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To the Editor,
At the May 31 Select Board meeting, the Select Board committed $300K of ARPA funds for a feasibility study for a Senior / Community Center study. I applaud the SB on this decision. I attended a RECALC forum at the library the following evening, to learn more about possible plans for a new “Center for Active Living” and to hear the needs and desires of residents regarding a new Center. RECALC is exploring space, programming, and possible locations of a new Center. A robust discussion was had. According to SB Chair Mark Dockser, town-wide survey results are expected in December 2022, and the feasibility study should be completed around March 2023.
If the Select Board endorses this RECALC course of action, why are some Select Board members now strongly advocating for the formation of a “Symonds Way Advisory Committee” to determine the “highest and best use” of the land that was only purchased in 2019? (Discussion of ad-hoc committee begins at 2:34:00) It is expected that the RECALC will explore this piece of land as a possible site for a Center for Active Living. The Town is currently identifying the buildable portion of the Symonds Way property. This will be very helpful to RECALC.
What is behind the Symonds Way Advisory Committee, proposed at the last Select Board meeting? A November 2021 letter written to the Select Board (public record) by a former Select Board member states, “ I write to you as the parent of two soccer players looking to improve their skills over the winter… The land behind Symonds field presents an opportunity for your board to make a long lasting difference… you literally couldn’t build a sports complex too big for the demand… Such a milestone doesn’t come along often for a board to put their signature on and I implore you to do so.”
Some Select Board members may desire a multilevel indoor sports complex be built on the property, as comments made at the Select Board meeting indicate, which could preclude a Senior Center on the Symonds Way property. The charge for the Symonds Way committee states, “the Committee shall begin its work by July 2022 and shall submit development recommendations to the Select Board no later than February 28, 2023… the Committee shall present its development recommendation to Annual Town Meeting in April 2023.”
So, the Select Board will have authorized the spending of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, hired consultants, and established two separate committees, which may recommend two very different proposals for development of Symonds Way property. The Select Board should allow the RECALC to do its work, and complete its charge, before forming another ad-hoc committee to further explore development at Symonds Way, if it is determined not to be appropriate for Senior Center use.
There is a conspicuous absence of Senior representation on the committee, as it was proposed at the last Select Board meeting. The purpose, and deliverable, of the Symonds Way Advisory Committee charge (as written in the SB packet) and the Select Board discussion at their last meeting, all point, in my opinion, to a high probability of a recommendation to the Select Board, and then to Town Meeting, for a public/private partnership recreation complex on the Symonds Way property, right down to the mechanism for “private developers to invest in the property.” Is this the “backstory” that a Select Board member mentioned at the meeting?
Residents have been discussing the need for improved space for Seniors for years. That should be the priority right now. There is already a process to determine the needs of the community, and a Symonds Way Advisory Committee will bypass those normal processes.
I implore the Select Board to do the right thing and allow the RECALC to complete its work without any outside pressures. Senior citizens should not be pitted against those desiring additional indoor sports space. The elder Reading population deserve more than that. The Select Board should consider all the potential pitfalls of this committee, and should NOT establish a Symonds Way committee at this time.
Angela F. Binda
Orchard Park Drive
Town Meeting Member, Precinct 5