Last week, several Town Committees heard the results of a Space Needs Study conducted for the Town. Consultants reported options and their recommendation for how best to house Town Departments and services. The recommendation was for a project to reutilize municipal buildings.
Throughout the meeting, Capital Planning Committee Chair Jason Malinowski repeatedly stressed the importance of community dialogue and partnering with the Town departments to hash out any issues. He stated that it will take “significant public vetting and ultimately Town Meeting funding for anything more to happen”.
Introducing the presentation, he cautioned:
the images, options, etc are very preliminary – and this should be considered a phase zero of any analysis.
Capital’s consultants then proceeded to walk through six options (plus one deemed not viable) before recommending one of them.
The recommended option (#7) is based on renovating the Woodward School building to repurpose it for municipal and community use. It would also repurpose the Town House, including using it as an annex for the Southborough Library.
The Space Needs Study is a result of the Capital Planning Committee examining the Town’s near and long term capital expense needs. The recommendation is contingent on a project under the School Research subcommittee of Capital Planning and the School Committee.
In fall 2020 they began looking into the possibility of eliminating one of the four K-8 schools based on declined enrollments. Capital and Advisory committees were interested in potential cost savings. Superintendent Gregory Martineau said he wanted to reduce the number of school transitions for elementary students. They identified Neary as seeming to have the most potential for adding more students and Woodward as the most logical option for eliminating from the school inventory. (You can read more background here.)
The School Committee previously approved the administration’s submission of a Statement of Interest to the Mass School Building Authority to pursue a project related to Neary. As part of the process, the MSBA asked the Town to analyze what they would do with the Woodward building if they no longer used it as a school.
According to Keturah Martin, the School Committee’s rep on that subcommittee, they have also been looking into options for still pursuing a project if the MSBA timeline isn’t viable.** She said they will be reporting their findings to the School Committee on February 9th.
As for the specific recommendation by the consultant working for the Capital Committee, it calls for:
- Renovating Woodward to relocate the Senior Center and all Town Departments (except for the Dept of Public Works, Public Safety and the Library) into the building
- Relocating the Superintendent’s office for the public schools (currently housed at Neary)
- Repurposing the Town House to use as an annex to the Library for the Library’s expanded needs (e.g., the Children’s Library and programs) and some shared conference room and storage use.
- Expanding the DPW building (a step also shown in all other 6 options)
- Disposing of South Union Building (a step also shown in all other “valid” options)* and Cordaville Hall (current location of the Senior Center)
The plans were based on DRA Architects’ study of the Town departments’ current and future needs for square footage. They were designed to cover worst case scenarios for growth. They also took into consideration that some departments should be together for efficiency and some should be located in a central part of town.
Stakeholder committees noted a need to reflect on the recommendations, discuss them, then come back with comments. However, there were some initial questions and concerns voiced. Below are some highlights.
Capital member Jeffrey Hark asked if DRA had researched the cost considerations for each scenario. Project Manager, Courtney Southwick said that they had only looked at the preliminary costs for the recommended option. There was a huge range of potential costs, since existing conditions of the building haven’t been investigated.
Hark said that weighing the cost of options should be a factor. DRA Principal Ken Best agreed with Malinowski’s assessment that repurposing the school would be at least 20-25% less expensive than building something new elsewhere to accommodate some of the Town’s needs.
The consultants said that no departments had objected to their assessment of the amount of space needed. But they acknowledged that there was “some concern” from the Library about splitting their space. They noted that a state grant process for a Library addition project could take 10-20 years. In the meantime, the Town House’s proximity was pitched as a “golden opportunity” for the Library to expand.
Library Trustee Amy Yazdani told the committee that Trustees would probably need to survey their patrons. She noted that splitting services would be difficult for parents of young children who would be forced to schlep them to multiple buildings. She opined it would be disheartening for a large group of their patrons. She also worried about the increase in staffing costs that would be caused by the split. Currently, staff members can cover multiple areas.
Malinowski acknowledged that the Library annex concept would be one of the details that needs the most discussion with user groups and the community.
