corner of 85 , now used for bus parking. Plenty of land , without have to take any land used by the flower shop and plant nursery, which should continue because that is a wonderful local business. But I understand the busses are going anyway. Am I correct ?

Both sites have ideal access and visibility. .

3. Golf course ? – Absolutely NOT. This land gives the town the unique character it has. Same issue applies for a police station which ruins the views ( from Main St or Rte 85) looking at St Marks lawns and school

Anyway, the whole issue of alternative sites needs more examination. You seem to be pushing for a confrontation, which may not be necessary .

Just trying to be helpful.

48 Al Hamilton May 3, 2016 at 2:14 PM


Thank you. Most of the sites you discussed were considered and were less favorable (see my other post on this subject).

We did briefly consider separate buildings with the potential of sequencing the construction. (Build a Police Station first and then at some future date to be determined build a Fire station). However, we did not pursue this option for several reasons. First, our charge from our elected leaders was to find a site and then plan for a Public Safety building (not a Police Station or Fire Station). Secondly, there are some efficiency considerations in terms of shared space that could reduce the total costs of construction vs 2 separate buildings. This is a relatively good time for the town to borrow money, rates are low and the debt burden is declining as we pay off schools. Finally, given the effort to undertake this type of effort, if we only built a police station then a fire station was probably 10 to 20 years out.

Am I pushing for a confrontation? Perhaps, this matter has been studied for at least 10 years. It is time to make a decision. There are no perfect answers. Anything we do will upset someone.

49 Alison Craftsman May 4, 2016 at 5:38 PM

Hamilton please comment further:

With your explanation (below) the situation is becoming more clear. You now admit that your committee has been severely limited in its task. You were told by the Selectmen to study only a combined (single ) facility.

Your quote:
“We did briefly consider separate buildings with the potential of sequencing the construction. (Build a Police Station first and then at some future date to be determined build a Fire station). However, we did not pursue this option for several reasons. First, our charge from our elected leaders was to find a site and then plan for a Public Safety building (not a Police Station or Fire Station.” (End of your quote)

So the conclusion is that your task was limited, and is therefore biased right from the word “Go”. You have been instructed to plan for one big complex. Automatically very expensive. You are forbidden from examining all alternatives. Don’t you think this is a recipe for disaster ?

The facts presented were that the Police Station has the major problem, and the Fire Station has relatively minor problems. So why can’t the Fire station be kept, but modified as necessary?

Do you really think that tax payers are going to go for the mega scheme when it may not be necessary? You are usually arguing for less cost, for taxpayers, rather than promoting mega cost schemes. Isn’t your PROPER task to find the most economic solution ?

Also, assuming there are some advantages for a mega scheme, surely it is easier to do this on an open, expansive site, located elsewhere …. so that construction does not interfere with existing operations. So why not revisit the DPW site, and modify the entrance road ? (as suggested by another writer — see above) ?

I am NOT attacking you. I am trying to be helpful. Please explain this more thoroughly. because the answers are not in any report I have seen.

50 Al Hamilton May 5, 2016 at 8:27 AM

Allison – I will try to answer your questions and M’s in several parts.

Regarding separate Police and Fire Stations:

The Police Station is in deplorable condition that is true. However, there are some significant issues associated with the Fire Station as well. These include:

Utterly inadequate facilities for Female Emergency workers.

Lack of Clean Room Facilities – The nature of Emergency Calls has changed since the 1970’s when the station was built. Emergency workers spend far more time now handling hazardous materials (chemical and biologial) and need proper facilities for handling those materials and decontamination.

Very Cramped Engine Bay – The engine bay cannot house all of our equipment and is cramped with turn out gear and other equipment as well as engines. The size of emergency apparatus has increased since the station was built.

As you know. I am a fiscal conservative, I like spending and taxing about as much as I like having a filling drilled without Novocaine. I started this process thinking that building a police station and kicking the fire station can down the road was the best plan. After a year and a half of study, I have concluded if we build a police station now we will need to build a fire station in the next 10 years or so (not 20). There are some non trivial cost savings to building a combined station. I have concluded that building a public safety building is probably the most cost effective in the long run.

51 Al Hamilton May 5, 2016 at 9:36 AM

Allison & M

Re The BOS Charge to the Committee:

The initial charge to the Committee is as follows:

The primary charge of the Public Safety Study Committee is as follows:
• Review previous analysis and studies of the current Police and Fire Stations, as well as the work done by previous study committees;
• Identify, evaluate and review possible locations for a joint public safety complex within the areas designated by the Fire Department’s response time study;

• Prepare the necessary documents for town meeting seeking funds to hire a consultant to provide technical assistance;
• Solicit public input and provide periodic updates to the Board of Selectmen.

