With the countdown pending for a real estate closing, town officials are poised to move the Recreation, Parks, and Cemeteries Department to one of the vacated Courier Corp. buildings just across the road from the department’s former location.
The enterprising Recreation Department is on the verge of its fourth move within a decade, from a building in Graniteville, to 35 Town Farm Road, to the Rogers Fire Station in Forge Village, and now to 4,500 square feet in one of several buildings owned by RR Donnelly & Sons, Inc. of Chicago.
Courier, an ebook publisher and book manufacturer, vacated two of five buildings in Westford in October 2015, putting about 200 employees out of work.
The property is in the process of being purchased by developer Christopher Yule of Newton who has spent the past seven years restoring and converting the Abbot Mill on Pleasant Street into upscale apartments. Now Yule is about to take on a new project and the town and the Recreation Department will benefit in the short-term.
The funding for a lease was approved by voters at the October special Town Meeting.
“The proposal is for five years with the possibility of extending the lease,” said Pat Savage, the director of the Recreation Department.
If a lease is signed, the monthly rent will be $3,000 per month with possible extensions, Savage said.
But Savage notes that the housing will not be her department’s last stop. The goal is to find space that would provide the room for recreational programs such as martial arts classes. The space must be ample enough to also house staff members.
The Recreation Department is close to self-sustaining. In fiscal 2017, ending June 30, the department’s enterprise fund brought in almost $1.3 million in revenues, Savage said. The town’s municipal budget contributed only 8 percent or $110,000 of the department’s total budget.
Savage noted that her department’s programs have been using space in the town’s nine school buildings. The Town Farm building was too small to offer a significant number of programs and an infestation of rodents caused the staff members to vacate it for the fire station. The town has issued a request for proposals on the property.
“We’ve been successful in raising funds by using the schools…” she said. “Having our own space would give us the opportunity for generating additional revenues.”
To that end Savage is seeking between $100,000 and $125,000 from the town’s capital budget for a feasibility study that would gauge what residents want from her department. A key question: should the department find a permanent home in an existing or new building?
“It’s not preconceived that we would go into a new building,” Savage said. “It’s what does the town want and what will they pay for? There’s other needs out there. We’re just one of them.”
A 2016 Recreation Master Plan published the results of an informal survey yielding 559 responses from residents.
“The community signaled a significant message about the importance of maintaining the Town of Westford’s existing facilities,” the report stated. “When survey respondents were asked to identify the most important action the Town could take on to create or improve Parks and Recreation areas, facilities, programs and services, the number one response was fixing up and renovation to existing park facilities. The top five responses to this questions were:
• 419 survey respondents indicated that fixing up and repair of existing park facilities, shelters and restrooms was either very important or somewhat important.
• 366 survey respondents indicated that developing a new recreation center with aquatics, gym, fitness, walking track and rowing tank was either very important or somewhat important.
• 361 survey respondents indicated acquiring land to protect open spaces and the environment responded that this issue is either very important or somewhat important.
• 357 survey respondents indicated that acquiring land for preservation and developing trails was either very important or somewhat important.
• 356 survey respondents indicated that developing new walking and biking trails that connect to neighborhoods was very important or somewhat important.”
Savage and her staff are facing a number of changes as they prepare to move to their new location. Among them is the loss of 18-year veteran Sandra Habe who was the department’s assistant director. Habe is now employed by Yule to launch a planned sports, health and fitness center in two of the buildings, amounting to 160,000 square feet of space. So while the new location isn’t necessarily everything Savage may have dreamed of when she first arrived in town in the early 2000s, it’s a start.
““…We’re moving into a new space. We’re excited about it because it gives some permanency for five years,” she said.