Trustee David Ekburg quoted Congressman Jim McGovern as saying, “You can tell a lot about what a community values by its library.”
Ekberg described the Library as “bursting at the seams”, but also opined the importance of keeping the Library together. Trustee Janet Maney differed. She opined that extending the Library “to meet the express needs of the community and keeping it in one place are “mutually exclusive”. As horrendous as a split sounds, she believed they needed to explore it. Trustee Chair Marguerite Landry said the Trustees would discuss the issue at their next meeting. (That’s on their agenda for 3:00 pm tomorrow.)
Referring to Ekburg’s quote, Council on Aging Chair Bill Harrington said that you can also tell a lot about the community by the way it treats its elder population.
Harrington voiced concern that the project may not offer enough easily accessible parking for the Senior Center. The main parking area is in a lower level on the grounds that would be difficult for many of their visitors. The plans called for 34 spaces to be added to the rear of the building, but also used by those accessing Youth and Family Services. Consultants believed that with some investment, more spaces could be added to the rear. There are also spots are also available in front of the school in the bus turnaround area.
Recreation Director Tim Davis was happy that plans included access to a gymnasium. But he was concerned about how spaces designated to be shared between the Senior Center and Rec would be handled. He also wanted to get a tour to better understand the building layout.
Earlier on, School Committee member Kamali Aieka O’Meally asked about the process for determining the Town department’s space needs. She wondered if they examined the increase of online interactions with residents versus in person. DRA’s Ken Best said it had come up in discussions. He said that the Assessors was one department that described a big drop in resident visits. But most Town departments still needed a lot of physical room for visitors.
O’Meally asked if they had incorporated data from the enrollment projection report created for the School Research Committee. It included an overview of population age group trends for the Town. Malinowski answered that the final data had come in too late, but he would share it with them.
School Committee Chair Roger Challen pointed out that 2/3 of the population represented by the NSBORO administration is in Northborough. He raised the concern that relocating the Superintendent’s office to Woodward would make it an even longer trip for them.
As for the alternative options, three didn’t include use of Woodward, but only two those options were posed as “valid”:
- Option 1 would —
- Dedicate the Town House to use by the Superintendent’s office and some shared conference space
- Add a small addition to Cordaville Hall to accommodate the Senior Center, relocated Youth & Family Services, and Facilities Dept
- Include an addition project for the Library
- Build (or purchase) a “new/other building” to relocate other Town departments (except for DPW and public safety)
- Dispose of South Union building*
- Option 3 would —
- Use the Town House for six Town departments
- Add a small addition to Cordaville Hall to accommodate the Senior Center, relocated Recreation Department, and Facilities Dept
- Build (or purchase) a “new/other building” to relocate seven other Town departments and the Superintendents office to an undesignated “new/other” building
- Include an addition project for the Library
- Dispose of South Union building*
The invalid option (#2) was ruled out since it was centered on use of the South Union building. Consultants said it’s location far from the center of Town wasn’t ideal, and the condition of the building was an issue.
Once DRA was told to consider the use of Woodward, the consultants identified the following alternative options:
- Option 4 (in the packet)*** would —
- Renovate Woodward to house all other Town departments (except for DPW and public safety)
- 4A relocate the Superintendent’s office to Woodward leaving the Town House empty, while 4B uses the Town House for the the Superintendent’s office
- Include an addition project for the Library***
- Dispose of South Union building* and Cordaville Hall
- Option 5 would —
- Use Woodward’s Library for an annex to the Southborough Library
- Use the Town House for five Town Departments
- Renovate Woodward to house the Senior Center, all other Town departments (except for DPW and public safety), and the Superintendent’s office
- Dispose of South Union building* and Cordaville Hall
- Option 6 would —
- Use Woodward’s Library for an annex to the Southborough Library
- Renovate Woodward to house the Senior Center and all other Town departments (except for DPW and public safety)
- Relocate the Superintendent’s office to Town House (or Woodward)
- Dispose of South Union building* and Cordaville Hall
Next Steps/Learn More
DRA planned to write up a report later this week, which would incorporate some of the feedback from last week. The consultants agreed to a request by Board of Selectmen Chair Lisa Braccio to allow selectmen until Tuesday to submit written comments for inclusion. You can expect to see discussions of the report on future agendas for multiple committees.
