THE JOHN J. McCARTHY Senior Center on Converse Street (formerly the H.M. Warren School) is in line for a $400,000 renovation after the Town Council voted to use ARPA funds to renovate the upper floors of the building to be usable public space. (Mark Sardella Photo)

By MARK SARDELLA

WAKEFIELD — After a lengthy and at times convoluted discussion, the Town Council this week managed to spend the $2 million remaining from the original $8 million that Wakefield received in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. ARPA was a federal stimulus bill to aid public health and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the end, the remaining cash was allocated as follows: $1 million for a “small business incubator fund” to assist local businesses and nonprofits; $40,000 for the Food Pantry; $400,000 for renovations to the upper floors of the Senior Center; $250,000 for sidewalks; $150,000 to create a pedestrian path along the western shore of Lake Quannapowitt; and $250,000 toward the Wakefield Affordable Housing Trust. 

That final list was whittled down from a much longer list that was compiled after board members had submitted their priorities.

In the immediate wake of the pandemic, Wakefield used ARPA funds  to help some town departments cope with the budgetary impact of the pandemic. Funds were also used for school and first responder overtime, contact tracing, COVID test kits, clinics and a “fit court” at Moulton Park.

In November of 2022, the Town Council designated another $2.3 million to be spent on items including an Energy Assistance Fund, cleanup and improvements at Veterans Field, “Rail Trail/Wakefield mobility,” tree replacement, sidewalk expansion, an MWRA water truck, conference room upgrades, Civil War Monument evaluation, and other items.

Earlier this month, the Town Council authorized $150,000 for INspire Cafe and $25,000 for the assessment of historic structures.

That left about $1.8 million that must be committed by the Dec. 31, 2024 deadline. At this week’s meeting, the Town Council also added back some unspent money that had been designated to an Energy Assistance Fund. The Council had originally set aside $400,000 for this purpose, but to date only about $168,000 has been allocated. 

After some discussion, the board decided to return the balance in the Energy assistance fund back into the general pot of ARPA funds, leaving a balance of just over $2 million remaining to be spent. 

The discussion ensued after a motion  was made and seconded to approve the final spending list of $1 million for a “small business incubator fund, $40,000 for the Food Pantry, $400,000 for the Senior Center, $250,000 for sidewalks, $150,000 for a pedestrian path along the Lake and $250,000 toward the Wakefield Affordable Housing Trust. 

Town Councilor Michael McLane questioned the $1 million allocated to the small business incubator fund. While he rated the fund as important, he felt that a lot could be done with half the money. McLane’s top priority had been $500,000 for solar panels at the Galvin, which did not make the final list.

Councilor Robert Vincent questioned the $250,000 for new sidewalks, considering that a previously allocated sum of $350,000 for sidewalks has yet to be spent. He was also skeptical of the $150,000 for pedestrian access along the western shoreline of Quannapowitt, noting that it would likely involve the taking of easements, a legal process that he did not think could be accomplished by the Dec. 31, 2024 deadline.

Vincent moved to amend the original motion by eliminating the sidewalk and Lake path funding and using that $500,000 for the solar panels at the Galvin.

McLane picked up the ball and made his pitch for the solar panels. He said that the time to do the project was now while the Galvin roof is still relatively new. He noted that there would be a 30 percent rebate from the federal government for such a project and energy savings of over $1 million over time.

There was some question as whether the town could use federal ARPA funds for a project that also involves a rebate from the federal government.

Councilor Edward Dombroski thought it made more sense to do the Galvin solar project through a bonded Town Meeting article.

In the end, Vincent’s amendment failed.

The $400,000 for the Senior Center was also the subject of a couple of amendments. 

McLane moved to allocate 800 square feet of space at the Senior Center for the Friends of Beebe Library. That amendment failed.

Dombroski proposed an amendment that would prevent the Senior Center ARPA funds from being used to create new town office space at the Senior Center. He wanted to see the money used to create spaces that could be used for community events. That amendment passed.

In the end, the main motion carried by a vote of 6-1 to spend $1 million for a small business incubator fund, $40,000 for the Food Pantry, $400,000 for Senior Center renovations, $250,000 for sidewalks, $150,000 for a pedestrian path along the Lake, and $250,000 toward the Wakefield Affordable Housing Trust.

McLane was the dissenting vote. He then made a motion to instruct Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio to put together an article for the fall Town Meeting to fund solar panels on the roof of the Galvin Middle School. That motion passed by a vote of 6-1, with Dombroski opposed.