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Town Manager

Jul 25

Public Safety Updates

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. 


Apr 10

Eversource and the Town of Ashland

Posted on April 10, 2019 at 1:16 PM by Michael Herbert

I am writing in regards to the Eversource gas transmission line project being proposed for Ashland. For those that are not aware, Eversource is planning to replace a gas transmission line that practically bisects the town and crosses over 88 parcels and a large amount of wetlands. In scope it is a huge project, and the more information that has come available leads many of us to have questions, concerns and alternatives that should be addressed.  My purpose of writing is three-fold: to educate residents about the project itself and what processes the project is going through, communicate some concerns with the project, and also to announce that the BOS will be holding a public forum on the project on April 16th starting at 6:30PM at the Community Center. To be clear, I am writing as the Town Manager and not on behalf of the Board, although I feel fairly confident that all four Board of Selectmen members would concur with most if not all of what I am going to say.

I wanted to let you know that as part of this project, Eversource is going through two separate permitting processes:

1) Currently Eversource is before the Department of Public Utilities Energy Facilities Siting Board ("EFSB") for permission for this project. The EFSB looks at a number of issues when determining whether it grants permission for the project but they basically boil down to need, impact, and cost. The application to the EFSB lists two routes. A "preferred route" through an existing easement as described above and an alternative route that runs through streets (primarily 135, Prospect, and Fruit) . We have serious concerns about both routes. The Board of Selectmen do not have a decision- making role in the process, however because of these concerns they made the case and filed for what is known as "Intervenor" status with the EFSB. This is an important status because it allows us to produce witnesses and cross-examine Eversource about the project and lets us articulate our concerns before the siting board. 

2) Eversource is also in front of the Ashland Conservation Commission for a permit due to the wetlands impact and stormwater impact. Eversource has  presumptively sought a permit for the Preferred Route even before the Siting Board has made their decision. The project under the preferred route is expected to impact 63 lf of Bank; 50,657 sf of Bordering Vegetated Wetlands; 1,049 sf of Land Under Water, 47,515 sf of Bordering Land Subject to Flooding;  and 41,636 sf of Riverfront Area.

Although an extremely simplistic summary of the concerns listed, the main concern with the preferred route is the severe impact to wetlands, and the damage to peoples' homes and property, and safety. Concerns with the alternative or "In street" route center around the massive traffic impacts to town along 135, Main Street, and Fruit/Eliot Street, which will in turn impede first responders' ability to protect life and property, and the damage to peoples' homes and property. With both routes, I worry about the impact this will have on our staff and our ability to get the myriad of projects we have in the queue completed with minimal complications and disruptions.  

Although several public forums and discussions have occurred with regards to the project, many people are still unaware. Some people have characterized the lack of more public dialogue as an indication that the Town does not take the project seriously. This is inaccurate. The Board of Selectmen have allocated almost $100,000 in FY19 funds alone to advocate for and protect the Town of Ashland as part of their intervenor status. This includes hiring technical consultants, soliciting and filing testimony with the EFSB, and will culminate in a trial that will be occurring over the next few weeks. This is the single most expensive legal battle that I have been a part of. To the extent that discussion has not been more public or visible, it has been because the Board of Selectmen and its technical experts and attorneys retained to protect the interests of the town of Ashland and its citizens have felt that a more public discussion would have led to less favorable results for the town as a whole and potential abutters for a variety of reasons.   

Complicating things further is the number of other initiatives we are in the middle of: the Public Safety building project, a new Mindess School, a YMCA, major improvements in Downtown and Pond Street not to mention private investment accompanying that. Ironically we are even looking at a Net Zero Energy initiative for the town.  

The Board of Selectmen will be holding a public forum on the project on April 16th, beginning at 6:30 at the Community Center for the purposes of listening to residents concerns about the project. We should also be able to answer questions about the siting board process and the project specifics itself. The Ashland Conservation Commission has been invited as has the Ashland Sustainability Committee. Technical experts should be there as well. At this time I will assume that we will be somewhat limited in what we can publicly state due to ongoing litigation, but we can certainly listen to your concerns. 

In the meantime, more information on the project can be found at the Energy Facilities Siting Board website: https://eeaonline.eea.state.ma.us/DPU/Fileroom/dockets/bynumber

Once there enter "EFSB18-02" in the search bar.


I am writing in regards to the Eversource gas transmission line project being proposed for Ashland. For those that are not aware, Eversource is planning to replace a gas transmission line that practically bisects the town and crosses over 88 parcels and a large amount of wetlands. In scope it is a huge project, and the more information that has come available leads many of us to have questions, concerns and alternatives that should be addressed.  My purpose of writing is three-fold: to educate residents about the project itself and what processes the project is going through, communicate some concerns with the project, and also to announce that the BOS will be holding a public forum on the project on April 16th starting at 6:30PM at the Community Center. To be clear, I am writing as the Town Manager and not on behalf of the Board, although I feel fairly confident that all four Board of Selectmen members would concur with most if not all of what I am going to say.