You can find more details on the recommendation (and alternative options) in the report here.
To watch last Thursday’s presentation and discussion, click here.
*Capital Planning may have some ideas for the use of South Union beyond a simple sale. Although not mentioned last night, a subcommittee of the Capital Planning Committee and SHOPC (Southborough Housing Opportunity Partnership Committee) have been looking into possibilities for converting the South Union Building to an affordable housing project – either through private sale or development by the Town. I haven’t yet caught up on what conclusions they have drawn to date. Disposing of South Union was included in all of the six “valid” options presented.
**The MSBA will decide in March whether or not to support partial funding of a Feasibility Study to look at options for a renovation or building project for Neary School. They may deny it for this year’s round of funding. If they do support it, the viability and timeline for a building project partially funded by MSBA would still be uncertain.
The subcommittee has analyzed that the MSBA’s reimbursement for a Southborough project would be about 37%. Walking away from that would be an expensive recommendation. But delays caused by the MSBA timeline come with other expenses to factor in if the Town has to invest in alternative municipal building projects in the interim, plus continued investments in maintaining Neary.
***The version of Option 4 DRA presented on Thursday didn’t include a Library addition, just a renovation. But as shown and described, it appeared to be identical to Option 6.
I would be interested if this study included the old, dilapidated building behind the DPW annex, Station 2 at the corner of Southville and Harrington roads.
“You can tell a lot about a community by the way it treats it’s elderly population”, and you can also tell a lot about a community by it’s taxes. Ours are among the highest. For what??? Streets are neglected, cracked, sidewalks cracked, garbage along streets. Andrea Restaurant. Now that’s attractive. Where’s Public Works?? Doing secret Pocket Park construction. Now talk of repurposing Woodward. School enrollments are constantly changing. Better do your homework, and make sure that giving up a school is wise. BTW, what is this repurposing going to cost my pocketbook. My bottom line is what’s important, along with everyone else who gets tapped by this town to cough up the dough for ridiculously, extravagant, over budget and wasteful projects. This is hardly the time to stick it to the residents with many out of work, many grappling with our present health conditions, and many on fixed incomes. Put the brakes on Southborough elected. Champagne taste on my dime. Not this time.
Roxanne, have you volunteered to help with any of these issues? You feel strongly about this and btw you WILL pay on your dime if you live here in town.
Good news, I believe the former Andrea Restaurant has been sold along with the stone building beside it.
It will be nice to see that area finally cleaned up!
There are plenty of jobs out there. I always see help wanted signs. The Andrea restaurant isn’t town property.
There are lots of jobs, but they are not being filled, therefore businesses are closing without the workers to fill the spots. The “help wanted” signs are going unheeded. Look around at the empty store fronts. Good luck if you own a business today. The Andrea building is a health and public safety problem, blight on our fancy high taxed town, and no one seems to care. The fire department should care. Go inside and inspect it for heavens sakes
At one point, the Andrea was owned by Farrell Volvo. Don’t know what happened when Farrell sold to CA dealer who did not stay there very long. Same with 245 Turnpike but that building is in better shape than Andrea. Don’t know the status now but the Andrea needs to come down!!
I believe taking both down is the new owner’s plan. See my post from January 12th here.
Thanks Beth. Missed that article. Anything would be better than what is there now. Andrea would be good for a controlled educational burn for the SFD.
So an addition recovery center is right down the street from the pot shop. How convenient!!!!
I think this is all for the convenience of the town workers with no real good thought about the kids or the elderly. The Woodward bldg. is larger and much newer than Neary. I have lived in the town for 22 years, prior to the woodward school being built. Neary has always had heating and cooling problems for the kids. Also Woodward has two floors and therefore difficult for seniors to navigate and even the parking is down a hill. Neary is all one level with parking around the bldg. and parking could potentially be extended into the playground area. My question is: is the library really utilized that much anymore (especially the adult sections) that it needs to be expanded? I’m sure that off site locations could be used for library special events, etc. I agree with the one comment above that we pay way too much in taxes for not much in return. Sure we have good schools but I have to say, when my kids were in the schools, I wasn’t extremely impressed with the education. I thought it was good but not fantastic quite honestly. Life is too hard these days for everyone that we need to put emphasis on quantity and expensive renovations for the needs of the champagne taste residents of which there more than not. I have experienced first hand how spoiled the majority of the kids in this town are. I feel like kids don’t experience what it’s like to have imagination and playtime outside of organized play activities. I never see kids outside playing with one another in yards with regular toys like the old days. There is something to be said for electronics and other advances, but we all could use to be real humans and interact with one another in person more. The town meetings are a perfect example of people wanting everything without getting involved and complaining when things don’t turn out the way they would have liked. Well enough of this.
Responding to just two of your thoughts, “Neary has always had heating and cooling problems for the kids”, and your point about the two story building in regards to the Senior Center.
When my kids were at Neary, they definitely had cooling problems. But, I want to point out that Woodward also had HVAC problems. When my children were in classrooms on the front side of the building, I was shocked to find they were like ovens in June and early September – even with air conditioning units inserted into the windows. I wonder if your kids didn’t attend WW, or if their classrooms just got less sun. (I wasn’t aware of heating problems in their classrooms in either building. But I’m not claiming they don’t exist and maybe Neary is worse in that regard.)
I don’t know if either building has had significant HVAC improvements that made things better since my kids were there. But it’s possible whatever renovations would be proposed for either building would at least partially address the issue.
As for the Senior Center, it’s worth clarifying some details there that I didn’t specify in the story.
The proposed plans site the Senior Center on the first floor only on the left side. Since that is about 1/2 a flight up from the lobby and the rooms to the right of the entrance, the center would have its own entrances on the left side of the building to avoid having to use the stairs/elevator from the main building entrance. So for most of the programs, navigating two flights wouldn’t be an issue.
However, the project does propose providing the center use of the cafeteria and gym (on the lobby level) for larger programs. Anyone entering and exiting the building for the cafeteria would be able to use the entry ramp. But it would mean that any seniors using the center directly before or after would either have to navigate a short flight of stairs or use the elevator. And, I assume the Senior Center would be unlikely to make much use of the other shared multi-purpose space upstairs (the current school library) since that would require much more elevator use.
Neary, to be frank, is a dump. We should not be removing kids from a great, newer building when we have kids at Neary. Repurpose Neary instead of Woodward.
The idea is that Neary would be completely renovated or torn down and replaced in order for Woodward to be repurposed, so we wouldn’t be removing kids from the newest building, they would be moving to a new, improved building meant to hold all of the students and with enough flexibility to absorb any incremental Park Central students.
If MSB does not approve this project the town will be looking to fund this completely. After the sham called the Public Safety Building that cost us a fortune and leaks, has broken AC, and many other issues you never hear about, why in the world would we do this? Leave well enough alone and let the Town Offices find their own space. The schools alone, they already cost more than enough of our taxes. Ridiculous!
God forbid Park Central. You don’t mention $$$$$$ impact to already choking taxpayers. Figures
Andrew, thanks for your comment.
Did the committee ask the MSBA whether it would fund any of the Neary replacement? If so, what was their answer.
I have to say that it would be poor public policy if the MSBA said an unqualified yes. The MSBA has to have rules about use of the buildings it funds, and their primary use should be as schools. Repurposing an MSBA-funded school after less than 20 years seems like a way to use school money to build other municipal buildings. As much as I might like that for Southborough, it definitely wouldn’t seem right for other municipalities!
With that said, school buildings would have to have a term after which they could be repurposed. How many years is the question, I guess. Woodward opened in 2004, and that strikes me as too little time elapsed. I still think of it as a new building.
With the amount of pushback from some residents who simply want an entire school closed, I don’t think a brand new school being built would ever get the green light.
