Decas ‘resolution’ passes at Town Meeting

Apr 25, 2022

After an hour of discussion, town residents voted to pass what the Town Moderator described as a “resolution” supporting the use of the former John W. Decas School building as a community center.

Within that hour of talk from proponents of the community center and others who said they felt the proposal was moving too fast, there was general confusion over what exactly Town Meeting’s vote would require of the Town Administrator.

As written, the article directs the Town Administrator to move the Council on Aging to the old Decas school by July, put out requests for proposals for paying tenants for the building and grant access to the building to two group’s advocating for the community center.

Town Moderator Claire Smith read from an attorney general’s report that outlined the power of Town Meeting as a legislative branch.

“However there are restrictions placed on the legislative power of Town Meeting,” Smith read. “A legislative body cannot interfere with the executive branch on a matter which is in the exclusive authority of the executive branch.”

As Smith called the Decas item a resolution, she emphasized that the Town Meeting cannot tell the executive branch what to do.

Per the Town Charter, the Select Board is the town’s executive branch while the town administrator is described as the “chief administrative officer of the town.”

Community Center advocates cited another section of Town Charter which says the town administrator should “perform any other duties required of him by … other town meeting vote.”

The passed article urges the Town Administrator to issue requests-for-proposals to bring a preschool program, solar canopy lease and food pantry into the school this summer, along with moving in the Council on Aging and granting two groups access to the facility.

Town Administrator Derek Sullivan said Monday night that he wasn’t sure whether he would issue the requests for proposals delineated by the committee, but said he’d work with them in the future.

Discussion about the item grew heated at points, as town residents battled their ideas for a future community center with concerns that the committee — and a private foundation created in recent months — was moving too quickly.

The steering committee was originally tasked with giving a report to Town Meeting in the fall of 2022, and $15,000 in funding was allocated for a feasibility study of the property.

As of Town Meeting Monday night, the feasibility study had not yet been completed.

Nadia Melim, an architect who is also contracted to do the feasibility study with the company Jones Payne Architects & Planners, addressed the crowd after concerns were raised over the building’s bathrooms and boiler system.

She said that while some of the bathrooms in the building are not currently accessible, others are. Melim called the facility a “high-quality building” and said it is not the kind of facility the town could afford to build now.

Finance Committee Chair Bernard Pigeon raised concerns about the proposed budget. Though he said the finance committee didn’t have a problem with the idea of a community center overall, the lack of information afforded to his committee gave them pause.

After the meeting, Steering Committee Chair Diane Kenney and advocate Leslie Edwards Davis said they had attempted to meet with the Finance Committee.

Some residents took to the microphone to say they thought the item was “putting the cart before the horse,” as the steering committee hadn’t yet given its final report due this fall.

Another point of contention was a detail mentioned in Police Chief Walter Correia’s report earlier in the night — that Decas is one of three sites being considered for a future public safety complex.

Residents went back and forth giving their thoughts on Decas — it’s good for the seniors, it’s moving too fast, it would pay for itself, it might need costly repairs in the future.

In a final plea for town approval, steering committee chair Diane Kenney addressed the rumbling crowd.

As to why the steering committee has focused on the singular idea of a community center in Decas, Kenney was straightforward.

“This one idea has kept us busy,” she said. “It’s not part of our charge to find other uses for the building.”

Moderator Smith called for a vote soon thereafter, and she declared a majority approval in a verbal vote.

After the Decas item passed, throngs of voters left the auditorium, taking a minute to filter out completely and briefly delaying town Meeting. The crowd left behind was far smaller, as roughly 80 fewer voters participated in the next counted vote.

After the meeting, Edwards-Davis said she was “ecstatic.” Speaking with conviction, she said that once requests for proposals are issued, businesses and nonprofits will express interest — and willingness to pay rent.

“Once the town sees that money coming in, I think you’re going to see a lot of the nay-sayers turn into fans, because who doesn’t like money coming into this town to support services,” she said.

“We sent a message, and either that message was heard or it wasn’t,” said Kenney.

The Decas Steering Committee will continue to meet on Wednesday evenings.