Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
As the Fairhaven Selectboard approached its June 1 executive session to discuss a potential lease agreement for the Rogers School addition with the Southeastern Massachusetts Educational Collaborative (SMEC), Vice-Chairperson Bob Espindola asked first to discuss the matter in open session and voice some of his concerns. Chairperson Daniel Freitas was absent.
Careful not to disclose any sensitive information ahead of the private meeting with Rogers Re-Use Committee members Susan Loo and Doug Brady, Mr. Espindola said he needed a better sense of the project’s timeframe and noted that Town Meeting was only 11 days away.
“It feels extremely rushed to me,” said Mr. Espindola. “Especially given that the information on pricing in here (the Selectboard’s executive session packet) is so far different than initially.”
At the last Selectboard meeting, Mr. Espindola expressed his concern that the cost estimates that SMEC’s contractors provided might not be accurate. As a result, the board decided to consult with its own engineer consultant for estimates.
Mr. Espindola acknowledged that SMEC at first wanted to have the renovation of the newer wing of the Rogers School completed for a September startup for its special education programming but emphasized that SMEC is now willing to extend that timeframe to a January 2022 startup. For this to happen, though, an article would have to pass at the Annual Town Meeting, less than two weeks away, and Mr. Espindola said even if it does pass, he was not sure that a January completion was realistic.
When the proposal was first brought to the board, Mr. Espindola said, the proposal did not include any financial investment from the town. It then progressed to a cost-share between the town and SMEC of $425,000 and $250,000, respectively.
“Now, that number looks quite a bit different,” said Mr. Espindola. “So, to me, the whole thing looks really rushed to try to be something [comprehensive] to explain to Town Meeting. I don’t feel real confident with that….”
Selectboard member Keith Silvia, the board’s representative to the Rogers Re-Use Committee, said that SMEC does need to move on the proposal as soon as possible. Interim Town Administrator Wendy Graves said that a Fall Special Town Meeting article would push the project out farther to the 2022-2023 school year.
Mr. Silvia said the building commissioner estimated that the project would take about six months to complete.
Mr. Espindola acknowledged that he should not reveal the estimate numbers publicly that night before discussing a lease agreement in executive session as it could influence subsequent negotiations with SMEC.
But his bottom line was, he said, “I feel like, if we’re not going to be able to present those numbers to Town Meeting members by June 12…then I’m not going to feel comfortable going much further with this here.”
Mr. Brady stated that all the cost estimates and the leasing agreement numbers would be ready for Town Meeting, and the goal is to introduce as much information as possible on June 12. He said SMEC’s engineers feel the timeframe for the project is viable, and several meetings with Fairhaven public safety officials have been reassuring.
Mr. Espindola said he just wanted to be certain that, ultimately, the project is in the town’s best interest. He said he remained concerned about a seeming “rush” ahead of Town Meeting and a proverbial cart before the horse situation.
Still, Mr. Brady said that a schedule for the project could not be finalized until the committee receives the okay from the Selectboard to discuss leasing terms, after which “a schedule can be created overnight.”
Mr. Espindola said he disagreed with the ease of creating a schedule offered by Mr. Brady, but then added, “I think this is a good project and that this can happen [without] a significant risk. I’m just trying to avoid the town having a significant risk.”
At that, the board adjourned to executive session to discuss the matter.
In other business, during open session, Mr. Silvia said he reached out to Town Moderator Mark Sylvia to organize an in-person meeting place for Town Meeting members to gather on June 12 and receive technical support from individuals on hand to assist if needed.
Mr. Silvia said electronic devices would also be available at the site that will likely be the Senior Center, emphasizing that the accommodations would be provided “so that people can have their voices heard.”
He added that he consulted with the Board of Health on the possibility of having roughly 10 to 15 people at the Senior Center on June 12, and the board gave him their support, he stated.
Mr. Espindola said it was a good idea and thanked Mr. Silvia for working on the logistics.
Ms. Graves said she recently met with Tree Warden Don Collasius and Town Accountant Anne Carreiro to discuss the reclassification of Tree Department pay rates, which were reclassified by an outside human resources consultant from a grade 5 to a grade 7. Ms. Graves said the new pay rate would be $17.52-$21.34 spread across nine steps.
Town Hall will be hosting a production crew for a documentary film based on the Michelle Carter case on June 10-11 for the taping of two interviews with two Fairhaven Police detectives involved in the case. Jheisson Nunez, a representative of the producer, said they would be filming from 8:00 a.m. to 8 p.m. over the two days, and they would have a Covid compliance officer present to ensure social distancing protocols and, when necessary, face-mask requirements are followed.
The board tabled a request for a handicap parking sign in front of 54 Bayview Avenue after the safety officer requested more time to consider the request. According to Ms. Graves, the parking sign would fall on a hydrant side where parking is prohibited during winter months.
Ms. Graves said the person who requested the parking sign does have a driveway, and she noted that there is also a garage on the property. She said that when she asked the applicant why they do not park inside the garage, they replied, “Yeah, but I have my hotrod in there.”
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