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Town Meeting Approves $4.9 Million in Capital Projects

Burlington Town Meeting completed the capital budget requests after some lengthy discussions and debates on Wednesday evening.

In total there were $4,976,589 worth of requests from the Department of Public Works, the Police and Fire Departments, Parks and Recreation and the School Department.

Some big ticket items passed with little to no discussion, including $200,000 for stream cleaning/drainage, $593,000 for DPW vehicle replacements, $700,000 for Phase 2 of a communications plan for the Fire Department, $439,5000 for a record management and dispatch system for the Police and Fire Departments and $222,870 for a body camera storage unit for the Police Department.

Most of the debate among members concerned requests put forward by the school department.

The first big discussion came in response to a $290,000 request for a new playground at Francis Wyman Elementary School. School Department Director of Operations Bob Cunha said the equipment at the current playground is over 20 years old and some of it has been removed due to damage. They have also had to re-sand much of the wood equipment over time. He also said the equipment was outdated.

“It’s not up to the standards we want and it’s smaller than it was so we are not providing the playground we want for students,” he said.

Some members said they had taken children to the playground recently and said that while the equipment is old, it still functions. A few members suggested delaying the project until the town’s finances had more time to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

Cunha argued that the longer they waited the more costs were likely to increase over time. In the end the project was approved.

Another project that garnered debate was $65,000 to repair bathrooms at Pine Glen. Since there has been discussion about the possibility of combining Pine Glen and Fox Hill at the proposed new Fox Hill project, some members suggested it may be wise to hold off on big expenses at Pine Glen for the time being.

However, Superintendent Eric Conti said the School Committee has made it clear they are in favor of keeping the district’s four elementary school system and that the analysis looking into combining the two schools is just part of the process of applying for funds from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. He added that even if they were to combine the schools there won’t be a new Fox Hill for at least six or seven years and the buildings must be maintained in the meantime.

In the end the project was approved.

Another project that brought debate was also for Pine Glen. The district requested $500,000 to replace the school’s HVAC system to provide air conditioning to the building.

Here too the concern about putting a large amount of money into a school that might be closed was brought up. That rationale led the Capital Budget Committee to vote 0-6 against the proposal.

“The thinking was again that the issue of the building remains unsettled and now we’re half a million dollars into this,” Committee Chair Adam Senesi said. “Why not wait a year and build these programs into the 10 year plan?”

Conti again said the goal of the department is to keep the four schools and putting air conditioning in the school is a priority for the district. He said a new Fox Hill building would have air conditioning and if they do the Pine Glen project now then all school buildings would be climate controlled.

Cunha added that it is also a matter of providing a comfortable environment that allows productive learning. He said they have heard from teachers and students that the building gets very hot during the start and end of the school year and that currently they have to bring in portable fans and air conditioning units to try to mitigate the situation.

In the end the project was approved.

There was also discussion around a proposal to spend $110,000 for three scoreboards at school fields other than Varsity Field, including at Marshall Simonds Middle School and Francis Wyman Elementary.

Conti said some varsity sports require scoreboards at fields to play and having boards at more fields would allow for expanded use.

The question from some Town Meeting members was whether or not the district could get sponsorship from a local business to pay for the boards in exchange for having a company name and logo printed on them. The School Committee has resisted having company names on school structures in the past.

Other members said they would prefer to avoid sponsorships on school facilities as well and spoke about the benefits, for players and spectators alike, of having scoreboards during games.

In the end the project was approved.

Finally, the capital article that was the focus of the most debate was $450,000 to redo the floors in the chorus and band rooms to make them more accessible. Currently they are set up like pits, with different levels descending from the height of the floor at the entrances of the rooms. This project would make the floors level throughout the rooms and thus easier to navigate for people with mobility issues.

The biggest resistance to the proposal came from the Capital Budget Committee which had voted 0-6 against recommending its passage. Chair Senesi said their biggest issue was the lack of a clear plan on how the district would present renovations and other projects to the school buildings.

“​​We never saw this in any 10 year plan,” he said. “Our committee doesn’t understand the lack of a planned approach.”

Superintendent Conti said making the high school more accessible has been a long-term goal of the district and that they were requesting this project now because they expect to have larger, more costly, expenses in the year ahead. He said the district would likely be asking for nearly $50 million for the Fox Hill project and they also have to upgrade the high school HVAC system and science labs, both costly projects. He said that before those larger requests are made they want to tackle some of the other pieces first.

“The process is not going to be one big renovation project but will be more piecemeal and this is one of those pieces,” he said.

The vote, done by roll call, came out to 53 in favor and 46 opposed.