I wanted to let you know that as part of this project, Eversource is going through two separate permitting processes:

1) Currently Eversource is before the Department of Public Utilities Energy Facilities Siting Board ("EFSB") for permission for this project. The EFSB looks at a number of issues when determining whether it grants permission for the project but they basically boil down to need, impact, and cost. The application to the EFSB lists two routes. A "preferred route" through an existing easement as described above and an alternative route that runs through streets (primarily 135, Prospect, and Fruit) . We have serious concerns about both routes. The Board of Selectmen do not have a decision- making role in the process, however because of these concerns they made the case and filed for what is known as "Intervenor" status with the EFSB. This is an important status because it allows us to produce witnesses and cross-examine Eversource about the project and lets us articulate our concerns before the siting board. 

2) Eversource is also in front of the Ashland Conservation Commission for a permit due to the wetlands impact and stormwater impact. Eversource has  presumptively sought a permit for the Preferred Route even before the Siting Board has made their decision. The project under the preferred route is expected to impact 63 lf of Bank; 50,657 sf of Bordering Vegetated Wetlands; 1,049 sf of Land Under Water, 47,515 sf of Bordering Land Subject to Flooding;  and 41,636 sf of Riverfront Area.

Although an extremely simplistic summary of the concerns listed, the main concern with the preferred route is the severe impact to wetlands, and the damage to peoples' homes and property, and safety. Concerns with the alternative or "In street" route center around the massive traffic impacts to town along 135, Main Street, and Fruit/Eliot Street, which will in turn impede first responders' ability to protect life and property, and the damage to peoples' homes and property. With both routes, I worry about the impact this will have on our staff and our ability to get the myriad of projects we have in the queue completed with minimal complications and disruptions.  

Although several public forums and discussions have occurred with regards to the project, many people are still unaware. Some people have characterized the lack of more public dialogue as an indication that the Town does not take the project seriously. This is inaccurate. The Board of Selectmen have allocated almost $100,000 in FY19 funds alone to advocate for and protect the Town of Ashland as part of their intervenor status. This includes hiring technical consultants, soliciting and filing testimony with the EFSB, and will culminate in a trial that will be occurring over the next few weeks. This is the single most expensive legal battle that I have been a part of. To the extent that discussion has not been more public or visible, it has been because the Board of Selectmen and its technical experts and attorneys retained to protect the interests of the town of Ashland and its citizens have felt that a more public discussion would have led to less favorable results for the town as a whole and potential abutters for a variety of reasons.   

Complicating things further is the number of other initiatives we are in the middle of: the Public Safety building project, a new Mindess School, a YMCA, major improvements in Downtown and Pond Street not to mention private investment accompanying that. Ironically we are even looking at a Net Zero Energy initiative for the town.  

The Board of Selectmen will be holding a public forum on the project on April 16th, beginning at 6:30 at the Community Center for the purposes of listening to residents concerns about the project. We should also be able to answer questions about the siting board process and the project specifics itself. The Ashland Conservation Commission has been invited as has the Ashland Sustainability Committee. Technical experts should be there as well. At this time I will assume that we will be somewhat limited in what we can publicly state due to ongoing litigation, but we can certainly listen to your concerns. 

In the meantime, more information on the project can be found at the Energy Facilities Siting Board website: https://eeaonline.eea.state.ma.us/DPU/Fileroom/dockets/bynumber

Once there enter "EFSB18-02" in the search bar.
I am writing in regards to the Eversource gas transmission line project being proposed for Ashland. For those that are not aware, Eversource is planning to replace a gas transmission line that practically bisects the town and crosses over 88 parcels and a large amount of wetlands. In scope it is a huge project, and the more information that has come available leads many of us to have questions, concerns and alternatives that should be addressed.  My purpose of writing is three-fold: to educate residents about the project itself and what processes the project is going through, communicate some concerns with the project, and also to announce that the BOS will be holding a public forum on the project on April 16th starting at 6:30PM at the Community Center. To be clear, I am writing as the Town Manager and not on behalf of the Board, although I feel fairly confident that all four Board of Selectmen members would concur with most if not all of what I am going to say.

I wanted to let you know that as part of this project, Eversource is going through two separate permitting processes:

1) Currently Eversource is before the Department of Public Utilities Energy Facilities Siting Board ("EFSB") for permission for this project. The EFSB looks at a number of issues when determining whether it grants permission for the project but they basically boil down to need, impact, and cost. The application to the EFSB lists two routes. A "preferred route" through an existing easement as described above and an alternative route that runs through streets (primarily 135, Prospect, and Fruit) . We have serious concerns about both routes. The Board of Selectmen do not have a decision- making role in the process, however because of these concerns they made the case and filed for what is known as "Intervenor" status with the EFSB. This is an important status because it allows us to produce witnesses and cross-examine Eversource about the project and lets us articulate our concerns before the siting board. 