It’s mind boggling read the idea of taking the newest school in town and renovating it to not be a school while we let our oldest school, Neary sit. What the heck is going on? Bulldoze neary. Build a brand new building for the purpose of house offices and the senior center. Leave town hall alone, it’s historical. Sell off south union, bulldoze the old senior center, possible make it a cemetery extension since we’ll need that soon. Not sure how that all works though.
I’m not a fan of losing a school to expanded town workings and selling a perfectly good building for pennies on the dollar because a consultant says it will be expensive to upkeep. Our population is starting to change and I may have a limited vantage point, but urban sprawl was stunted for years and is finally beginning again especially with Covid renewing young people’s desire for more space. In the last 3 years since moving to town I’ve seen a number of young couples and families move to my small section of town with the hopes of putting down roots. We may not have a baby boom, but the school system is definitely an attractive option for our neighborhood and one of the reasons we get to justify our home prices and tax valuation. If we start losing schools and make any sacrifices to lessen our school system, we will tank our home values. Any option that keeps one of the newest school buildings open should outweigh the alternatives. Also, expanding parking in the rear of Woodward isn’t exactly feasible with the elevation change. There would need to be a large retaining wall and water mitigation strategy to add any sizable amount of parking to that area.
Also, we just voted to spend an absolute ton of money to renovate the Townhouse. Why would we want this soon to be completely renovated building used for anything other than town business. The whole point of preserving a building of this nature is for people to visit it and townspeople should get that privilege when attending meetings and doing business.
Also if the dreaded Park Central ever happens, there will be many more kids in our schools.
Tim, please consider using your full name or a full pseudonym to help avoid assumptions. Much appreciated.
I’d be interested in understanding which building on the selling block you feel is perfectly good?
Who authorized all if this? BOS, every single initiative is changing Southborough forever. You are not real estate developers, but you are transforming and ruining the town with every neon green oversized highway sign, destroying trees, massing density where it doesn’t belong, outstripping infrastructure capacity, and permanently changing the look and feel of the town. The article cites a statement the you can tell a lot about a town by the way it treats its seniors. Seniors are on fixed incomes. They cannot afford food, gas, and heating fuel, never mind new taxes. Stop spending.
Woodward? Why not Finn? For repurposing? It’s not even mentioned. Why on earth would anyone break up an existing educational campus, a campus location. That makes no sense whatsoever. This is the disturbing lack of common sense and predetermined outcome of any consultant report. This entire premise of transforming Woodward and screwing around with town assets was a plan openly discussed by the BOS chair. Now this, here is a consulting report reaching the same preconceived and ill conceived notions a year or two later. Garbage premise in producing the report, garbage output and results. Long term planning. Ok. Take a look. Many municipalities are doing this. Handing ill conceived, predetermined ideas to consultants that become steam rollers?
No thanks. You are irreversibly ruining this town. You are blind to the impacts of the pandemic on seniors and working families. Stop spending. No new taxes.
In response to “Who authorized all of this?” So far, no project is authorized to proceed. The Board of Selectmen have yet to publicly weigh in on the consultant’s proposal and the project is contingent on the school reallocation piece which has yet to be presented to the School Committee. (That presentation is scheduled for February 9th.) That is part of the reason that the Capital Planning Chair referred to the proposal as “phase zero” of any project.
But, perhaps you meant, who authorized the Capital Planning Committee to spend money looking into space reallocation. The Committee is charged with determining the Town’s short and long term Capital expense needs and trying to find solutions to reduce expenses. Part of that is trying to understand the landscape of Town municipal buildings, rather than spending on maintenance, repairs, additions, or renovations to buildings that won’t make sense in the long run.
As for the school building piece, there have been questions about whether the number of buildings make sense given enrollment declines. So, the school committee and administration partnered with Capital and Advisory to evaluate what makes sense for the schools.
I don’t have all of the details on the findings of the school research committee. But I do know that over a year ago, they discussed Finn as having the capacity to hold K-2nd graders, plus room on campus for a small addition if ever needed. Finn also has bathroom facilities that are geared to the little ones. Woodward was seen as not having the capacity to add another grade and not having the ability for expansion due to limitations of the lot.
