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Leadership sets Swampscott up for 2017

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — The town saw a changing of the guard in 2016 and opportunities to bring new life to old buildings.

The Board of Selectmen hired Sean Fitzgerald, a Peabody resident and town manager in Plaistow, N.H., as town administrator in December. Board members and Fitzgerald still have to negotiate the terms of his contract, including salary and a start date.

Former Town Administrator Thomas Younger left his post in mid-October after he accepted the same position in Stoneham in August. Gino Cresta, department of public works director, has been serving as interim town administrator since Younger’s departure. Town Accountant David Castellarin, who also serves as assistant town administrator, has been in charge of the budget during Cresta’s interim tenure.

Town officials have made filling vacant buildings a priority this past year. The former Machon Elementary School on Burpee Road will soon be transformed into senior affordable housing.

Construction is set to begin in 2019.

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B’nai B’rith Housing, a nonprofit and the developer selected for the project, plans to reuse the original 1920 building and demolish the 1963 addition. The town retains control of the property until the developer closes on the sale and the 99-year ground lease for $500,000 is executed. The purchase includes an additional $50,000 payment for off-site improvements.

The former Swampscott Middle School on Greenwood Avenue is also slated for redevelopment.

Two developers responded to the town’s Request for Proposals (RFP). Groom Construction has proposed a single structure with 28 luxury apartments or condominiums. Charing Cross Realty Trust wants to build 11 single-family homes. The zoning change approved at Town Meeting last May allows for construction of a single structure with up to 28 units on the site, with developers required to adhere to an affordable housing component.

Groom originally won approval for a different condominium project on the site five years ago, and is in the midst of pending litigation with the town, which has to be resolved before the town is able to proceed with the sale of the property. The lawsuit stemmed from an initial zoning change for a multi-family unit approved at Town Meeting, which was overturned by Massachusetts Land Court, reverting zoning back to single-family housing.

The selectmen are tentatively scheduled to vote on one of the two proposals in late January or early February.

The former senior center on Burrill Street is set to be transformed into a community arts building. The board approved a reuse proposal from Reach Arts, a nonprofit group of artists and residents, last March. The building had been vacant since 2007.

Cresta said the group hasn’t moved in yet and the building needs hundreds of thousands of dollars of renovations. He said the building either needs to be renovated or disposed of.

Cresta said the town also needs to find a suitable use for the train depot building on Railroad Avenue, which it leases from the MBTA. He said it’s been unoccupied for the past 20 years and the building is deteriorating.

The former Marian Court College, also known as White Court, could soon become an Orthodox Christian monastery with a brewery and cider house on site.

Fr. Andrew Bushell, a Marblehead native and executive chairman of St. Paul’s Foundation, a monastic institution of the monks of Mount Athos in Greece, has a purchase agreement in place with the Sisters of Mercy, the current owners of the property at 35 Littles Point Road. The school was closed in 2015, due to financial difficulties.

Cresta said on Thursday that Bushell has not closed on the property, and his deadline was by the end of December. Town officials have not been supportive of his plans for a brewery, arguing that zoning bylaws do not allow for one in the residential district where the former college is located.

Swampscott also saw a change in its garbage collector, after its former trash hauler, Hiltz Waste Disposal, informed town officials that they were stopping collection services with about a day’s notice. Officials had to scramble to find a new hauler, with a hasty procurement process leading to the hire of Republic Services. Hiltz later declared bankruptcy. Town Meeting had to allocate an additional $408,587 in November to make up the difference from the larger contract negotiated with Republic.

Artificial turf will soon be implemented at Blocksidge Field, a project that was in the discussion phase for many years. In May 2015, Town Meeting approved $1.65 million in construction costs for the turf field. An additional $300,000 was raised by the AllBlue Foundation. The $1.85 million project includes the new field, grandstands and a press box.

“We’re hoping to have it out to bid prior to the end of January and starting construction with any luck by end of April, beginning of May,” Cresta said.

The field should be ready for play by September 2017.

Cresta also highlighted the $440,000 Humphrey Street paving project from the Lynn line to the Fish House. The majority of the project has been completed, but paving also has to be finished from Millett Road to Shelton Road. Work began last May with the installation of 47 handicap ramps. Sidewalk curb extensions were designed to slow traffic, crosswalks were restriped and bike lanes were added.

Cresta said the public works department is going to be starting the rehabilitation of the sewer mains in the Stacey Brook area, with plans to put that out to bid by the end of January. Construction is expected to start in the spring.

Funds needed to clean up the sewage discharging into the ocean at King’s Beach from Stacey Brook at the Lynn-Swampscott line were allocated at Town Meeting in November.

Voters approved the $2 million needed for design and construction costs to eliminate the non-stormwater pollutants from entering the town’s drainage system.

Two separate outfalls have Lynn and Swampscott discharging right next to each other. Sewage is getting into the drainage pipe and going into the ocean.

The funds are needed to keep the town in compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consent decree, that requires the town to eliminate the pollutants from entering the town’s drainage system.

The funds would be for the first two parts of Phase 1 of the Stacey Brook project, which will include relining sewer mains and replacing sewer infrastructure that is more than 100 years old. The project includes four phases of work, that when adjusted for inflation will cost $10.7 million over eight years.

With the help of Peter Kane, director of community development, Cresta said all of the town’s streetlights were converted to LED lights, which was completed within the past month. The project was funded through Town Meeting in 2015, with $150,000 of the $350,000 paid for by a grant.

Looking ahead, Cresta said the town will be negotiating union contracts with police, fire personnel and clerical staff. All of those contracts expire on June 30, 2017.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley

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