WESTFORD — Welcome to the May 7 edition of Weekend Wrap-Up. Here, we highlight the most important news you may have missed this week in Westford. Don’t forget — our weekly news show will be included in the Weekend Wrap-Up going forward.
Voters have taken to the polls to settle a number of contested races and ballot questions — including a debt exclusion for 51 Main St. and whether the Town of Westford will recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
11.8% or 2,159 of 18,287 total registered voters cast a ballot during the May 2 election.
School Committee incumbent Valery Young will serve a second term on the committee alongside newcomer Bill McDonald, who will replace two-term Gloria Miller, who did not seek reelection.
Board of Health incumbent Michele Pitoniak-Crawford, who has served on the Board of Health since 2010 will return to the board for an additional term. Newcomer Maeghan Hughes won the second contested seat, replacing Zac Cataldo, who did not seek reelection.
Question 1, debt exclusion for 51 Main St.
Voters rejected creating a Proposition 2 and 1/2 debt exclusion for funding for a proposed town center building at 51 Main St.
The proposal, which was projected to cost approximately $12.4 million, was dismissed at an Oct. 17, 2022 Special Town Meeting on procedural grounds and rejected by voters during a March 25 Annual Town Meeting.
Voters rejected creating debt exclusion for the project on both the Nov. 8, 2022 Special Town Election ballot and May 2 Town Election ballot. The question, which failed by approximately 500 votes during the Nov. 8 election, failed by roughly 600 votes on May 2.
Since about 2017, the town has allocated approximately $900,000 toward a needs study, design and testing of the site, as well as additional demolition and construction of a communications tower among other items to accommodate the proposed building.
According to Town Manager Kristen Las, the town will have to “go back to the drawing board.”
“Currently there is not a plan,” she said. “I have spoken with members of the Select Board and Permanent Town Building Committee about some potential possibilities.”
Question 2, debt exclusion for the Blanchard Roof Replacement Project
Voters authorized a Proposition 2 and 1/2 debt exclusion to fund the Blanchard Middle School Roof Replacement Project.
Funding for the project was approved at a March 25 Annual Town Meeting. The project is slated to cost $6.5 million, but up to 48.05% of that funding will be offset by a grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
“The grant will total about $2.5 million it’s a huge saving to approve this today,” Director of Facilities Jeff Goodwin told WestfordCAT.
Blanchard Middle School’s roof has historically been a “troubled roof,” according to Goodwin.
“We’ve had several insurance claims on the building. Our deductible has gone up in price,” he said.
The project is slated to begin in the summer of 2024 and conclude ahead of the school year.
“Our goal is to try and wrap up over the course of the summer [in 2024],” he said.
Question 3, Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Voters approved a resolution to allow the Select Board to declare the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day and supersede all local references to Columbus Day.
The question was originally proposed as a Citizen’s Petition during an Oct. 18, 2020 Special Town Meeting. Voters rejected the proposal but referred the question to the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.
The Select Board did not take a position on the question during an April 25 meeting. The School Committee endorsed the measure in a 4-1 vote during a March 13 meeting.
WestfordCAT reached out to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee Vice Chair Joe Diamond, who noted the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee is “grateful” for the vote.
“With this vote Westford has joined 20 other cities and towns across the state in honoring the original inhabitants of this land – in Westford the Nipmuc People,” he said. “We look forward to celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day together.”
WestfordCAT reached out to First Middlesex Republican State Committee member Kathy Lynch and Anthony DiLeo, an organizer for Save Columbus Day in Westford. Lynch believes the question “pits half of the town at odds with the other half.”
“It’s unfortunate that Westford’s so-called “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee” put forth such a divisive ballot question that excludes half the members of our community that honor Christopher Columbus and his remarkable achievements,” Lynch told WestfordCAT.
She continued, “fortunately, the federal holiday of Columbus Day still remains and this Westford question is non-binding. Therefore, Westford residents can celebrate Columbus Day any way they wish.”
DiLeo did not immediately respond for comment.
After the Select Board unanimously approved a proclamation to recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month, a number of speakers took to Westford Common to speak on mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
The Select Board unanimously approved a proclamation to declare May as Mental Health Awareness Month during an April 25 meeting.
The event was hosted by the Health Department and Community Wellness Department, with members from the Select Board, the See a New Sun Foundation, Rep. Lori Trahan’s office and State Sen. John Cronin’s office in attendance.
“Mental Health is a very important part of a person’s overall health and well-being,” said Health Director Rae Dick. “Yet mental health affects millions of people and their families nationwide.”
Members from the See a New Sun Foundation, an organization to promote awareness of suicide prevention and substance abuse, were in attendance to promote a number of mental health resources in the area.
The organization recently provided the Town of Westford with bumper stickers featuring the 988 Crisis Lifeline, the new three-digit dialing code to connect callers with the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. These bumper stickers have been placed on a number of Westford Police Department and other town-owned vehicles.
W. Marc Bernsau is April’s Artist of the Month at the Parish Center for the Arts.
Bernsau is a photographer who has previously served as Chief Photographer at the Boston Business Journal.
“It really started my junior year of high school, a 10-day trip to Germany, Austria and Switzerland,” he said. “When we got back, the yearbook for the year came out and people weren’t too happy with the results.”
He continued, “I figured I couldn’t do much worse.”
His work will be on display through May 28. A reception will be held on May 7 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.