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VIDEO: Westford Strategic Planning Retreat Draws 350 to Outdoor Setting

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Editor’s note: Scroll to the bottom to see a video of the entire meeting as well as an interview with resident Patricia Reppucci on why she’s helping to raise funds for a Catholic church in Aguacate, Cuba.

About 350 residents and officials attended the town’s annual strategic planning retreat on June 21 under a tent at Kimball Farm.

Key topics covered were school safety and ongoing construction of town-owned buildings.

School Safety [Continue below.]

“There is no easy answer to school safety,” said Superintendent Everett V. Olsen. “But there are some particular components that we need to address…”

Olsen said there are four components to school safety — people, weapons, preparation, and response. Educators try to notice behavioral changes in children for mental health issues. Weapons must be addressed through the Legislative process, Olsen. More preparation is always needed, he said, but much has already been done. In terms of response, Olsen said many in the community have voiced a desire for more school resource officers in the schools.

Police Chief Thomas McEnaney noted the town has 11 schools, 5,100 students and stretches across 32 square miles. Police are caught between the balance of educating inside the classroom and keeping it safe.

“Public safety and the safety and security of our kids is paramount,” said McEnaney. “The board believes it, the School Committee believes it, the superintendent, fire chief, we all are on the same page with this.”

Buildings

Tom Mahanna, chairman of the Permanent Town Building Committee outlined the ongoing building projects. They are:

  • New Center fire station for $12.772 million to be completed in late fall;
  • Roudenbush Community Center for $7 million to be completed this winter.
  • Abbot School Roof Replacement for $3.066 million to be completed this fall;
  • A combined dispatch center for $1.45 million completed this spring;
  • Westford Academy track replacement for $700K to be completed in August.

In addition, a design study costing $320K is underway for converting the current fire station on Main Street into a town center building once the Fire Department vacates it for the new building.

The total cost of the capital projects is $25.3 million.

“The new fire station is progressing right on schedule,” said Mahanna. “We’re actually hoping to be done maybe a little bit early…The inside of the building is nearly complete.”

Mahanna said the inside of the fire station building may be complete within another month.

Finance Director Dan O’Donnell said that as other building projects expire, capacity within the levy limit will enable town officials to bond the new projects.

“For point of reference on a $503,000 house, the estimated impact for the new center replacement building is about $47 per year,” O’Donnell said.

There were numerous informational sessions offered at tables around the edge of the tent, including an economic development booth, and one highlighting agricultural activities. Bee Keeper Joana Donaher set up a display urging the town to become a bee friendly community. Cameron Senior Center Director Jennifer Claro wore a sandwich sign promoting an art auction this weekend (June 30 – July 1) at the Parish Center for the Arts.

A Plea for Help

After the meeting, resident Patricia Reppucci spoke with this reporter about an ongoing fundraising effort at St. Catherine of Alexandria Church. Reppucci is a member of the Friends of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Aguacate, Cuba. Her fellow parishioner, Jose Ramirez, grew up in the impoverished town and attended church there. Ramirez, who came to the U.S. as a refugee of the Communist regime at age 15, has supported his hometown church for decades.

“He was part of what they called the Pedro Pan…when Cuba underwent all its changes with Fidel Castro taking over,” said Reppucci.

The Friends are seeking donations to help the church. For more information email [email protected]