That’s just some clarification on the background. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s fair to question the results of that study or some of its underlying assumptions. I just think questions should be based on the details, some of which are still to come.
This should be shot down before any study money is put in. We are approving high density housing projects and eliminating schools all in the same breath. Woodward is also 100 times nicer and if anything Neary needs to be the school to be repurposed not Woodward. Maybe use Neary and create real recreational facilities around it. Our facilities are sub par for athletics to all of the surrounding towns.
The tax money and housing values are ONLY supported by the school system. Like a previous post said nobody is here for the infrastructure or town government. They are here for what is a lower density area (for now) and the schools. Take them away and you’ll see property values plummet and the allure of Southboro go away.
It makes absolutely no sense to repurpose Woodward—the newest town school.
If any school should be considered for repurpose it should be Neary—the oldest, the one in the greatest need of repair, remodel and renovation.
Woodward is a gem of a school. The facilities are beautiful. Ours kids loved going there and were disappointed when they moved on to Neary in terms of the facility.
Again, like the failed Downtown Zoning Initiative, which unfortunately passed, this is what happens when you have members of the BOS who don’t have a clue about long-term design or planning. For them, whatever approach appeals today will be built tomorrow. There is a way out of this though: planning that includes a realistic assessment of school buildings including the Holy Grail of Finn—just saying—plus a boots-on-the-ground review of how we fulfill our goal of affordable housing while getting off the tax-crack of unsustainable RT 9 office/warehouse development. We can do this, people! It just takes some hard thinking and imagination.
I’m trying to remember what year it was when the parents of Southborough voted to raze and rebuild Woodward. My oldest went to the old Woodward for second grade. Finn was being renovated and added on to, so second grade had been moved from Finn to Woodward. Then he moved on to Neary for third grade. So it must have been around ’98. Anyhow, what upsets me about this plan is that the parents of Southborough voted to raze and rebuild the Woodward school FOR THE CHILDREN OF SOUTHBOROUGH. Not for it to become future town offices. It’s a beautiful school. It was built for the childern. Leave it that way, please.
I don’t know the date either. Back in the 80s, the old building was the middle school. If your timing is right, the building is less than 25 years old.
The committee working on plans has talked about a project for a building that is a solution for a good 30 years. I’m clearly middle aged, because that doesn’t sound like a long time to me. (If I was young it would sound like eons away. If I was a couple decades older, I’d think that the future will be someone else’s problem! I’m just old enough to realize 30 years goes by quicker than you think it will.)
According to Southborough.org, Woodward opened in 2004.
I believe you are correct, my child would have been in second grade and was born in 1991 so right around 1998.
What has happened to common sense? DPW clear cut trees and dug up a parcel in the historic town center presumed to be an Indian burial ground so St. Marks can get a parking lot. Tax dollars spent enriching a private institution without Town Meeting approval. Voters approve to spend $3M to renovate the Town House. Next step is planning to close a school so town government offices can leave the Town House altogether? It is hard to believe. The BOS elections in May should reflect our disdain of this madness.
It is very risky to be moving forward with this idea without having a firm plan on handling our future school enrollments, and really understanding all of the tax implications.
Everything in this plan depends on the cost of refurbishing or replacing the Neary School. I’m expressing my personal opinion in saying that I don’t see renovating Neary as being practical…for many, many reasons. I think if you close Woodward, Neary should be torn down and replaced. Assuming the state approves the project, that will still be very expensive.
It will also be a tough sell to the residents of Southborough explaining why we want to close our newest school building….because we think our town employees need new space, and spend a large amount of money to repurpose it…and repurpose our existing space.
Finally we should take a moment to understand how we ended up with the Woodward school in the first place. This goes back about 20 years. My recollection, if anyone can add to this please do, is that when the old Woodward was closed in the 90’s, the town wanted to convert the property for police and fire, and the schools were going to do a significant renovation to Neary (the schools wanted a 3 school configuration). The town voters became united against the idea and shot it down in town meeting, and instead voted to build a new school. This caught town government by surprise…
So my final comment is “please be cautious ”. This has the potential of being a very expensive mistake…