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Posted on July 25, 2019 at 7:56 AM by Michael Herbert
I wanted to give you a number of updates regarding our public safety departments, and the public safety building in particular.
First, many of you have probably had the opportunity to meet our interim Chief of Police, Vincent Alfano. Since his appointment as interim Chief, Vin has become a fixture in the community and has been a big proponent of addressing neighborhood issues, traffic enforcement, and a variety of other law enforcement-related items. Based on his community and departmental leadership, I have asked Chief Alfano if he would be willing to come out of retirement to serve as our permanent Chief of Police. I am pleased to say that he has accepted, and therefore I have appointed Vincent Alfano as our new Chief of Police last night. I want to thank him and his wife Christine for their willingness to put their retirement on hold for this important role.
Regarding the Public Safety building, I unfortunately have less positive news. Recent cost estimates for the new building have come in higher than projected. Pending our targeted July 2020 construction start date, a Public Safety Building at 44,000 square feet, and its related “soft costs” is anticipated to cost $29,000,000 as opposed to the $25,000,000 originally anticipated. Supply and demand, and policy developments such as international steel tariffs, are the root cause of this increase. More importantly, annual cost escalators have jumped from approximately 3% per year to 7.5% per year, and it is only projected to get higher as time goes on for the foreseeable future.
The most disappointing news I must share with you is larger in magnitude. In June, we came to find out that funding for our new Public Safety Building was not included in the Governor’s Capital Plan for this coming year, (in fact no municipal public safety projects were included). This was not surprising and was in fact expected, as design and engineering for the building has not been completed (that is currently in process) and this was generally considered a prerequisite for any state construction funding for our project to be released. But more importantly, at this point both the timing of the release and amount of any funding released is unclear. The fact is that the release of these funds are largely outside of our control. Ultimately the Governor must include it in the appropriate capital plan. Last fall we felt highly confident that our combined state and local efforts would be successful in getting this funding released in the near future. That confidence was reflected in the message that we put out. In hindsight this confidence, and the resulting message, was premature on my part.
Where exactly does that leave us? No one can dispute the dire need for a new facility. Combined with the aforementioned rapid cost escalations, it means that construction still needs to commence in July 2020. It makes the most sense from an operational standpoint and also a cost efficiency standpoint. But the uncertainty of it being included in capital plans in the near future mean Ashland will be responsible for funding the project - at least initially - until and if other funding comes through. And the project cost means that we will need to fund this at least partially through a debt exclusion, likely anticipated to be this time next year if we are going to take advantage of the next construction season. Although this is twelve months away, it is important that we put the notice out now.
We are committed to putting together a plan ensuring that through cost saving measures, non-taxpayer revenue enhancements, and hopefully other state and federal funding, we will be able to minimize the impact to Ashland taxpayers. I am positive that Senator Spilka and her staff will continue to strongly advocate on our behalf to get funding from the bond bill released. If they are successful this funding of course would be applied strictly for the public safety building, reducing the impact to Ashland’s taxpayers.
I can’t reinforce enough that while the funding mechanism for the building has to change, the need for the building has not diminished. Therefore we are moving forward with a target construction start date of July 2020. The Select Board, Public Safety Building Committee, Town Management, and our Fire and Police departments are united in both message and commitment to start building this facility next year. The Ashland community in general, and our Public Safety first responders in particular, deserve to have a safe, efficient, and professional work environment. We know that this sentiment is echoed throughout the Ashland community as well, and are grateful.
And finally, not all of the news is bad: Through continuing negotiations with Fafard Real Estate, we have been able to secure an additional 5 acres of land on the property, giving us flexibility for site work related to the construction of the Public Safety Building, and potentially using the property for other purposes as well. This brings the total acreage donated to close to 10 acres. With land values in Ashland continually rising, this acquisition is a true benefit to both the project and the community.
Writing this has not been easy. Disappointing news never is. We thought our road to completion of this much needed project would be less steep. However, we are all committed to seeing this project through, and delivering a facility that will provide decades of service to our community. With your understanding and support, and the hard work and dedication of all involved in this project, this building will most certainly become a reality that Ashland will be proud of.
Posted on April 10, 2019 at 1:16 PM by Michael Herbert
Posted on December 31, 2018 at 12:29 PM by Michael Herbert
One way Ashland has been proactive in planning its future is by acquiring properties in order to: 1) decrease the chance for inappropriate development in areas that could be better served by other uses, and 2) give us the opportunity to develop something unique and creative by preserving and re-purposing cultural and historical assets.
While a net positive, our ambitious agenda in acquiring these assets and initiatives did not accompany with it a corresponding increase in staff to help manage the maintenance and disposition of these properties.
Also, Ashland has no shortage of ideas to best utilize these properties, especially the Valentine Property. But what we do not have is a process to look at these ideas holistically and a process to determine what is realistic and what is not realistic, nor the pros and the cons of each idea. In order for such a process to not become a long drawn out affair, it needs focused leadership and resources to ensure it is happening correctly, expeditiously and fairly.
Therefore at their January 2, 2019 meeting, I am recommending that the Board of Selectmen authorize $112,000 to come from the Warren District account to hire a designated project manager to manage the stabilization, redevelopment, and restoration of the Warren District and the properties contained therein, as well as the Valentine Property. After consultation with staff, work can be broken down to three separate phases:
Funding of salary for the project manager will come directly out of the Warren District account, at $56,000 annually, for a two-year period resulting in a cost of $112,000. Funding in this account comes from an array of non-taxpayer sources. The Town would absorb benefits related to the position.
At the Board of Selectmen's property forum meeting on October 18th, a number of ideas were put forward with regards to the properties at the Warren District. This input, combined with the restrictions already put in place on the properties leads to the following suggested uses that we can get started on implementing right away. These uses are designed with historical, cultural, economic development, and sustainability issues in mind.
22 Eliot Street
Museum/Educational Center - Can be used to house information about Warren Woods and Henry Warren's Life and Inventions. "Home Base" for Educational Programs both locally and with FSU
Uses are already restricted. Currently functioning in this capacity already. Will be looking to expand the scope and mission.
433 Chestnut Street (Hall House)
Private home on National Register - Home privately restored and sold at market. Similar situation to the Clayes House in Framingham
Other proposed uses (Art Center, Museum) have been proposed in better (i.e. more sustainable) locations. This is a cost effective option to get the outcome the town desires, which is a historical home preserved in perpetuity.
Function Hall similar to the Holliston Historical Society
The Warren Barn is part of an iconic vista that already attracts a number of individuals for pictures and other scenic uses. A function center can be used in partnership with FSU's facilities and parking as well as its new hospitality program. This will also allow us to potentially share the cost burden of restoring and maintaining the property with FSU.
Uses for the Valentine property are many but are less obvious. As such the Valentine Property will take a more protracted evaluation process. I do not have a definitive recommendation at this time but here are some questions that should be asked as part of that process: