Friday, June 24, 2005
Thank you for a Task well done
The Benfield Task Force has been meeting over the past year to create a master plan for the 19.6-acre "developable" portion of the 45-acre town-owned Benfield property on South Street. At the continuation of the annual Town Meeting on June 8, the town voted to approve Plan B, the Task Force recommendation for siting 26 units of affordable housing and an athletic field.The approved plan designates as open space, under Recreation Commission control, a 3.1-acre parcel in the southeast corner of the 19.6 acre tract and the 4.7-acre field along South Street, with the athletic field preferably on the 3.1-acre parcel.The remaining 11.8 acres will be deeded for affordable housing.
The eight members of the Benfield Task Force were Chairman John Ballantine from the Selectmen; Alan Carpenito from the South Street neighborhood; Allen Deary from the RecCom; Russell Dion, architect and member at large; Ray Kubacki from the neighborhood, Dan Holzman from the Conservation Commission; Alan Lehotsky from the Housing Authority; and Phyllis Zinicola from the Planning Board. As Ballantine was quoted in last week's Mosquito speaking of Dion's maps of Plan A (the fallback plan) and Plan B shown at Town Meeting, "This was Russell's first activity in the town's planning process, and I don't think he realized it was a weekly activity." Ballantine later thanked this entire group of volunteers who had met almost weekly throughout the year, sometimes as early as 6:30 p.m. on weeknights and often on weekends to accommodate various workday schedules.
Those townspeople who attended Task Force meetings and the three community planning days had nothing but praise for the process they observed. Ballantine, it was noted, was respectful of all sides of the debate on where to put the ballfield. "He worked hard to keep the meetings on an even keel and was not confrontational," reported one observer. Dion, in addition to producing the layouts, contributed to the affordable housing part of the plan and helped to choose the architect, John Winslow, who had the right skills to work well with the committee. Zinicola, a lawyer working for Mass. Housing, shared her knowledge of affordable housing with the group. Other members of the Task Force contributed in their own way throughout the year.
On Sunday, members of the Benfield Task Force had their final get-together at a barbecue at the Ballantines' on Fiske Street. Members, accompanied by their families, now have time to relax and feel proud of all they had done. "People gave their all to find the right solutions," said Ballantine. Now it is time to take a well-deserved rest and enjoy the summer.
This is my summer of incipient decrepitude. I graduated from high school 40 years ago. The realization of that fact has nearly caused a heart murmur and made me think about yearly physicals, colonoscopies and other odd and altogether unpleasant events.
Now, I must confess to you that "graduation" is not a clearly defined horizon or watershed event in my life. Several schools claim me as an august member of their alumni associations for fund-raising purposes only. There were no bad antics that led up to or caused any of these unremarkable passages. They were not blemishes, nor are they beauty spots in my c.v. In fact, graduations (all of them) have been only significant in their insignificance up until this point. But, 40 years; ohmigod! What has happened to me, to them, to the world? Maybe I should look at some of the water over my dam before I am too long in the tooth. It seems only in the recent past that alumni weekends at school were peopled with aged-looking folk who were returning to the sites of their youthful indiscretions after only 25 or 30 years. I never thought I would get that old! Yet, here I am.
What I most fondly remember about my schooling is two years in one-room schoolhouses in central Vermont. For five years we had classrooms of 40 to 50 kids and one teacher (no assistants, aides or tutors). There were 12 grades and only about ten classrooms in the main building at the time. Hence, we were farmed out to one-room schoolhouses in the neighboring towns for two years. They literally had only one room.
When I moved to Massachusetts and to classrooms with aides and only twenty-five kids, life suddenly became a lot less interesting and, I am finding out as we age, so did the kids. I do not think this is purely a function of growing up in rural Vermont in the '50s, the pressures of boarding school or anything else. I think there is something that binds children together that is linked to expectations, responsibility and breadth of experience when taking care of each other is expected behavior. Too much "help" and supervision seems to take away the initiative to be care-givers. We were building community in the first grade.
Then there's the question of looking back at those less-than-halcyon '60s when many of us had to deal with the Vietnam issue. When we get together at our reunion, how will we remember those years? How many served, died, have different feelings about our selves, our country, our involvement in Iraq? This year, for the first time, I was invited to march in my hometown's Memorial Day parade to celebrate camaraderie and memory. I was the only Vietnam-era veteran. To march in the parade was a sobering and soul-searching event. How to separate the "in-country" events in Southeast Asia from domestic politics "back home" in the USA in light of my personal experience versus that of so many other veterans remains a perplexing issue.
This weekend, I will march in my Alumni Day parade along the same parade route in front of many of the same people. We will celebrate community and memory. Will I feel tempered or temperamental? I can only say at this point, before meeting my old schoolyard playmates, that I feel truly fortunate to be able to celebrate camaraderie, community and memory. To be alive and well and to be able to balance anticipated joy with historical angst in the same crucible is a great privilege.
© 2005 The