Big turnout for state hospital reuse planning charrette
Over eighty people gathered this past Saturday at the Westborough High School cafeteria, to engage in a lively discussion about the possibilities for the future use of the state hospital property.
Both Westborough residents and town officials met on a gorgeous spring morning to engage in a “charrette", which is "a planning tool with professional facilitators that work with stakeholders to explore possible redevelopment scenarios.”
The original press release stated that charrettes “... take place in many disciplines, including land use planning… A successful charrette promotes joint ownership of solutions and attempts to defuse typical confrontations between residents and developers. Residents who participate will get an opportunity to provide input into the planning process.”
This property is a 93-acre area around Lake Chauncy, abutting Northborough, and is currently in legislative process which will enable the Town of Westborough to formally purchase the parcels. The proposed bill H.3979 was recently favorably reviewed per a press release from our state legislators.
Among the town officials attending included Town Manager Jim Malloy, Town Planner Jim Robbins, Town Clerk Wendy Mickel, and Selectmen George Barrette, Denny Drewry, Leigh Emery, and Ian Johnson.
The Planning Board had representation, with members Lester Hensley, Ed Newton, Jr., and Charles Diamond in attendance. Their presence ensured their ability to hear their neighbor's comments and ideas about the property.
Also attending were some members of the Conservation Commission, the Economic Development Committee, and WestboroughTV -- who recorded samples from the morning for later sharing with the town.
Dr. John R. Mullin from UMass Amherst welcomed everyone and kicked off the session, explaining that attendees should treat the day as a “clean slate”, that is, starting as fresh as possible and setting pre-conceived notions aside. He shared a few ground rules, such as “no history” i.e. you can’t say “we tried that in ’48 and it didn’t work”; and that participants should “check our negativity at the door.”
Welcome and kickoff
Part 1 - SWOT Analysis
Attendees were assigned to one of fourteen tables of five to six people. At each table were printouts of a map of the 93-acre property, markers, and flip-chart paper for recording ideas. Each group was asked to select a facilitator, scribe, and spokesperson for the overall session. One additional rule was that the spokesperson for a group could not be a town official.
SWOT exercise begins
And within minutes, the first exercise was described, and people were off and running. Each group was assigned to discuss and list items for a SWOT analysis about the property. SWOT is an acronym for “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats”. As explained by co-facilitator Dr. Zenia Kotval from Michigan State University, Strengths and Weaknesses are attributes about the current state of things with the property; whereas Opportunities and Threats are attributes related to future possibilities with the property.
Recording SWOT on flip-charts
Toward the end of the first hour, the groups were instructed to select their “top three” items in each of the four categories. This was intended to begin building consensus within each group on the most important things, which then served as the specific speaking points for each group’s subsequent presentation.
One by one, each group’s spokesperson brought their flip-chart in front of the overall group, and presented their top three SWOT items in each category. After each spokesperson shared, Dr. Mullin would ask a single probing or clarifying follow-up question, such as “in the next 10 years, what is your personal vision of the property? ” or “what’s your biggest concern (or fear)?” These questions often prompted a thoughtful, authentic response that punctuated the resident’s hopes or concerns, such as “the open space parts are preserved”, "municipal needs are served first before commercial needs”, “let’s not rush, but take it slow and steady”, and “make it safe”.
As the presentations went on, it was both surprising and encouraging to hear a large number of of the same ideas emerging from each group in the SWOT categories. Here are some examples from group's presentations:
- Scenic nature & current open space and trails
- Lake and beachfront
- Multi-use zoning
- Unknown condition of buildings, possibly deteriorating
- Infrastructure needed - sewer & water
- Commonwealth's Division of Youth Services (DYS) detention facility directly adjacent to property
- Lyman street - narrow, no sidewalks
- Job creation and tax revenue
- Preserve open space
- Meeting facility / community center / rec center
- Could be used for future municipal needs or services
- Passive and active recreation
- Affordable and/or over 55 housing
- Security after the state leaves, liability
- Residential development
- Traffic burdens on Lyman & Rte 9 intersection
- Possible hazardous waste
- Need solution for runoff during development (to protect the lake)
- Cost of project
- Unknown Northboro development plans
Part 2 - Action Steps
The SWOT report-out by all the groups took about 45 minutes, after which the next session began with the charge to think about specific action steps the town can take, across three time-frames: in the next 90 days from today, the next year, and the next 2-5 years. Groups were asked to identify three items for each time-frame.
These items were also entered onto flip-chart papers, which were all posted to the wall for everyone to see.
