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Westford’s newest addition to the Parks and Recreation Department, director James “Jim” Duane, has been overseeing the town’s parks, playgrounds, and cemeteries since he began working for the Town of Westford in February.
Under new management, recreational facilities in Westford will be steadily changing over the course of the next few years as the Parks and Recreation Department heads toward new horizons.
Duane’s transition to Westford followed Framingham’s charter change from a council/manager government to a mayor/council system, eliminating Duane’s position as Assistant Town Manager. Although he said he was fond of his years working in Framingham , the job’s taxing hours took time away from him and his family.
“One of the things I really enjoyed about the assistant town manager position in Framingham was the overall management scope of work. That it was a lot of different things on a daily basis. One of the bigger drawbacks to having worked in Framingham was the number of hours and the required associated night meetings that took me away from my family on a regular basis,” Duane said.
Hoping to find balance between his professional and personal lives, Duane was drawn to the open seat in Westford. He had previously worked as the Division Operations Manager of the Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs Department in Framingham, and said he felt comfortable enough with his skill set and experience to take on the job.
“There were a couple of different things going on at the same time, and I was looking to create a little bit of a quality of life improvement for myself. When I saw an opportunity to go back to managing in a parks and recreation setting, which is something I had done for a long time, and something that I thoroughly enjoyed, I thought that it would be a fantastic fit for my skill set,” Duane said.
Recent history of Parks and Recreation Department
Duane arrived in Westford less than a year after a simmering rivalry for office space and for membership came to a head between the Roudenbush Community Center and the town’s Recreation Department. A brouhaha over a lease renewal for the 65 Main Street building, currently under construction, was ultimately resolved, but not without an angry uprising at the 2017 annual Town Meeting by residents who were loyal Roudenbush members. In August 2017, the Roudenbush organization, which has always occupied the building, won a five-year lease and the opportunity to extend the lease another five years.
But earlier that year, things had looked grim for Roudenbush loyalists who were not being assured by town officials that the organization would return to 65 Main St. when the building’s rehabilitation was completed this December. A question of whether Parks and Recreation would take over the building created a cloud of uncertainty.
The final agreement will allow Parks and Recreation to share space inside the building with the Roudenbush organization.
On the horizon
Currently, the department of Parks and Recreation is overseeing a number of projects centered around the reconstruction and creation of new recreational facilities in town. Of these plans, Duane mentioned the construction and resurfacing of local tennis courts, as well as renovating some of Westford’s fields and parks.
“It was exciting to come on board and really sink my teeth into some key initiatives and get things going. Specifically, I’m referring to an opportunity to resurface and refresh some of the tennis courts in town. There’s some appropriated money through our capital budget that provided me an opportunity to create some multi-use courts for pickle ball and tennis at several of our outdoor location, and we’ve actually managed to effectively resurface one of our Greystone courts off of Russells Way,” Duane said.
“We’re in the process of proposing some money at town meeting to conduct a redesign of the Graniteville American Legion Field. It was a town meeting agenda article for roughly $200,000 to go through the process of securing a designer and conducting a design of those fields, so that’s exciting,” he said.
Some of the department’s more distant future plans and projects include an objective to renovate Westford’s beaches, perhaps adding amenities such as a playground or a shaded picnic area to Forge Beach, as well as the prospective construction of a new community center in town.
“We’ve got some ongoing work with a recreational study and survey that had resulted in some information coming back to us about what the Westford residents wanted to see in regards to their recreation amenities, and there was some money that was previously approved for a feasibility study of a community center that includes things like an aquatics component, and some recreation programming space, and some administrative space,” Duane said.
Duane has expressed gratitude toward the Recreation Commissioners for their insight and assistance throughout his move to Westford.
“I’ve found the transition to be relatively smooth. It’s been a great team that I’ve come to work with coming on board here. The Recreation Commission is very knowledgeable and very helpful. They’ve been incredible at providing perspective on some of the things that have been going on,” Duane said.
Recreation Commission Chair Kacy Caviston returned Duane’s words of gratitude.
“We’re very excited to have Jim join the department, we think that he was the right person at the right time. He brings up professionalism, and idealism, and new insights, and new experiences and ideas. We’re very excited with what we hope is going to, moving forward, help with the department,” Caviston said. “We hope he sticks around for a long time and we’ll see the good things that will happen to our community.”