Friday, October 5, 2007
Give the Highland task force a chance
When the Carlisle School Committee recently asked for the Selectmen to create a task force to help plan the future of the Highland Building, the committee recognized that the century-old building is a community resource, even though the school no longer uses it for classrooms. Hopefully, the Selectmen will empower a task force — not just to choose between moving or demolishing Highland — but to make a genuine effort to sort out competing needs and find a long-term solution that best serves the town.
Located next to the Brick and Robbins Buildings, the Highland Building has been rented by the school to the Emerson Umbrella artists' cooperative since the early 1990s. While the artists have been quiet, unobtrusive neighbors, maintenance issues have been a source of on-going frustration. The school has not raised money through rent and has not sought Town Meeting funds for Highland maintenance. Emerson Umbrella made repairs at first, but has fallen behind in recent years.
It would be a shame to have a small group of people destroy a town resource without first gaining town consensus by exploring alternatives with due diligence. Carlisle has debated the future of the building for years with incomplete information. Why not do the homework this time? Why not have the task force outline the questions and constraints and, if needed, ask Town Meeting to pay for the help of a consultant to sort out the feasibility and costs of various proposals. Compared to paying $3 million for plans for school expansion, paying $30,000 for a consultant would add only a small taxpayer burden. If voters are unwilling to pay such a small amount, then the Highland dilemma is solved and the town can tear down the building with a clear conscience.
The School Committee has set a June deadline for the task force. It is unclear whether there are reasons for the deadline, other than to spur discussion of an often-deferred problem. Declining school enrollments indicate that parking and school space problems will not be worsening, near term. According to the master facilities plan completed in April 2006, future school needs can probably be met in the next couple of decades without using the Highland Building or its land, in fact.
Questions a task force might consider include: How much money is involved if the town repairs the building on its current site, moves it or tears it down? Better estimates are needed to weigh the options.
The rough estimate given in the master plan to repair Highland was high, between $1 and $2 million, but that was to convert the building for ADA-compliant school use, which the school is not interested in. Costs may be very different if the building were used for other purposes. For instance, if the artists remain in Highland, what will the repair costs be over the next five to 20 years? What would it cost to convert the building to office space or perhaps a couple of units of affordable housing? (For comparison, the building has under 7,000 square feet of space and the Housing Authority is considering one-bedroom apartments of roughly 600 square feet for the Benfield Land.)
How expensive would it be to move the building to another location? Where could it be moved?
Because the Highland Building is wood-framed and stands near the Robbins School Building, fire protection has been mentioned as one reason for removing the building. Is there a way to make Highland more fire-resistant? Has Highland's risk to the school changed recently, or has the risk been the same since the Robbins Building was built in 1969? If nothing has changed in almost 40 years, perhaps the town is justified in taking time to make a careful decision.
How badly does the town want to save Highland? Bring a constructive proposal to Town Meeting and find out.
A rose by any other name would be the same color
Among the many things wrong with the world these days are paint chips — not the chips themselves, which form a rather attractive rainbow of colors on the racks in paint stores, but the effect of all these chips on choosing colors. After all, there is such a thing as too many choices.
Now that paints can be mixed to any tint, on the spot, the temptation to let imagination run wild is irresistible. Competitive pressures cause paint companies to explore every nook and cranny of the color spectrum. They must hire artists and psychophysicists to devise new colors that differ from others by only a few angstroms — through the addition or subtraction of minuscule quantities of colorant—differences discernible by only a trained eye. And then they are faced with the task of naming the color. It is a monumental challenge, as a perusal of the paint chip names will quickly reveal.
Taking a few random samples from the Benjamin Moore selection, we have love story (a pale brown), careless whispers (a slightly darker brown), showtime (a slightly brown yellow), Nantucket breeze (a pale olive). Hundreds of additional examples provide not a whit of guidance as to the colors they name. Take this series of names on a single chip for colors of the same hue but different levels of saturation: iced green, spring sky, thunderbird, spirit of the sky, azure water, Pacific rim, Olympus green. Could anyone guess whether this series is in or out of order? (It's in order.)
Still, one can appreciate the problem. With thousands of colors to name, the well is bound to run dry sooner or later. One imagines the paint companies have to hire panels of lexicographers, poets, and experts in medieval languages to think up all these names. It must be hard work. They probably huddle in a small room with the door locked from the outside and food pushed through a tiny opening, no one allowed to leave until they have come up with a name for some new concoction the boys in color-mixing have invented. Fights probably break out under the pressure.
And then there is the magic of mixing the color. One picks the perfect color and takes the chip to the store, convinced that the chosen color is, say, a pleasantly bright yellow warmed by the addition of a little red. And what happens? The mixologist looks up the formula and announces that it consists of equal parts of yellow, blue, green, gray and black. One immediately suspects a mistake, but miraculously, when they are mixed, they come out looking more or less like the paint chip.
But it is only an illusion. Everybody knows that a chip in the store promptly changes color when you bring it home. And that the paint in the can does the same thing. The first stroke on the wall reveals that one has made a terrible mistake. But perhaps it will look better when it dries. Well, it doesn't, but by this time one has invested so much time and emotion in selecting a color that it seems better to live with it. And in time, one grows used to it and after a while proud of it, cheerfully telling guests about careful selection of this subtle shade, even if it is named ballet slippers (as one of Benjamin Moore's colors actually is). Still, one longs for the old days when choice was limited to a modest array of 20 or so, and colors were named for familiar things.
© 2007 The