Framingham has not ignored its capital needs nor failed to invest in its buildings and infrastructure.
By City Councilor George King
FRAMINGHAM – Sometimes we hear the refrain in Framingham that we have not done enough capital work and our infrastructure is failing.
And it is true, the City faces some infrastructure challenges, as do all municipal organizations.
However, Framingham has not ignored its capital needs nor failed to invest in its buildings and infrastructure.
In my view that is a misstatement of history.
Over just the last 25 years we have built or are building two elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school. On the municipal side, we have built two fire stations, police headquarters, a large public works facility, a library, senior center, an athletic stadium, fully renovated Village Hall, and repaired and renovated other facilities. In the last twenty years we have spent an amount nearing $200,000,000 on water and sewer infrastructure. We have done our share.
I think there are two things that drive the misperception we have not spent on our infrastructure. The first is, like at home, even new things age faster than we would like and do not look “new” for all that long. The second reason is the one project that has been long talked about, but not done, is our most prominent building, the Memorial Building.
The Memorial Building challenges range from complex construction considerations, including relocation of services for an interim period, to a failure to achieve consensus on the approach and location.
When I was Town Manager in the early 2000’s, I recommended that we consider buying an office building on Bishop Street that was for sale. It was about 100,000 square feet and would have been big enough to house all school and city offices to this day. Funding was a challenge, but the real reason it did not go forward was lack of consensus about whether to move out of the Memorial Building. I understood that concern because, as we are trying to revitalize downtown, it is not the best of optics for the government to be moving out.
The Memorial Building issue is coming to the forefront again, and the issues are of course similar.
On Tuesday September 24, the administration is holding a public forum to discuss City infrastructure challenges overall, but I suspect the main focus will be on the Memorial Building.
The present favored solution is for the city to buy the Perini Building on Mt. Wayte Avenue where the school department currently leases space and move some or all the municipal offices there.
At a fair price, this may provide for a great solution in many ways.
The potential impediment with the Perini solution is the same as 15 years ago, can we achieve consensus to move out of downtown?
I encourage people to go to the forum and talk about this. Does it make sense to buy a newer building to house our operations or should we recommit ourselves to a downtown solution?
If we go to Perini, should all departments go or should the public-facing departments stay in the Memorial Building?
A move down the street does not eliminate the need and costs of improvements at the Memorial Building, so how is that handled?
I am very interested to hear what people think about these issues.
We are once again at a possible decision point, a place where we have stumbled in the past.
Overall, I think we deserve more credit than we give ourselves for our capital infrastructure investment in the last 20-30 years. We should not forget the hard work and success of many over the past few decades.
At the same time, let’s focus on what to do about the one perplexing problem we have been unable to resolve by developing an acceptable plan for the Memorial Building.
George King is one of two City Councilors elected at-large to represent residents. He is a former Framingham Town Manager.