Posted action steps
One-by-one, each group’s spokesperson was called up to read out the group’s items. Again, a large number of shared ideas were identified, with top themes involving items such as: communications, more public involvement, assessment of the property, master planning, and truly starting something or breaking ground for development before the fifth year was up.
Dr. Mullin would again ask a follow-up question to each spokesperson after they were finished, such as "what's the most important thing?"
Below are some examples of the flip-chart items for “What should the town do in the next…"
… 90 days?
- Create and advertise a reuse committee
- Complete the formal legislative acquisition of the property!
- Summarize suggestions on website
- Engage and educate the public "so people can understand what we got”
- Processes for citizen participation
- Create development timeline for pre- and post-purchase of the property
… 1 year?
- Most important point: a full inventory to know what we’re dealing with.
- Assess infrastructure needs
- Create a conceptual master plan with identified critical success factors
- Quarterly reports to selectmen, and on Westborough TV
- Meet with Northborough about their plans
- Reach out to youth community for their input
- Create an economic model to assess alternatives
- Reach out to other communities to learn what’s worked and what’s not
- Begin hunt for other funding sources
- Route 9 and Lyman St. interchange in place; plans figured out
… 2 - 5 years?
- A more factual master plan. What’s clear about town needs, vs. what’s available for development
- Issue RFPs based on master plan
- Develop active & passive recreational use
- Fireworks on Lake Chauncy for the 300th town anniversary celebration!
- Understand traffic impacts
- Short-term development projects possible
- Begin infrastructure improvements: water, sewer, gas, electric
- Actual ground-breaking
By 12:30 PM, the call out of action steps was completed, and Dr Mullin then offered to take questions and comments. But not without first selecting people at random, and asking them direct questions such as “what struck you about this morning?” or “what’s the strongest thing that’s come out of this?”
- consensus and alignment on many of the items that were identified, along with generating “a lot of unique ideas”.
- protection of open space of land and recreational use
- it was good to see that something of substance was identified.. and that people are looking at what’s missing in our town
- the focus on looking at the impact of quality of life, and not trying to squeeze the last dime out of the property
- lack of shared knowledge about the site
- concerns about deciding too quickly, and also not stalling; take it slow, but steady
Dr. Mullin said that he thought he heard consensus about a "master plan in 1 year”. When asked "How have you seen other towns do this? What committee makeup makes this master plan work?”, he replied that giving it to the Town Planner, and the [Zoning - Ed.] Planning Board, is “too much”. A comprehensive committee needs to be involved, and that a comprehensive conceptual master plan in one year is indeed possible. He also acknowledged that this [view] is “one model” for approaching this work.
He also shared that another critical component of success is citizen’s input, along with using professionals. We need both, he said, to “get the best minds together. This is one we’ve worked very hard on."
Urban Land Institute opportunity
Earlier in the meeting, the prospect of engaging with the Urban Land Institute was explained by Town Planner Jim Robbins. The Urban Land Institute (uli.org) is a professional organization of planners who can come to town with a “fresh set of eyes” to spend a full day with the site, take the results of today's planning charrette, and create three to four scenarios and specific designs for what development could look like.
This would be an overall cost to the town of about $2,500 - $3,500, but it produces, as Dr. Mullin said, about $50,000 worth of value. Note that any arrangement with the ULI this is in no way any kind of binding study; it’s an opportunity to engage with design professional in the industry to help us understand our options and realities.
Finally, attendees were given three “votes”, to indicate which action items appealed to them. The one restriction being that they couldn’t vote for their own items. Votes were indicated by placing a colorful ‘sticky tag’ on the flip-chart paper next to the selected item. And yes, one could spend all three of his or her votes on the same item, if wanted.
Voting for top action items
A “concise report" is from Dr. Mullin is expected in two weeks or less.Add a comment
Easter Egg Hunt, Fun Day, and Food Drive on April 12, 2014
Easter Egg Hunt, Fun Day, and Food Drive Planned for April 12 in Westborough
Free Community Easter Egg Hunt, Hot Dogs, Moonwalk, and Food Drive to Benefit Local Food Pantries
- What: Community Easter Egg Hunt and Fun Day
- When: Saturday, April 12, 2014 from 11 a.m.—1 p.m.
- Where: Chapel of the Cross, 160 Flanders Road, Westboro, MA
- Who: Anyone in Westboro and surrounding communities
- Why: To benefit local food banks
Westboro, MA, April 2, 2014--Chapel of the Cross is hosting a community Easter Egg Hunt and Fun day on Saturday April 12th at 160 Flanders Road in Westboro. The event is open to everyone in Westboro and surrounding communities. There will be an Easter Egg Hunt with thousands of eggs, free hot dogs and snacks, a moon walk, face painting, crafts, games, and much more.
