Audit Of Falmouth High School Renovation Revisited In Town Meeting Warrant

Falmouth High School will receive some extra attention, both negative and positive, thanks to two petitioners articles submitted for the Annual Town Meeting warrant in April.

One looks to appropriate funds for a review of the troubled $86 million Falmouth High School renovation that went $18.8 million over budget and extended more than three and a half years beyond its original expected completion date of December 2007. The other looks to appropriate money to fund an all-purpose athletic field at Falmouth High School through a capital exclusion.

The pair are part of a slate of five petitioners articles—the others relate to zoning—that were submitted onto the annual warrant earlier this month.

Margaret A. Finnell of Boxberry Hill Road, Hatchville, is looking for Town Meeting to appropriate $25,000 from free cash to review the renovation. As to why, she said, “because we don’t have the answers yet to why there was such a problem with it. Why was it such a fiasco to get that project completed and why were the overruns so much and why did we pay so much in legal fees and damages?”

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These are questions that the public has not gotten a full explanation for, Ms. Finnell said, and would be valuable to not only have as an assessment of the project, but for future ones the town has on its radar. “We have several very expensive projects coming up in this town and we need to learn from the errors that occurred in that project,” she said. “I’m sure we can do better. We need to learn how to do better. We need to learn about managing the risk better.”

She said it is one example of public projects that have turned into a “fiasco,” referencing the town-owned wind turbines, which have led to acrimony among neighbors and legal action, as another example.

She also said it was curious as to why selectmen did not place an article submitted by current chairman Brent V.W. Putnam onto the warrant last year that had similar aims. In November 2008 Mr. Putnam persuaded Town Meeting to pass a petitioners article seeking an audit of the renovation once it was complete.

Last winter Mr. Putnam followed up on that vote by submitting an article on request of the entire board of selectmen, but it never made it onto the warrant when his colleagues were deadlocked in a 2-2 tie. Mr. Putnam was absent from that meeting due to the death of his father.

Karen Bissonnette, chairman of the Community Athletic Complex Building Committee and a familiar face at Town Meeting in recent years, will return with her fellow committee members seeking an unspecified amount of money that will go toward building a new synthetic field with bleachers, lights, a scoreboard, perimeter fencing and an adjacent practice field at the high school.

The grassroots group, which eventually was formed into an official committee, was initially before Town Meeting in November 2012 when it received $35,000 toward a feasibility study for the project. Last spring the group had submitted a similar article, but asked that it be voted down.

Since that time the group has received a $500,000 commitment from the Falmouth Road Race as well as another $250,000 in Community Preservation Act funds. Last week Ms. Bissonnette said the group has also received a promise of in-kind donations that would include tree removal, grading and seeding for the practice field.

Last Friday the committee met with several turf companies to learn more about the various products and what services they could provide should one be selected for the project.
Although Ms. Bissonnette did not have a final figure for what the committee will be seeking, the project has been estimated in the past to cost as much as $3 million.

As to why taxpayers should cover a large majority of that money, she listed several reasons, from keeping pace with communities like Barnstable and Duxbury to providing youth and adults with a high-level playing surface for athletics. “First off our fields are not in very good shape. It is just kind of the nature of the beast. They are overused and we don’t have the proper resources to keep them up,” she said. “And this is not just for our youth, but for anyone, whether they play adult soccer, adult lacrosse or in a marching band. This is really going to help this community maybe attract some youth to this area which is obviously needed.”

The remaining three articles all relate to zoning, with two calling for an amendment to the town’s bylaws. The trio are set to go before the planning board on February 4.

Falmouth attorney Robert H. Ament is looking to amend a subsection of the zoning bylaw that relates to uses allowed by special permit for fast-food or Class IV restaurants in a light industrial district. He is proposing that such businesses not be allowed a drive-through window and that restaurants occupy no more than 4,000 square feet and no more than one-third of the building it is located in.
Mr. Ament could not be reached for comment on the article.

Mr. Ament's colleague  Kevin P. Klauer of Falmouth submitted an article that would amend the bylaw to offer a one-year amnesty for homeowners who have existing multi-family or accessory apartments that are not currently permitted. “By offering an amnesty it gives the homeowners a chance to have the apartments become legal where they currently may not meet some of the requirements in the zoning bylaw,” Mr. Klauer said.

He said this would benefit the town as well as homeowners because it could potentially increase the inventory of affordable housing. “I think it could be a win for the town and property owners,” he said, acknowledging that he has clients who could benefit from this proposed bylaw change.

Dana J. Wessell of Jamie Lane, East Falmouth, submitted a petitioners article which looks to rezone an eight-acre lot on Currier Road, East Falmouth, from Agricultural AA to Light Industrial A.

He explained that the company he owns with John DeSangro, Northstar Construction of Falmouth Heights, is looking to develop that vacant lot. As part of the rezoning of the property, he said, a deed restriction would be placed on the land in perpetuity which would only allow his company to build 28 rental units on the lot, of which 20 would be affordable.

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