Forum Brainstorms Municipal Space Ideas

Reading, MA — The Select Board, the Finance Committee, and the School Committee joined forces on April 22 to brainstorm possible short-term and long-term capital needs in town. Select Board member Mark Dockser moderated the meeting and shared that the purpose of the session was to “get into a pro-active mode” when thinking about projects.

 “We want to think about ideas we have now . . . and have the time to think more broadly,” Dockser continued.

Dockser used the idea of a new senior or community center as a means to start discussion. New Select Board member Christopher Haley continued with the idea of some form of parking facility for the downtown area, noting that parking problems have become an employee issue. He also suggested that a public/private partnership could be formed to address the issue. Ideas began to flow with suggestions for spaces such as a dog park, cemetery office, and garage space. A multi-use outdoor recreation area, possibly at the newly acquired property on Symonds Way, and some form of performance and function venue in the downtown to draw people to the area were also suggested.

School space was also mentioned, with Superintendent of Schools John Doherty giving a brief update on the progress being made regarding that issue. Other projects discussed included some that have been brought up in the past, such as a new Department of Public Works facility and the development of an “eastern gateway” into Reading through the Ash Street area. The plans for upgrades to the Birch Meadow Complex were also cited.

Select Board member Carlo Bacci brought up the concept of the more significant usage of areas like the town common for events such as farmers’ markets and other similar exhibitions. School Committee member Thomas Wise brought up the idea of moving the school district central offices out of Reading Memorial High School and using that space to accommodate a growing need for early childhood education space. School Committee member Shawn Brandt noted that the state legislature is taking up the issue of universal pre-kindergarten and that plans should be in the works to reflect possible changes. He also mentioned the idea of dedicated space to create new special education programs to retain more students in-district. These programs could also potentially attract students from other districts as well.

Dockser will publish and distribute results of the brainstorming session to the various committees involved so that discussions in those groups can take place. The plan is for the larger group to gather again during the summer to seek input regarding priorities and potential trade-offs and to consider next steps. The meeting adjourned at 8:00 pm.

The Finance Committee stayed in session and voted 8-0 to recommend changes to two different warrant articles for town meeting. Both articles deal with amendments to the fiscal year 2021 budget.

Town Manager Robert LeLacheur explained that article five had been amended due to negotiations with the Public Employee Committee. If passed, the article will take $800,000 that had been earmarked for insurance costs and redistribute that funding towards increasing the town’s Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) contributions, $693,400 to the municipal OPEB, $18,300 to the enterprise funds, and $88,200 to the Reading Municipal Light Department OPEB Trust. He explained that the changes to article seven simply reflect these new totals assuming article five carries. If article five does not carry, then the figures used in the original version of article seven will be presented to Town Meeting for its approval.

The Finance Committee Adjourned at 8:20 pm.

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