The capstone of the event is a Food Drive. Attendees are asked to bring non-perishables for donation to local food banks, with the goal of collecting 2,000 pounds of food. There is no charge for the events or for any of the activities. Anyone in need and unable to bring food is encouraged to come to the event and enjoy a great time.
The day’s events will start at 11:00 a.m. In the event of rain, most activities will be held indoors.
For more information contact Tanya Legro at (508) 870-0001 ext. 102 or email@example.comAdd a comment
Westborough Shuttle Info
Courtesy copy of the latest Westborough Shuttle info.
For UP-TO-DATE schedules, visit the official WRTA site.
Westborough Shuttle – Westborough MBTAAdd a comment
State Legislators Support Purchase of State Hospital Property
Westborough’s Delegation supports Town’s Legislation to Re-Use Westborough State Hospital Property
BOSTON— Representatives Carolyn Dykema, Danielle Gregoire and Matthew Beaton and Senator James Eldridge joined together with the town of Westborough to support legislation filed on behalf of the town to enter into an agreement to purchase a parcel of the Westborough State Hospital property.
“The re-use of the grounds has been years in the making and, while there is still more work to be done, the hearing today moves us one step closer towards achieving the community’s vision,” said Representative Dykema. “I am particularly pleased that we are dedicating a portion of the funds to mental health programs recognizing the legacy of the facility.”
“After a long and thorough process that involved local and state officials as well as input from the town, I am very pleased to be able to join my colleagues in the House and Senate to advance Westborough’s interests forward with this bill,” said Representative Beaton. “Working with the rest of the Westborough legislative delegation, I am confident that we will pass this bill into law before the end of the current legislative session so the town of Westborough can begin to reap the benefits of this landmark deal between them and the Commonwealth.”
“I know the Town of Westborough has been looking to acquire this land for some time,” said Representative Gregoire. “While dealing with such a complex issue, I am happy that our state and local delegation has been able to work with the Division of Capital Asset Management to get the town to its end goal as quickly as possible.”
"I am pleased that the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight held a hearing so quickly on H3979, An Act authorizing the commissioner of capital asset management and maintenance to convey certain parcels of land in the town of Westborough,” said Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). “The Westborough legislative delegation is committed to passing this important legislation for the town this session."
"Today's hearing was an important step in moving forward the acquisition of the Westborough State Hospital property by the Town,” said Westborough Selectman Ian Johnson. “It continues to be gratifying to the Town to witness the tremendous collaboration exhibited again today between the Town, our legislative delegation, and the Department of Capital and Asset Management. We feel confident that the results of today's hearing will propel the process towards a successful completion.
The bill (H.3979) was favorably reported from the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight following a hearing held last week. This legislation builds on the Westborough State Hospital Reuse Commission established by the legislature in 2010. The town of Westborough authorized the delegation to file this bill on their behalf during their fall 2013 Town Meeting.
[Press release received 30-Mar-2014 10:52 AM from office of Representative Carolyn Dykema -- webmaster]Add a comment
Final and PUBLIC Superintendent Interviews for Westborough, Wednesday 26-Mar-2014 5:30 PM
New - Hello Westborough School Community –
We are writing to update you on the final piece of the on-going superintendent search process, the public interviews which will take place on Wednesday March 26th Westborough High School’s library beginning at 5:30.
First, we want to thank all of you who have attended our staff and community forums to meet the superintendent finalists and those of you who have gathered information and shared your feedback with us. We believe that the strength of our three finalists is a reflection of the strength and reputation of our school district, which is something we should all take pride in.
The public interview schedule will be as follows:
5:30-6:30 Michael Welch, Framingham High School Principal
6:45-7:45 Amber Bock, Weston Assistant Superintendent
8:00-9:00 Jean Fitzgerald, Watertown Superintendent
The School Committee will interview each finalist for approximately 45 minutes and will then read questions submitted by the community for approximately 15 minutes. Questions can be submitted in advance to Superintendent O’Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org or can be submitted on the evening of the interviews by filling out a form which will be available at the interview.
After the conclusion of the interviews, the School Committee will discuss the three finalists and vote to appoint the new superintendent. The new superintendent will begin in July.
Thank you - Westborough School Committee
Stephen Doret, Chair
Ilyse Levine-Kanji, Vice-Chair
George Thompson Add a comment
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