By GAYLA CAWLEY
MARBLEHEAD — Significant renovations to the Marblehead Community Center and the first floor of the Abbot Public Library were two of the year’s highlights and accomplishments cited by Marblehead town officials.
Town Administrator John McGinn said the community center project was undertaken partly for a more equitable distribution of space between the Council on Aging and the Recreation and Parks Commission, since both have offices there.
The $85,000 renovation, started in the spring and completed in November, included the installation of air conditioning in meeting rooms and improved meeting space. McGinn said a space study was completed to see how the building could be better used.
McGinn said the library’s renovated children’s room and large meeting room on the first floor was a $220,000 project completed with trust fund money donated to the library. The children’s room received new flooring and the town is also looking at further repairs for the library.
“There’s sort of a much more inviting look to the place than there was before,” he said.
McGinn said he was also happy with the four historic documents that were unveiled last spring, which dated to revolutionary times. The documents are on display in the selectmen’s room at Abbot Hall.
Documents included a letter from George Washington to the inhabitants of the town of Marblehead in 1789, Elbridge Gerry’s letter to the selectmen accepting an appointment to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in 1774, Paul Revere’s letter to Jonathan Glover and the selectmen attempting to procure surplus cannon from the town, written in 1787, and a resolution of the Massachusetts General Court Senate and House relative to a Marblehead petition, signed by John Hancock and Samuel Adams, written in 1784.
Another highlight, McGinn said, was the purchase of a fire pumper truck. In May, the town approved a $620,000 fire truck, which he said should be delivered next spring.
He said the town also had its AAA bond rating from Standard and Poor’s reaffirmed last August for the eighth consecutive year, which allows Marblehead to borrow at lower interest rates. Marblehead was one of just 46 of the 351 communities across Massachusetts to achieve the rating, the highest possible from Standard and Poor’s, a crediting agency.
McGinn said another highlight was progress on the renovation of the Elbridge Gerry School. Town Meeting members approved funding a $750,000 feasibility study last May, which allows the Gerry School Building Committee to follow the process required by the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Voters approved the ballot initiative a month later. The state will pay about $243,525 for the study, with taxpayers responsible for $506,475.
The K-1 school has never been improved since it was built in 1906. The project would have to be approved at Town Meeting in 2018. Construction options would be considered after the study’s completion, which could take up to two years.
McGinn said the town is looking at options that would involve combining the school with Coffin School, or combining Gerry, Coffin and Bell School.
Landfill capping, an ongoing project for several years, wrapped up in November. The landfill closure began in 2014 and accounts for more than $17 million of the $23 million allocated for the Marblehead transfer station upgrade.
Marblehead entered into a consent decree with the state Department of Environmental Protection to cap and close the landfill in the early 2000s. Before the capping, the town hadn’t landfilled material since 1975.
The town’s existing landfill was constructed in the 1930s and the incinerator was built in 1950. During those years, there was open pit burning, with material, including products containing lead and heavy metals, brought on site, burned and placed in the landfill.
The Woodfin Terrace transfer station is also slated for demolition. Most of the 1950 building was razed last spring, but the trash compactor is still in place. The bidding process for a new transfer station isn’t expected to begin until next spring.
After more than a decade, William Pattison Landing, the town’s newest pier opened. The $370,000 project at Stramski Way and West Shore Drive was previously referred to as Stramski Pier, for the family that owned the surrounding park before the town bought it.
The pier, which provides access to Salem Harbor from West Shore Drive, was named after William Pattison, a former member of the Harbors and Waters Board. Pattison was passionate about the project. He died in 2010 and never saw its completion.
To complete the project, a permit was required from the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers, which couldn’t be issued until the completion of a $12.5 million sewer pipe replacement, which connects the Stramski area underneath the harbor to South Essex Sewerage District’s treatment facilities in Salem.
The controversial Marblehead Mariner project, which would have been the town’s first assisted living facility, was denied by the Zoning Board of Appeals last May. The ZBA rejected a special permit for the facility, which was the final approval needed for the developers, Coastal Streets and Harbor Street Development.
Board members said the application was rejected because the design was too large and incompatible with the neighborhood. The facility would have been built on Pleasant Street, and would have included 87 apartments on a 4.5-acre site. It would have featured parks, walking paths, seating areas, patios and gardens.
Phil Helmes, one of the developers, serves as chairman on the town’s Planning Board, which granted site plan review approval. The developers filed an appeal of the ZBA decision with the Massachusetts Land Court on June 16.
“That’s really out of the town’s hands at this point,” said McGinn.
Phase 2 of a three part drainage project will continue this spring with culvert work on Pleasant and School streets. Proposed work includes upgrading stone culverts that are more than 100 years old, replacing it with 48-inch PVC pipe.
The town was successful with securing more than $1 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds in 2015 to move forward on the project. The first phase was completed three years ago on portions of Atlantic Avenue, Essex and Spring streets.
“Under certain weather conditions, we would experience flooding in those areas and a lot of water that would go into those buildings,” McGinn said. “The project was originally designed to be an almost $5 million project.”
Marblehead had to quickly hire a new trash hauler, JRM Hauling, after their former collector, Hiltz Waste Disposal stopped services with about a day’s notice. Marblehead entered into a 10-year contract with JRM, and is paying $795,000 for the first year, which includes the cost of all recycling disposal. McGinn said despite the unexpected termination of their contract with Hiltz, the town didn’t miss a day of trash service with its transition to JRM. Hiltz later declared bankruptcy.
Gayla Cawley can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.