Fire Station Building Committee Holds Inaugural Meeting

(18-JUL-24) Boxborough’s brand new Fire Station Building Committee (FSBC) held its first meeting on Wednesday, July 17, two days after its members were appointed by the Select Board.


The newly minted committee members dove right into their first task, which is to select and recommend an Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) to the Select Board. The OPM will help the town navigate the entire fire station building process, from site selection through construction. 


The committee discussed the OPM selection criteria, the process for interviews and reference-checking, and contract negotiations, and they formulated a schedule with the goal of getting the OPM in place as quickly as possible. 


The committee will meet next Tuesday, July 23, to discuss and select a short list of OPM finalists to interview. They will conduct interviews, deliberate, and select finalists on Wednesday, July 31, so that their recommendation will be ready before the Select Board’s August 5 meeting. Once the OPM is appointed, the FSBC will work with the Town Administrator on contract negotiations.


Although the Select Board had set July 29 as their preferred date to appoint an OPM, the FSBC decided that they would not be ready with a recommendation by that date. 


The FSBC also discussed the fire station project more broadly. Members were brought up to speed about what work has been completed by the town’s design firm to date and talked through what the timeline for the project might look like after the OPM is hired. 


They tried to estimate how long each phase of the project might last and when they might be ready to ask the town for additional funding. They also discussed the need for transparency and public engagement throughout the process, as well as the importance of a "green" building.


At the end of the meeting, newly appointed Fire Chief John Kivlan expressed his thanks to the committee members for volunteering to serve on the committee.  


The FSBC declined to choose a chair because two members were absent from the meeting. They will choose a chair and set a regular meeting schedule at their next meeting on Tuesday, July 23 at 6:30 p.m.


The OPM interviews and deliberation are scheduled for Wednesday, July 31 at 7 p.m. The meeting on July 31 will not be available live on Zoom in order to prevent candidates from watching the preceding interviews. However, it will be recorded for later viewing on BXB-TV.

Liberty Field Now Open To the Public 

(18-JUL-24) After two years of construction, Liberty Field at 1100 Liberty Square Road is now complete and open for all to enjoy. 


Visitors can now use the paved walking path, a one-third mile distance that surrounds the soccer fields. The soccer fields are also open, but the grass is newly established so organized sports and league play will not be permitted until the fall. A shed has also been built for field equipment, nets, and other recreational storage. 


Other portions of Liberty Field, including the playground, tennis courts, and pickleball courts, opened in Fall 2023. 


During the holiday weekend, motorized vehicles were driven on the newly planted soccer fields, but no damage was sustained. As a result, Boxborough Police have increased their patrol of the area.


“We are excited to have residents enjoy this new space,” says Recreation Commission member Megan Connor. “The town and its residents have put a lot of money, time and effort into making it a wonderful recreation place for all to enjoy, so we ask residents to please take care of it.”


The Recreation Commission is exploring additional lessons and programming at Liberty Field, including adult fitness classes with a local physical therapy business. The Commission is also in the planning stages of adding a pavilion to the grounds. 


Visit the Town of Boxborough “My Rec” website for more information and programs:

Select Board Appoints Fire Station Building Committee

(18-JUL-24) At its meeting on July 15, the Select Board appointed all seven members of the new Fire Station Building Committee (FSBC). The five at-large members are Joan Blaustein, Mary Brolin, Sara Lavado, Eric Michnovez, and Mac Reid. The Select Board representative will be Priya Sundaram, and the Finance Committee representative will be Maria Neyland. The Board also appointed Fire Chief John Kivlan and Town Administrator Michael Johns as ex officio members.


The Board chose the five at-large members from a group of 18 applicants. TA Michael Johns explained that there were originally 24 interested residents, but that six withdrew their names from consideration. The remaining 18 applicants were evaluated using a matrix of six competencies: technical experience, community understanding, proven leadership, communication skills, interpersonal skills, and public engagement skills. Select Board Chair Kristin Hilberg said the Board was “honored” by the number of people who volunteered to be considered for the FSBC.


According to the FSBC charter approved by the Select Board at their last meeting, the FSBC is expected to “report to the Select Board and shall oversee the performance of the OPM [Owner’s Project Manager]. Based on input from the OPM, the FSBC shall recommend to the Select Board and the Town, the best path for the delivery of a new Fire Station.”