The committee did discuss a staged program where we would build separate facilities, Police First, Fire Later. That approach was rejected for the following reasons.

1. The committee believed that there would be a need for a new/rennovated Fire Facility within a reasonable planning horizion (10 years). The immediate need for Police facilities being obvious to all.

2. There are some non trivial savings to be achieved with a combined facility. Public facility construction is very very expensive ($400+ per sq ft). Shared space can reduce the overall gross sq footage required (reception, meeting space, restroom, exercise facilities, elevator) and reduce the site work (common drives, septic, parking).

3. It was felt that meeting the needs of both departments with a single program would galvanize broader support in the community.

As you can see, the initial charge was to identify a site, which we did, and the follow on charge was to begin planning for the facility. While the initial charge was focused on a Public Safety Facility, I am quite certain that if the committee came back and recommended separate facilities or separate sites that recommendation would have been taken seriously by the BOS. Over the course of the program so far, the committee has met with the BOS several times to discuss our progress and what the appropriate charge for the next steps would be.

The BOS was elected to make policy but throughout this process, they have listened to the committee and provided helpful direction where appropriate.

52 Al Hamilton May 5, 2016 at 10:12 AM

Allison and M

Re Emergency Vehicle Access From the Transfer Station Site:

One of the biggest design problems with the existing Fire Station is that emergency vehicles have to share a common access to Rt 30 with other vehicles exiting the site. Modern Fire Stations are designed so that emergency vehicles have rapid and unimpeded access to the road network.

This problem is far worse at the Transfer Station Site. The only avenue of access is through the existing entrance which is shared with DPW traffic and people using the Transfer Station. The limitations include:

1. The Town does not own all of the access drive. A portion is owned by the neighboring utility.

2. Widening the drive is very problematic. The obvious place to widen the access is to the north (towards 85). However, the town does not own the land required, it is owned by the MWRA and this land is a wetland and a public drinking water supply so filling this area would be problematic. It should be noted that the Town only recently completed a major remediation effort in this area that resulted from our contaminating the area.

The committee did briefly consider building a dedicated bridge but that was rejected as very expensive, having some of the same wetland/drinking water supply issues, and the resulting entrance would be too close to the Rt exit ramp.

53 beth May 5, 2016 at 10:52 AM

It seems like this comment thread is giving you some great practice to prep for public hearings and a Special Town Meeting!

I would suggest your committee look at all of these comments to come up with some FAQs for the public down the road. If you do, I’d be happy to share it with readers when the time is right. After all, many readers don’t follow the comment streams.

54 Al Hamilton May 5, 2016 at 11:09 AM

Once we get to a definitive site and site plan we plan on an extensive public education effort. This will probably start in June

55 Al Hamilton May 5, 2016 at 11:25 AM

Allison & M

Re Other Challenges with the DPW Site

The Transfer Station Site has some other limitations, beyond rapid access to Rt 85 that make it less desirable.

1. The PS facility requires more than just room for a building. It also requires turning room for large apparatus, a fair amount of parking (~60 spaces), and space for a septic system. When you add all this up you are talking about more than 1 Acre of land.

2. Locating the facility in the “front” of the lot (near Rt 85) will interfere with existing DPW/Transfer Station operations and would require moving some DPW Facilities (quite possibly the “PIT”) That would add significantly to the cost

3. Locating the facility in the “back” of the lot (behind the Swap Shop & Recycling) exacerbates the common drive problem and a portion of that land is wetlands. It would also require careful grading to avoid fire apparatus from “bottoming out”.

Finally, there is a political dimension to this site. Moving the Emergency Response (Fire & Ambulance) facility from the existing site to the Transfer Station will create winners and losers. Residents living north of Rt 9 and some other parts of town would experience longer response times (which is a component of service). Other residents would experience improved times. It may prove hard to ask a voter to be vote in favor of higher taxes (a few hundred dollars per house) for worse service. Leaving the PS facility in the same general area means nobody is better or worse off as a result of this project.

There is no answer here that will make everyone happy.

56 n May 6, 2016 at 11:17 AM

In regards to the septic system: At the time the builder/owner of the new 80,000 gallon per day facility on School Street was presenting to the town boards and committees he indicated that it would be made available to the village area and would help alleviate the issue in that area. Would hooking into that system be a possibility for the new public safety complex?

57 Al Hamilton May 6, 2016 at 1:39 PM


It is an idea worth exploring. At present, the very preliminary layout plans do have adequate space for a septic systems but no test pits have yet been dug. The site was also designed to have adequate space for storm water run off retention.