2) Eversource is also in front of the Ashland Conservation Commission for a permit due to the wetlands impact and stormwater impact. Eversource has  presumptively sought a permit for the Preferred Route even before the Siting Board has made their decision. The project under the preferred route is expected to impact 63 lf of Bank; 50,657 sf of Bordering Vegetated Wetlands; 1,049 sf of Land Under Water, 47,515 sf of Bordering Land Subject to Flooding;  and 41,636 sf of Riverfront Area.

Although an extremely simplistic summary of the concerns listed, the main concern with the preferred route is the severe impact to wetlands, and the damage to peoples' homes and property, and safety. Concerns with the alternative or "In street" route center around the massive traffic impacts to town along 135, Main Street, and Fruit/Eliot Street, which will in turn impede first responders' ability to protect life and property, and the damage to peoples' homes and property. With both routes, I worry about the impact this will have on our staff and our ability to get the myriad of projects we have in the queue completed with minimal complications and disruptions.  

Although several public forums and discussions have occurred with regards to the project, many people are still unaware. Some people have characterized the lack of more public dialogue as an indication that the Town does not take the project seriously. This is inaccurate. The Board of Selectmen have allocated almost $100,000 in FY19 funds alone to advocate for and protect the Town of Ashland as part of their intervenor status. This includes hiring technical consultants, soliciting and filing testimony with the EFSB, and will culminate in a trial that will be occurring over the next few weeks. This is the single most expensive legal battle that I have been a part of. To the extent that discussion has not been more public or visible, it has been because the Board of Selectmen and its technical experts and attorneys retained to protect the interests of the town of Ashland and its citizens have felt that a more public discussion would have led to less favorable results for the town as a whole and potential abutters for a variety of reasons.   

Complicating things further is the number of other initiatives we are in the middle of: the Public Safety building project, a new Mindess School, a YMCA, major improvements in Downtown and Pond Street not to mention private investment accompanying that. Ironically we are even looking at a Net Zero Energy initiative for the town.  

The Board of Selectmen will be holding a public forum on the project on April 16th, beginning at 6:30 at the Community Center for the purposes of listening to residents concerns about the project. We should also be able to answer questions about the siting board process and the project specifics itself. The Ashland Conservation Commission has been invited as has the Ashland Sustainability Committee. Technical experts should be there as well. At this time I will assume that we will be somewhat limited in what we can publicly state due to ongoing litigation, but we can certainly listen to your concerns. 

In the meantime, more information on the project can be found at the Energy Facilities Siting Board website: https://eeaonline.eea.state.ma.us/DPU/Fileroom/dockets/bynumber

Once there enter "EFSB18-02" in the search bar.
Dec 31

Proposal for Warren District Properties & Valentine Estate

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:

  1. Stabilization of existing property - Ensuring that further decay and disrepair do not happen, giving us the time to determine uses for the property. This will also include ongoing maintenance of the property during this time frame.
  2. Managing a robust public process - The project manager will also manage the public process to determine how we are going to use the Valentine Property, and help evaluate  suggestions for each provided below.
  3. Overseeing the redevelopment/restoration of properties - This will be very procurement heavy. Essentially serves as clerk of the works. Responsible for making sure properties stay functioning and that the overall goal is achieved.

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.

PROPERTY

PROPOSED USE

RATIONALE

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.

Warren Barn

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:

  1. Function Hall similar to Holliston Historical Society - is this really feasible given the fact that there is a very popular one right nearby? In addition we will have something similar at the Warren District. What kind of market is there for this type of use. If there isn’t a market how will it be sustained?
  2. Arts Center - Is this really the best location for an Arts Center? With limited parking, what size venue would we be thinking of. Its location would make it a stand-alone center, meaning that people would not have the opportunity to walk to other parts of town and frequent their businesses in conjunction with visiting the arts center. There are already three regional arts facilities nearby (Hopkinton, Framingham, Natick) some of which are already struggling. Why would a performer/artist want to come to Ashland versus one of the other locations?
  3. Working Farm/Farm to Table Restaurant - How many farmable acres are there on site? What would the cost be to clear land associated with this use? Who would manage the restaurant? Would it require a subsidy from the Town? If so, how much and where would the funding come from?
  4. Office Space - How much would it cost to renovate the property for this purpose? Does this purpose preclude using the rest of the space for some other purpose? What are the benefits of locating office space in a historic home?
In closing, moving on the disposition of these properties should be one of our focus areas in the next year. Further delay means advanced decomposition of the properties which in turn further limits the options available. This recommendation gives us the opportunity to fully realize the potential in each of these properties while retaining and celebrating the history of Ashland.