The Board also discussed potential next steps regarding recent vandalism at Liberty Field and other town-owned land. Recreation Commission Chair Matt Spurling reported to the Board that a motorized vehicle drove on the new grass at Liberty Field and that there have also been similar and more damaging incidents at Fifer’s Field, another town-owned property. 


Spurling suggested that the Board consider security cameras at these properties to “protect our investment.” After hearing from Police Chief John Szewczyk and Conservation Commission Chair Sam Anderson, the Board decided to start with signage and look into the costs involved in setting up security cameras.


Chief Szewczyk also reported to the Board the results of Operation Safe Streets, a Boxborough Police Department initiative to increase traffic enforcement in May and June 2024. The top three offenses across the two-month period were speeding (146 vehicle stops), failure to stop at stop signs (51 vehicle stops), and texting while driving (43 vehicle stops).

Planning Board Elects Two Working Group Members to Address MBTA Communities Zoning Compliance

(17-JUL-24) At its meeting on July 8, the Planning Board discussed the MBTA Communities zoning requirements and their plan to address compliance. Town Planner Alec Wade presented a background on the MBTA Communities Act and advocated for a “working group” approach to help Boxborough comply with the law.


Wade stressed that public engagement is key to the success of the community and proposed the formation of a working group that would include two planning board members, a resident with traffic or engineering experience, and two additional members at large, preferably from different geographic areas of town. The group will gather input through public forums and meetings with other town boards and committees. They will analyze the data and make recommendations to the Planning Board, who will then hold public hearings and bring the proposed zoning district for a vote at a future Town Meeting. Planning Board Clerk Rebecca Verner and member Rich Guzzardi were elected as the Planning Board representatives to the working group. The board did not discuss the process or timeline for selecting the additional working group members. Wade indicated that the working group would likely begin meeting in early fall 2024.


The MBTA Communities Act was passed by the State Legislature in 2020 as part of an Economic Development Bond Bill. It requires that the 177 communities served by the MBTA create a zoning district where multifamily housing is allowed as of right, which means there is a more streamlined permitting process compared to the special permit process. 


The zoning district created by each town must allow 15 units per acre and must be of a “reasonable size” and without age restrictions. Furthermore, there are no location requirements for the district other than certain excluded land (publicly owned land, wetland resource areas, protected open space, etc.), and the zoning can include mandatory mixed use and some percentage of low income housing as an option. The zoning district would still be subject to site plan review and is also subject to the regular permitting process. The deadline for adopting legislation is December 2025.

Work Starts on Steele Farm Ice House Restoration; RFP for Phase III of Farmhouse Preservation Prepared

(17-JUL-24) At the July 11 meeting of the Steele Farm Committee, Chair Christopher Hydak reported that the restoration of the exterior of the Steele Farm Ice House has begun. The contractor discovered that some of the underlying sheathing had rotted, and the committee agreed to have the contractor replace the rotted sheathing while keeping as much of the original wood as possible.


The committee discussed Phase III of the preservation of the 1784 Levi Wetherbee farmhouse, which includes new windows, new siding, and exterior painting. They reviewed the language in the request for proposals (RFP) for work on the farmhouse and will finalize and issue the RFP in August 2024.


The town purchased the Steele Farm property in the fall of 1994, making this year the 30th anniversary of town ownership and the preservation of the buildings and property. The committee is still planning to have an 30th anniversary celebration in mid October; details will be arranged over the next few months.  


The committee’s next meeting will be on Thursday, August 8 at 7 p.m. at the Boxborough Museum, 575 Middle Road. 

Community Preservation Committee Reviews and Approves FY2025 Project Award Letters

(17-JUL-24) At the Boxborough Community Preservation Committee (CPC) meeting of July 10, Town Planner Alec Wade reported that the semi-final draft of the 2025 Community Preservation Plan would be distributed to the committee members in the near future. The goal is to present a final draft to the committee at its September meeting.


Historically, the Boxborough CPC has had no formal award mechanism. At its June meeting, the committee voted to move towards best practices and issue formal award letters to committees/groups who receive CPC funds. The bulk of the July 10 meeting was devoted to reviewing draft CPA FY 2025 award letters for the five projects that were funded at the May 2024 town meeting and approving final language. 


The next meeting of the CPC is Thursday, September 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Grange Room of the Town Hall.

Personnel Board Reviews Its Major Initiatives

(17-JUL-24) Chair Lee Slade opened the July 10 Personnel Board meeting by discussing the planned “Employer of Choice” presentation to the Select Board. This is now scheduled to take place in August.


