A recommendation from the Community Preservation Committee to fund the construction of a new amenities building at Westford Academy did not convince annual Town Meeting voters to approve $1.344 million for the project.
The existing building does not meet current standards required by the state’s Board of State Examiners of Plumbers and Gas Fitters as well as the town’s Building Commissioner, Henry Fontaine.
To be in compliance, the building must have 42 toilets. However, the state’s Plumbing Board granted a variance to the town. Were the amenities building to be replaced with a new one, it could provide just 21 toilets. The existing building at the back edge of the football field is just 1,320 square feet, with no toilets. Visitors and athletes use portable restrooms. A new building would be 1,820 square feet, Fontaine said with toilets and a concession stand.
“With the variances in place for the plumbing code we’re up against the clock on that,” said Fontaine at annual Town Meeting on June 20. “They gave us that variance based on that we’re going to be doing the work on the building. Against the time clock they could say we’re just going to pull it…” At that point they could say we’re shutting you down completely.”
Fontaine said the commission typically allows a year for meeting the requirements of providing men, women, and family restrooms, a concession stand and hand rails. The building must also be handicap accessible.
“If we lose the plumbing permit then we start from ground zero,” said Fontaine. But, he added, he’s not expecting to shut down the building unless the state suggests it.
The voters were unmoved.
“The issue…is not whether we do these things, but how we pay for them,” said resident Paul Fassbender.
The Community Preservation Act became a state law in 2000 and the town adopted the Legislation in 2001. Westford was among the first communities in the state to approve a 3 percent property tax surcharge for Community Preservation projects. At that time, the state matched 100 percent of the funds which could be used solely for open space, historic preservation, affordable housing, and recreation.
To fund the project, education administrators sought an infusion of Community Preservation funds that were approved by the Community Preservation Committee. The measure asks permission to issue bonds or notes and to borrow money for the project. It’s not clear what would be the total cost of removing the existing building and constructing a new one.
The Town Meeting vote failed twice — 184 to 110 and 115 to 112 — for a lack of a two-thirds majority.
The rejection was even more of a surprise because the remaining seven requests for CPC funding were approved by the voters.
But even with an endorsement by Select Board Member Elizabeth Almeida and two additional select board members, as well as the Finance Committee and the CPC, the voters shot it down prompting Town Manager Jodi Ross to acknowledge the sentiments of the voters.
“We’re hearing you loud and clear from Town Meeting today that you’re not necessarily supporting these recreation type products and we’re hearing that,” she said. “ …I will commit that as we move forward we will consider that as we prioritize our capital projects in the future.”