Published in the October 20, 2016 edition


NORTH READING — “Getting to Yes” is a well known approach in reaching a negotiated agreement between parties. The Selectmen, School Committee and Finance Committee tried to “Get to Yes” for 2 1/2 hours last week in hammering out a plan to bring to Town Meeting on how to solve the town’s bathroom dilemma at the Arthur Kenney Turf Field.

How did things work out? Let’s just say they succeeded in Getting to “Maybe.”

To recapitulate: Article 9 on Monday’s Town Meeting warrant requested a sum of money to build public restrooms at the Arthur J. Kenney Athletic Field to bring the facility into compliance with state code.

The artificial turf field, which sees heavy use for school and youth sports as well as other events such as the Relay for Life and High School graduation, has lacked access to bathroom facilities since the old high school was torn down.

Last June, Town Meeting appropriated $50,000 for a study to get a solid idea of what restroom facilities would cost and where they should be sited to comply with state requirements. The game plan was to have a feasibility study done in time for the October Town Meeting and to also consider whether to construct one building that would combine the necessary restrooms with a new snack shack/concession stand.

The consultant’s report was presented to a joint meeting of the three boards last Thursday night and was presented by engineer Wayne Lawson and architect Andrea Willett. Lawson and Willett presented five different options with price tags ranging from $434,000 to nearly $800,000.

After a great deal of discussion, the Selectmen and School Committee declared themselves in favor a plan to combine the new restrooms and concession stand in a modular concrete building on the location of the present concession stand. Contributing factors to this were the realization that the present concession stand has a limited shelf life. The building is old, of wood construction with no running water of sewerage and it’s no longer possible to cook there.

The lowest cost option was to convert the existing team room building into bathrooms and add a new storage structure for equipment. Selectmen Chairman Robert Mauceri said as the deliberations went forward, it was clear the concession stand posed a problem also.

The Finance Committee was particularly concerned about the cost of a combined concession stand/restroom structure and how the town would pay for it. Fin Com member Don Kelliher contrasted the town’s “needs” versus “wants.”

“This town has a lot of needs. The concession stand, if we can afford to do it, is fine. But I don’t think we can afford to do that and other things that have more urgency. We’re mandated to do the toilets, that we need to do. Anything else is optional.”

The Finance Committee favored Option B, to renovate the team building into bathrooms, add a new storage structure and make no change in the existing concession stand for $434,000.

A free–standing bathroom structure only would cost $641,000, Selectmen and School Committee eventually came down in favor of a combined restroom/concession stand in area of the present concession stand for $688,000.

Another bone of contention was how to pay for the project. The town finds itself in a fortunate position this fall with an unusually large sum of Free Cash available due to a number of one–time budget savings. There was a suggestion to take a large chunk of that Free Cash to pay for most of the construction cost and bond the rest.

Fin Com Chairman Abby Hurlbut said her board is “not excited about spending a lot of Free Cash on this.” Bonding also creates problems because the cost automatically comes off the top of next year’s budget and Fiscal 2018 already looks bad. “So you’re taking more money away from an already pressed budget? I don’t think so.”

Eventually, it was decided to hold yet another joint meeting on Monday night prior to Town Meeting to make final decisions on the financing for a combined building.

Hurlbut said she had “a problem with doing this project on the back of an envelope a couple of days before Town Meeting. I’m not sure pushing this through for Monday night is the best idea.”

Hurlbut said the Fin Com has to have a clear understanding of how the funding for this play will work. Otherwise, the Fin Com won’t be able to make a recommendation, “because I doubt the Finance Committee is going to agree to use $450,000 in Free Cash.”

Mauceri said he understands where Hurlbut is coming from. “We have to do something about the bathrooms and to me it makes sense, after looking at all the options, it makes more sense to do the whole thing. We’re spending a little more money but we’re going to have to spend that money at some point anyway.”