Assistant Town Administrator Rajon Hudson updated the board on the current status of the townwide training for department heads. Proposals have been received from two consultants and are being reviewed. Hudson also reported that rapid progress is being made on hiring town staff. It is possible that all vacancies could be hired this month.


Personnel Board member Allan MacLean reviewed progress that was being made on the update of policies and of the employee handbook. The current leaning is to include the employee-related policies as appendices to the employee handbook and include the handbook and these policies in an easy-to-access section on the town website. The goal is to have this material ready to review at the Board’s August meeting.


Ellen Hickey, Personnel Board member, summarized the status of the project to harmonize the town’s job descriptions. She and Chair Slade have reviewed the matrix of positions. A suggested next step was to invite one or more department heads to attend the Board’s meeting in August to discuss open issues.


The next meeting of the Personnel Board is scheduled for Tuesday, August 13 at 5:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

Finance Committee Approves Reserve Fund Transfer and Reviews FY 2024 and FY 2025 Budgets


(17-JUL-24) Newly elected Finance Committee Chair Tony Newton opened the July 9 meeting by welcoming new members Joe Stulpin and John Greven and by introducing newly appointed full-time Finance Director/Town Accountant Honghoa Le.


As its first order of business, the Committee unanimously approved a reserve fund transfer to the FY2024 budget line for legal services in the amount of $27,589. This was the only transfer requested by the Select Board.


The next item of business was review of FY2024 actual expenses versus budget. As of June 21, there was a significant surplus versus budget in the “town” accounts. Major contributors were unfilled positions, lower than budgeted vocational school expenses, a mild winter, insurance, and a lower than normal use of the reserve fund. Any funds that are not spent by June 30, 2024 will roll over to free cash and be available for spending next year. The Finance Committee will be seeking further information on budget underspend areas to improve the budgeting process for FY26.


On June 27, the town received a letter from the Treasurer of the Acton Boxborough Regional School District stating that the District had an additional $1.7 million expense to be applied to the FY 25 budget due to one-time items, principally health insurance payments and contingencies. The District was able to fund this deficit from its reserves so there was zero impact to the assessment to either town and thus to the taxpayers. Members of the Finance Committee expressed concern that this change will raise the ‘base’ budget for FY25 and starting point for FY26 budgeting. The Finance Committee will be seeking further clarification from the school district.


The Committee discussed the possibility that Boxborough may have three additional students at the Minuteman Vocational High School than anticipated in the FY 2025 budget. This number of students was not fully budgeted. The Town will need to confirm this once school starts in September. If there are additional students, an article to fund any additional expense could be put on the warrant for a fall/winter special town meeting.


The meeting ended with the assignment of Finance Committee liaisons and approval of the meeting calendar for 2024-2025. 


The next meeting of the Finance Committee is scheduled for Tuesday, August 6 at 7 p.m.

Boxborough Zoning Board Denies New England Tree Masters’ Appeal of Building Commissioner’s Decision

(17-JUL-24) At its meeting on Tuesday, July 9, the Boxborough Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) conducted a public hearing to consider the application for an appeal of the building commissioner’s enforcement order issued to New England Tree Masters, a business operating at 984 Mass Ave and 38 Sara’s Way. As an abutter to the applicant, ZBA Chair Mark White recused himself, and Clerk Mark Barbadoro was appointed as acting chair for the hearing.


On March 25, 2024, New England Tree Masters was issued an enforcement order by Boxborough Building Commissioner Ed Cataldo. The order specified that New England Tree Masters must file a special permit due to the “increased…size of the cleared area, truck traffic,” and the “storage of materials beyond the previous business” at the property. The order also required that the applicant file for a site plan review due to changes made to the topography, parking, traffic flow, and natural features when the property transferred ownership.


The appeal, which requested that the ZBA withdraw the enforcement order requirements, was filed by Attorney Paul Robertson on behalf of New England Tree Masters on April 29, 2024.


After the official notice of public hearing was read into the record, Acting Chair Barbadoro requested the input of Town Counsel Jonathan Eichman regarding a question of jurisdiction due to the timeliness of the appeal. Attorney Eichman indicated that Mass General Law Chapter 40A, Section 15 requires that appeals must be filed within 30 days from the date of the order, and the applicant’s appeal was filed after the 30-day deadline.  