Once we have a definitive lot then I believe an early task would be to test for septic. (Don’t want to make the same mistake we made on the proposed Central St Sr Center)

58 M May 4, 2016 at 8:06 PM

Alison, you expressed my thoughts exactly! Yes, it appears that Al’s committee is hampered by a BOS mandate. I would also wonder if a Selectperson could comment here about why it assumes the combined Public Safety complex is the only option for this committee. Can an advisory or finance committee analysis support the cost/benefit of one Public Safety Complex vs. the construction of a new firestation in 20 years?

59 M May 4, 2016 at 8:08 PM

I would also like to hear from the Historical Commission regarding what options would be acceptable for the Peters HighSchool Buidling. What is the true historical nature of Peters and Fayille Hall that would be worthy of investing huge taxpayer funds to maintain buildings that we cannot utilize in practical terms for town services? If we need to keep Peters for its historic importance, can it be moved? Can we keep only the frontage and reconstruct all of the remainder? What has your commission’s research uncovered regarding its viability? And finally, is it within your charter and responsibilities to determine not just historical importance, but safety, viability, use and costs of these historic town buildings. (I apolgize if this is already known to the general public, but somehow I doubt it.)

60 Salutations Matter May 4, 2016 at 8:38 PM

I’m hoping that Ms. Craftsman inadvertently left off an Al, or a Mr… otherwise her comment comes off as awfully rude.

61 Ben May 5, 2016 at 2:51 PM

Since we are talking about the public safety building and different locations.
I have to wonder why 150 Cordaville Road was overlooked by the town when it came up for sale.? You know where the solar field is on RT 85 across from the transfer station.

This is an eight acre parcel of land with existing building that could of easily been turned into fire/police station with easy in and out for big vehicles with plenty of expansion for future needs.
Rather than being a solar array it could of been utilized for an additional soccer field.

I guess it’s on the wrong side of Rt 9.

62 Al Hamilton May 6, 2016 at 10:09 AM


Aside from the “creating winners and losers” debate, that site was not actively considered by the current committee. I believe it did not make the short list for the following reasons:

1. The committee began its work in March of 2015. At that time the solar array was installed and operating.

2. It is my opinion that the committee was reluctant to propose acquiring land, particularly commercial property which generates substantially more tax revenue than it consumes in services. This would have been a triple whammy on the tax payers. Pay fair market value for a commercial property, pay for a new Public Safety facility (there does not appear to be any financial benefit to an add/ren), and see our tax base reduced which in turn places more burden on the remaining tax payers.

3. The committee did ask the TA to investigate if there were any properties for sale in the target area and the answer came back that there were none

63 M May 5, 2016 at 8:37 PM

Al, Thank you. The answers are more directly responding to Stu’s questions, not mine, but thank you for this indepth review of the history and all the considerations taken by your committee. This is so helpful. There is clear reasoning in the steps taken thus far. You have put in so much work.
I agree wholeheartedly with Beth. A summary review with this information in a new article would educate more people than just we comment readers. This is all good info but I see that as we reply and comment further, things are becoming out of order. You have answered my questions and then some,( yet my comments don’t appear that way unless one looks at the dates or has been following this stream on a daily basis.)
Anyway, thank you to all who have contributed and now if we could only get the historical commission to respond with their detailed viewpoint.

64 Stu Evans May 6, 2016 at 4:49 PM

Mr Hamilton.

Thank you for responding to some questions. Would you please address the following in more detail:

A. Site alternative on west side of Rte 85, opposite side from the Post Office. Behind this land is the Com Gas depot. It must be several acres fronting on 85..

B. Site alternative on east side of Rte 85. But only the portion used for bus parking, because I recall the busses are going to be eliminated anyway. Am I correct ? (Of course, keep the wonderful flower shop and plant nursery).

Obviously both would need to be acquired, but the acquisition costs might be less than the cost of dealing with the issues at the DPW site. Were these sites considered? Do you see any potential there?

C. Converting the existing Police Building. Someone told me that there was a previous study of retrofitting the building, which showed that it was definitely possible. If that is true, then it might solve multiple issues — land, historic preservation, parking etc. Have you considered this alternative ? It seems like it is certain to come up again and therefore it must be considered, with help from an expert.

Thanks for your good work

65 Al Hamilton May 18, 2016 at 8:00 PM

Sorry for my delay in responding. I guess I missed this post.

