WESTFORD — A proposed town center building is returning to Annual Town Meeting after it was dismissed by voters at an October Special Town Meeting.
What’s in the proposal?
The proposed building would replace the existing fire station at 51 Main St., which has stood since 1974. This station has been vacant since its replacement in 2018, when the town completed its fire headquarters located on Boston Road.
Select Board Chair Andrea Peraner-Sweet notes the fire station is of “no use” and is “not worth renovating.”
Between four separate town meetings, approximately $900,000 has been allocated towards a needs study, design and testing of the site, as well as additional demolition and construction of a communications tower as well as other items since 2017. The study found the town has a need for greater office and meeting space.
The proposed building would house a new multi-function space which could serve as a 100-seat meeting room, community room or police training room, as well as office space for the Technology Department, Veterans Services Department and the Facilities Department. The building would also provide office space for the Sustainability Coordinator and Wellness Coordinator.
Officials cite “consistently inadequate space” for the public to attend in-person meetings.
“Effective democracy is inclusive and happens in spaces that are adequate to accommodate the public. Attendance and participation in these meetings will only grow as our population grows.”
The proposed meeting space will also serve as a training room for the Westford Police Department and a multifunctional space for the community.
Officials voice support for project
Voters dismissed the proposal in a 319 to 259 vote at Special Town Meeting and rejected creating a Proposition 2 1/2 exclusion for the project in a 5,567 to 5,076 vote during a Nov. 8 Special Town Election.
The proposed project was projected to cost $12.1 million in October, but that cost has risen to $12.4 million. The proposal in October was unanimously recommended by the Finance Committee and the Select Board.
Under the new price tag, the proposal was unanimously recommended by the Select Board and recommended in a 5-3 vote by the Finance Committee during a Feb. 16 meeting.
Finance Committee member Dennis Galvin, who was one of three no votes during the Feb. 16 meeting, clarified with WestfordCAT that he does intend to support the project.
“I think 51 Main St. is a compelling case. You have the IT section that is one bad leak away from wiping it out. I have no problem with building a new building,” he told WestfordCAT.
He continued, “it will protect our investment. I am not going to get up and defend it [at Town Meeting], but I am not going to object. I will be an aye vote for the project.”
Some residents concerned about proposal
Resident Ellen Harde, who proposed a motion to dismiss the original Article in October, noted a number of concerns with the project.
“The current Town Hall is just under 8,000 square feet, This new building will be about 9,000 square feet,” she told WestfordCAT. “So it’s larger than the current Town Hall.”
She also cites concerns over the size of the proposed meeting room, which is proposed to seat 100 residents. The current meeting room in Town Hall seats 20 residents.
“It’s very rare that the hall is full during a meeting,” she said. “When it is, it’s for something like the gun issue. Everyone is well aware that it is going to be contentious and popular, and for those meetings you can go down to the Millennium Building.”
She continued, “there are very few meetings that 100 voters actually come to. It’s not denying access to democracy if we only had a 50 seat room. Even if it’s full for every Select Board meeting, that leaves 28 days a month it is sitting empty.”
She also cited concerns with the architecture of the building, which she believes will not compliment the architectural history of Westford Center.
“With the exception of the library, each building is a center-front colonial,” she said. “This proposal is not.”