The remainder of the hearing focused on whether or not the board would allow the appeal to be heard, given that it was filed later than the 30-day requirement. After almost two hours, in a split vote (3 – 2), the Board voted to deny the appeal on the grounds that it was not filed within the 30 day window. Attorney Robertson expressed disappointment at the result and indicated that the next step would be to resolve the case with legal action. Acting Chair Barbadoro reminded Mr. Robertson that his client still has the option to resolve the case by filing an application for a special permit rather than go to court.

Sustainability Committee Considers Building Code, Energy Saving, and “Trash Talk”

(17-JUL-24) At their hybrid meeting July 11, the Boxborough Sustainability Committee (BSC) discussed when to ask the town to approve the Specialized Building Code. They also discussed Littleton Electric Light Department’s (LELD) energy-saving efforts and preparation for “Trash Talk,” a gathering of residents to engage in activities which heighten awareness about waste management.


By September, the BSC expects the state to approve the town’s application to become a Green Community, at which time Boxborough will use an initial state grant of about $130,000 to begin installing LED light bulbs in town buildings. 


After the town becomes a Green Community, the BSC will work with town officials to help select which other clean energy project grants to seek through the program. 


The BSC also plans to work to inform residents about the benefits of the Specialized Opt-in Building Code which focuses on energy efficiency in new construction and large additions.


BSC members Palmer Moore and Barbara Saltzman presented an overview of LELD’s effort to convert to more clean energy sources. They also looked at the distribution charges to homeowners using solar energy. Moore said the charges are used to expand and maintain the electric grid; he added that LELD is "doing well for a small utility with limited resources.”


Salzman explained that LELD charges higher electric rates during peak hours. She said homeowners would be wise to run appliances such as clothes and dish washers during off-peak hours, and to consider installing an in-home battery for storing solar or off-peak electricity for use during peak hours. Weekday peak hours are 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time.


BSC Chair Kate Davies and member Suresh Jasrasaria agreed to continue work on planning “Trash Talk,” a “fun and interactive” event in September to promote ideas about how to exchange usable items and how to reduce and dispose of waste. The program will examine use of the Transfer Station, the role of private vendors, and waste management for condo and apartment dwellers.  


Davies ended the meeting by presenting Francie Nolde with the Town’s “Exceptional Service Award” for her “dedication, passion and hard work” in leading Boxborough’s sustainability initiatives for over 20 years in programs to “place solar panels on homes,” establish “the town’s first Sustainability Policy,” help pass a solar bylaw, and “support the Town’s application to become a Green Community.” 


The citation notes that as Nolde steps down as Sustainability Chair, “Her contributions to the sustainability and well-being of Boxborough will ensure that the Town can continue to meet the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future generations.”


The BSC’s next hybrid meeting will be on Sept. 12, at 7 p.m.

Select Board Approves Charter for New Fire Station Building Committee 

(9-JUL-24) At their meeting on July 8, the Select Board discussed and approved the charter for the new Fire Station Building Committee (FSBC). As approved, the charter calls for seven voting members: a member of the Select Board, a member of the Finance Committee, and five at-large members.


Before voting to approve, the Board discussed and took public comment on each paragraph of the charter, including the purpose and responsibilities of the FSBC, the number of voting and non-voting members, and expectations of committee members. 


At their June 10 meeting, the Board announced their intent to dissolve the current building committee and create a new Fire Station Building Committee to oversee the design and construction of a new fire station. 


The Board expects to appoint the five at-large members at their next meeting from a pool of twenty-four Boxborough residents who have expressed interest in being on the committee. 


To prepare to make the appointments, each board member will use a criteria matrix put together by Town Administrator Mike Johns to select their top five preferred candidates. Candidates will be discussed and appointed on July 15. Select Board Chair Kristin Hilberg noted that she wants the appointment process to be “transparent” and “respectful.”


The Board also reviewed a letter from the treasurer of the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, dated June 27, regarding a “revised budget” for the 2024-2025 school year. The letter states that the School Committee voted on June 24 an “additional General Fund budget amount of $1,711,160,” which results in a revised FY25 budget of $116,091,265. There is no change to Boxborough’s assessment. The Select Board has 45 days to respond to the District. 


The Select Board heard comments from two Finance Committee members and voted to send a letter to the District indicating that the Board needs more information and that the Boxborough Finance Committee will follow up with a list of questions for the District. 


The Select Board also looked at the calendar for the next town meeting and chose two possible dates: November 18, 2024 and February 10, 2025. The Board indicated that the November 18 date is a placeholder that is unlikely to be used.  


Finally, the Select Board approved revisions to the Sustainability Committee charter and introduced the town’s new Finance Director, Honghoa Le.