The Select Board voted unanimously to sponsor more than two dozen articles for the Annual Town Meeting warrant, ranging from standard articles to allow for leasing town property to a Proposition 2 ½ override to fund $2.3 million worth of restoration work on the Franklin Street fire station.
The vast majority of the articles voted on by the board — 20 of the 27 they sponsored — were standard, annual articles that appear on the warrant each year, according to Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer.
Among those articles were ones allowing the purchase of equipment for town departments, capital improvements to public buildings, and leasing town property. Kezer explained that additional details for each article will be provided when the language is finalized and they are added to the warrant.
The other seven articles were those specific to this year’s warrant. Kezer walked board members through each of the seven, with the most significant appearing to be the article concerning the renovations of the Franklin Street fire station.
Earlier in the meeting, the board heard a presentation from Ryan Foster and Erik Christensen of Foster Architecture, who the town contracted to conduct a building assessment and treatment report for the historic station. Town Planner Becky Cutting explained that Foster Architecture was hired under a grant program through the Mass Historic Commission.
Foster and Christensen, who also worked on the restorations of Abbot Hall and Fort Sewall, spent roughly 20 minutes talking board members through the state of the station, which they said was constructed in 1886 and has been in use since, making it one of the oldest continuously operated stations in the state.
The restoration work will include making the station more accessible, repairing rotting wood, and overhauling areas like roof flashing that are letting water into the building. The work will also include the installation of a full-fledged sprinkler system in the building, and creating a second means of egress.
The exterior renovation alone will cost the town more than $1 million, and the interior renovations will cost more than $1.1 million, said Foster. In total, the full scope of the work will cost the town $2.3 million.
Cutting said she and Fire Chief Jason Gilliland were planning to pursue a similar model to the restoration of Fort Sewall in approaching the Franklin Street fire station project, combining grant funds with public money via fundraising and a debt exclusion.
“I wish we could do it all in grants but I haven’t found that grant yet,” she said.
Gilliland said the department is “trying to be creative” in coming up with ways to get the funds to pay for the restoration, recognizing that the cost is high.
The other six articles on the warrant concern: amending town bylaws to create a Human Resources department, amending the benefits offered to administrative, non-union personnel, allowing the use of electronic counting devices for Town Meeting, amending town bylaws to eliminate a requirement that each new employee get a physical prior to starting their position, allowing the town to plant public trees on private property, and putting the tree department under the purview of the Department of Public Works.
Kezer explained that the town doesn’t have an officially-created Human Resources department, with the responsibilities falling on two employees of the finance department.
Should the article pass Town Meeting, the town would look at the financial viability of hiring a designated HR director, but should money not be available in the budget, the responsibility would fall to the finance director.
The article concerning non-union personnel stemmed from an effort by administrative employees seeking to update their benefits, he said. Kezer said the article would essentially bring those benefits in line with those offered to union personnel.
Town Moderator Jack Attridge and Kezer have been working to implement electronic vote counters at Town Meeting to streamline the process, but Kezer explained that in order to do so they need Town Meeting to sign off on amending the bylaw.
“We’re in the informational gathering process right now,” Attridge told the board.
Kezer said the article concerning planting public trees stemmed from an effort to ensure that the town retains tree cover at the close of its sidewalk improvement project. Trees would be planted on private property within 20 feet of a public way with the property owner’s permission.
“What this allows for is to provide more options for the placement of public trees to replace the trees that are being replaced through the sidewalk program,” he said.
None of the articles sponsored by the board have been formalized, and a copy of the warrant will be unveiled at the close of this month, ahead of Annual Town Meeting in May.