Saugus paved a way forward

At first glance, it seemed like a small, even inconsequential announcement: The town of Saugus declared its compost site open one month after closing the site in response to coronavirus social distancing restrictions. 

The May 8 reopening announcement came days after Gov. Baker pushed a long-awaited May 4 reopening start for Massachusetts’ economy back to May 18, dashing hopes about a return to normality any time soon. 

Reopening the compost site was a small, tentative, but symbolic act by town officials to remind residents that normality, or some semblance of normality, was not as far off as it might seem. 

The compost site is one of those local places where people run into neighbors, friends and coworkers toting big brown paper bags stuffed with leaves and grass. In the pre-coronavirus age, people lingered, talked and laughed for a few minutes before heading home or off to other chores. With coronavirus precautions in place, compost site visits are by appointment only and social distancing dictates how people gather.

The site’s reopening is just one example of how the town of Saugus maintained sustained local public works projects even as coronavirus shut down most social functions. 

Throughout the spring, the town completed projects and announced new ones. Evans Park has new basketball courts. Veterans Memorial Park received a cleanup and improvements, including upgrades to the veterans monument undertaken in time for Memorial Day.

The town announced a town-wide street light upgrade that will span more than two years with a $1 million investment translating into almost $600,000 in annual energy savings. 

All these projects remind residents that their tax dollars are at work and show them how town government is doing its job even in the face of a pandemic. The work also serves as a reminder that better times lie ahead when people can bring their kids to parks and playgrounds again and stand around gossiping at the compost site. 

Saugus isn’t the only community that kept public works projects going during coronavirus. But its commitment to maintaining a steady flow of town work sent a reassuring psychological reminder to residents wondering how long the “closed” sign will hang on the door to the normal world we lived in just over two months ago.

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