WILMINGTON — At their meeting on Monday night, the Board of Selectmen heard a presentation that was the result of a joint vote from the committees for the new senior center and town hall/school admin buildings. Town Manager Jeff Hull reminded the community that the work was directed by the 2020 Town Meeting approvals for both projects’ feasibility study and schematic design.
Owners’ Project Manager Dan Pallotta of P3 explained how it became apparent as soon as sites were initially considered that it was imperative to look at the two projects together. To look at the four sites identified objectively, they rated each site by a set of criteria and adopted a matrix to compare the totals. Some of the criteria that he mentioned in the review were things like availability for water and gas service, stormwater service, adequate parking, site visibility, future expansion potential, and relative site development costs.
The Swain Green and the St. Dorothy’s Church sites were identified as the top two sites for the town hall and senior center respectively, and the committees unanimously approved taking these to the selectmen as their next step.
Selectman Kevin Caira expressed doubt that the designers considered the full impact of the baseball fields as space when they were evaluating the current town hall area. He then suggested the possibility of both buildings being placed on the St. Dorothy’s property.
He also asked about parking requirements for the town hall. Pallotta shared that the suggested number of spaces was 150 based on the square footage of the proposed building. Caira wanted even more information, like how many parking spaces would fit at the St. Dorothy’s site and how many they would take away by building on the Swain Green, but the OPM couldn’t provide an answer.
Pallotta replied that the purpose of the matrix and the criteria were simply to narrow down the sites and choose the best ones.
Caira went on to ask why they were counting the baseball fields at Glen Road out from the space considerations. Hull said that he was the one who directed the OPM and Public Buildings Superintendent George Hooper to avoid the field space. Hooper added that this was included in instructions of the FMP.
“We haven’t explored that opportunity,” Caira continued. “We don’t know the impacts to the fields.”
He stated he wanted to see every stone turned over and every avenue explored with regard to the three proposed sites.
Pallotta maintained that even considering the field space, the current town hall site didn’t measure up to the Swain Green or St. Dorothy’s by the criteria they used.
Selectman Chair Lilia Maselli declared her intentions to keep the ball fields out of the conversation and asked the discussion to move onto other points. She also asked why Caira had waited until this moment to express dissatisfaction, when he was on the committee that voted to move this presentation to the board.
Gary DePalma’s main issue was with the presentation itself, which didn’t clarify whether the ball fields would be considered in the spaces.
“I don’t think we should be touching any of the recreational facilities in the town,” he added.
Judy O’Connell shared that she was concerned about the Swain Green flooding and wanted to see more opportunity for community feedback in the process.
Greg Bendel stuck to the positives in his comment about the presentation — mainly that one out of the four sites was eliminated as an option. He later said that a visual element could help residents connect and form their opinions.
As for new ideas, he suggested repurposing the Roman House area for extra parking at the high school once the new space is built.
The committee did not agree about whether the baseball fields should be considered for building, but Hull summed up their additional considerations, and Pallotta said the direction was clear enough to move forward. A board to consider item was on the agenda to approve, but they moved past it.
The board then let a few residents present share their comments, and most of them regarded the timeline for the new senior center being further delayed.
Suzanne Clark shared dissatisfaction specifically with the board members who had approved the results of the matrix in their committees but didn’t want to approve it that night.
“I understood the matrix perfectly because I was at every meeting up until now,” she continued.
Bendel responded to say the exercise was still valuable even if the process isn’t moving as fast as he would like.
Deborah Russo also said the issues named that night should have come up earlier. In addition to referencing how the proposal for a new senior center was first made in August of 2019, she reminded the board the building cost would’ve been much lower at that time had they approved it.
M. J. Byrnes was the last comment, recommending that perhaps the board move forward with just the senior center instead of trying to consider both at the same time.
“I respectfully take exception to the idea that we’re dragging our feet,” said Bendel. “We’ve given feedback and direction.”
Pallotta also responded to say the senior center project was ahead of the town hall/school admin already, and the projects are being focused on separately.