A. There does appear to be sufficient area behind the Gas facility however, it appears to suffer from the same access issues that the DPW site suffers from. Direct, dedicated access by emergency equipment is a requirement and that area appears to lack that characteristic. This is also commercial property and we were very reluctant to take commercial property off the tax roles and put an even greater tax burden on the residents.

B. Regarding the School Bus Lot – The entire property, including the flower shop, might be of sufficient size. The bus parking lot would not. The bus parking lot is less than 1 A. The existing site is 2.47A. Again this is commercial space. (more on space constraints in the next post)

C. The Lot on the corner of Newton and Rt 30 (Old Gas Station). Leaving aside the potential contamination issues. This lot is about 0.5A. It is not large enough to accommodate the facility. To give you some perspective. We are talking about a building that will be between 15,000 and 20,000 sq ft. Even with 2 stories it will have a footprint of 7,500 to 10,000 sq ft (0.2 to 0.25 A). Additional space is needed for equipment maneuvering, drainage, parking (50 – 60 cars), septic, and access and you need several Acres.

Regarding renovation of the Police Station. – In 2007 the town hired architects to evaluate renovation of the police station and they said it was not a cost effective option. In 2015 the current committee interviewed 4 architectural companies in our effort select a firm to provide us with site planning expertise. 2 of the firms we did not hire offered the opinion that the building could not be renovated in a cost effective fashion. The other firm did not have time to look at the building. The firm we did hire made a more through study and came to the same conclusion. There was an informal piece done by the Historical Commission (which is the one I believe you are referring to) which was more focused on the merits of reconstruction than the details.

Most people who know me know that I do not like to spend money particularly tax payers money. If I thought there was a cost effective way to renovate the police station I would be the leading advocate for that option. I do not believe there is a cost effective way to do so. This has been studied.

66 Stu Evans May 17, 2016 at 4:43 PM

Still waiting patiently for Mr Hamilton to reply, please.

Meanwhile, here is another suggestion, which might resolve several problems. (1) The lack of land at the existing fire/police Station site, and (2) a new site for a new police station nearby, and (3) removal of an existing eyesore in our Village Center.

I am suggesting consideration of new Police Station located on the vacant lot in our Village Center, on the corner of Main and Newton, by the railroad. ( Leave the Fire Station where it now is, and renovate it later.Then we don’t need any more land from St Marks at the existing Fire Station site. )

This vacant lot at Main / Newton has been badly maintained and is an eyesore to our downtown. It was previously a gas station. The lot would be suitable for a one or two floor, small building, like a Southborough Police Station. Visitors could park on street.. A new sidewalk could be added in front on Main, and also along the Newton St frontage. That would improve the look of our Village Center.

The lot is quite large, and big enough for all police cruisers. But if not large enough then perhaps a short extension up Newton might be possible. But it may be big enough already if employee cars can be parked off site, and if facilities shared with the Fire Dept could be located at the renovated Fire Dept, such as gymnasium, extra storage , or whatever is needed.

The private cars belonging to Police Dept employees could be parked on another vacant lot, very close by, on the other side of the railroad. That lot could also be used for septic. The vacant lot is behind the Southborough House of Pizza (not immediately behind, but further back. It is vacant, about one acre, so plenty big enough).

Anyway, here is a suggestion which might resolve the Police and Fire Dept issues, and also help our Village Center as well.

I note that the Committee looked at lots listed as being “For Sale” and found none suitable. But just because a vacant lot is not listed as being “for sale” does not mean it is not actually for sale — you have to take the initiative and ask first. This also applies to the Gulbankian and Comm Gas lots mentioned in the previous comment..

Please give this consideration. Thank you

67 Al Hamilton May 18, 2016 at 9:53 PM


If our goal is to only build a police station we have a lot more options. Emergency Operations (Fire, Ambulance etc) surge from a facility and as such that facility needs to be centrally located for response time reasons. Police operations are “forward deployed” in cruisers so the location of a police station are far less constrained. Realistically, we could put a police station anywhere in town.

There are a number of sites that the town already owns that could support a stand alone police station (including the existing site), those sites include the Fayville Hall Site, Transfer Station, the “stump dump” and others. So there is no need to acquire additional land if the goal is to build a police station and deal with fire needs sometime in the future.

The committee was tasked by our elected leaders to look at the needs of all our public safety operations. It is clear that the needs of the police operations are far greater than the fire operations. The police station is a disaster waiting to happen. The fire station by comparison is functional but limited. However, those limitation are real. We cannot store all our apparatus under cover in one place, we have inadequate facilities for our female employees, we lack “clean room” space, and the equipment bays are very crowded. There are other limitations as well.

I started this process thinking as you did that we could phase the project building a police station and kicking the fire station can down the road 10 years of so. After careful study, I think a single facility with substantial shared space will serve our community better and be more cost effective in the long run.

This building is going to be expensive but given our current debt situation, this is the proper time to proceed. Our debt obligations from our school building programs are rolling off over the next few years. Given the life cycle of schools we are probably looking an new school debt in 20 years or so this is the right time to do this program.

I do not like spending money but I believe this is the right thing to do.

68 M May 18, 2016 at 9:12 AM

Hi Stu. I am not the expert on this but since it’s an older blog here and you may not get an answer, I will try. I believe that particular lot at the corner that used to be a gas station is a big problem due to a leaky tank underground. If I recall correctly, it may be a toxic waste situaltion and therefore so expensive to clean up that no one wants to buy it for any purpose.
I also would question the ease with which police cruisers in an emergency could get out and speed to a scene when there is a potential for a railroad crossbar to come down and all of the roads exiting this location are not easy to fly thru in a hurry. And as Al has pointed out in previous posts, there is economy in combining the two functions into one safety complex. He very clearly explained that reasoning.
But thank you for your research into possibilities. You are trying.

69 Stu Evans May 18, 2016 at 3:45 PM

I appreciate your comments over the suggested site (at the corner of Main and Newton). Some are not problems.

I recall that the site soil was cleaned up many years ago.

I am also told the reason the site has not been built on is the economy and lack of any interested business buyer. That is one reason why a police station might be a more viable use. As well as filling a gap in our Village Center.

I don’t think the railroad crossing is a significant problem. After all, there is only one train a day. Besides, this issue applies equally to the existing police site west of the RR. Whether the site is east or west of the RR, it presents the same issue to both. Cars have to cross the tracks from both stations.

Both sites have very good access roads in all directions.

The one issue you raise which is valid is the potential economy of combining the two functions (police and fire) into one safety complex. But that economy is relatively minor, being related to shared facilities, such as communications and dispatch, which can be resolved with wireless or cable connections. Some other potential shared facilities, (exercise facilities etc) could be located at the larger, existing Fire station site, which is only 400 yards away.

The proposal for a new combined facility has its own problems, including huge initial costs. Many people seem to agree that the Fire Station does not need to be replaced now, but could be modified later. That might save millions. The more urgent issue is the Police Station.

Anyway, I put the suggestion forward as yet another potential site, in case there are problems with the existing site, like land area or historical aspects.

70 Stu Evans May 20, 2016 at 4:47 PM

Thanks for your, reply, but you misunderstood my suggested site.

I suggested (quote) ” a site alternative on west side of Rte 85, opposite side from the Post Office. Behind this land is the Com Gas depot. It must be several acres fronting on 85″

You replied (quote)..”There does appear to be sufficient area behind the Gas facility however, it appears to suffer from the same access issues that the DPW site suffers from. Direct, dedicated access by emergency equipment is a requirement and that area appears to lack that characteristic.”

From your reply, I can surmise that you think I referred to the wooded hill behind Com Gas, No, I did not mean that portion, (You dismiss it because of lack of dedicated access to 85, But I think your dedicated access could easily be resolved by widening the entry road, with one lane out restricted to emergency vehicles).

I actually meant a different portion of the Com Gas site. This portion fronts on Rte 85 and Mt Vickery, literally opposite the post office. There is a large treed area, and the Com Gas buildings are behind (west). . There must be over 2 vacant acres, and 200 feet of road frontage. A public safety building on this portion would have its own access to Rte 85.

Please comment on this viability, as well as the other of widening the DPW entry road.


71 Al Hamilton May 23, 2016 at 1:23 PM


Thank you for your suggestion. Sorry about the confusion, I think I now understand your idea.

The committee did not study the site you suggested so any comments regarding that site are mine and mine alone. I will try to go by that site this week for further investigation.

If you look at the town GIS maps you will see that you are correct, there are several acres, I believe that the land is very hilly so significant excavation would be required. The access point you suggest (Mt Vickery road & 85) would require either going through the Gas company parking lot or acquiring a private residence. There is also a significant hill in path you suggest. I am not saying this cannot be done just what is there.

Regarding the widening of the existing entrance to the DPW:

1. The town does not actually own all of this entrance. The gas company owns some of it.

2. The logical place to widen would be to the north (towards rt 9). We did study this option. If you notice, the land to north of the entrance drops off very quickly into a wetland. That land belongs to the MWRA and in addition to being a wetland is a public drinking water supply. It was our opinion at the time that this was not a viable option. (We just finished a lengthy remediation for polluting this area)

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