Friday, June 25, 2010
The Highland maintenance plan - death by a thousand delays?
There has to be a better way to repair the Highland Building.
Fourteen months after Town Meeting voted $445,000 to stabilize the building, the committee appointed by the Selectmen to oversee the repairs has turned down the single construction bid they received, because the bid came in higher than the architects estimated (see article, page 1). Committee member John Ballantine said they will not try to rebid the project this year, because there would not be enough time to complete it before the start of school in the fall. They plan to rebid the project next winter, for work to be done in the summer of 2011.
Several questions spring to mind. Why did it take so long to advertise and solicit bids when a preliminary list of stabilization repairs was prepared by the Highland Study Committee in August 2008?
Why did the request for proposals yield only one bid from construction firms during the worst economic recession in recent memory? When the question was posed to Town Administrator Tim Goddard, he said that it might have been an issue of timing, “The architects told us that they spoke to a number of contractors that worked in historic preservation and most of them had work already lined up for the summer.” Would there have been more interest if the request for bids had not been restricted to contractors with state certification in historical renovation? The certification is a way to weed out less qualified contractors and may be needed for some of the restoration work, but aren’t some of the repairs straightforward enough to be handled by any reputable builder?
The goal of minimizing disruption near the school is admirable, but is it necessary to wait until next summer before doing anything? In their 2008 report, the Highland Study Group advised that repairs be completed “to stabilize the building by October 2009, if not earlier.” Why not break the project into sections and do some this summer? Alternatively, could some smaller repairs, such as reroofing the side door overhangs, re-flashing the chimney, or perhaps rebuilding the front porch, be finished during a school vacation week?
This is not the first time Highland repairs have been deferred. Attention has been spotty ever since the school stopped holding classes in Highland in the ’80s.
However, in May of 2009 Town Meeting transferred control of the building to the Selectmen and approved stabilization funding by a margin of 233 to 93. What did it mean? Did the votes give the Selectmen funds to fix Highland, eventually, at their discretion, or did the Town Meeting vote mean that the Selectmen should see that the repairs get done?
As months, years and decades go by, delayed maintenance quietly squanders a town asset. Hopefully the Selectmen and Highland Committee can together turn their energies toward finally stabilizing the Highland Building. ∆
• Housed classrooms 1908 - 1986. Between 1986 and 1994 used for storage.
In a pickle
Three months ago, my nine-year-old son began his spring baseball season. In the age of childhood obesity and 24/7 “iCarly,” it is nice to see your offspring involved in sports. But there is an ugly downside: your kids’ coaches might try to rope you in.
I arrived at the first practice at Banta-Davis, doing everything I could to indicate that I was to be a spectator and a spectator only. I was wearing flip-flops. I brought a blanket . . . and a book. It is true that I brought a baseball glove, but only in the way that you would bring one to a Red Sox game – you do not anticipate being asked to give pointers to Dustin Pedroia. But no matter – the coach requested assistance, and I reluctantly agreed.
As a youngster, I did not display much aptitude at sports. Every morning before school, boys would gather to play Pickle atop a thin layer of sand covering an expanse of red Georgia clay. A swarm of 30 or so targets in Toughskins would sprint between two large truck tires while two lads with more strength than accuracy would heave the hardball back and forth. Invariably, the ball and a boy’s head would collide, giving observers a small taste of what it must have been like to watch 12th century jousting. Surveying the commotion from an adjacent grassy hill, I just wanted to wave my arms and yell, “Guys, the girls are UP HERE… And they’re LAUGHING AT MY JOKES.” What the heck were they doing down there?
It is true that I missed out on the frisson that comes from having a baseball whiz by your ear at Mach 1, but I did court my first girlfriend up on that hill. She liked elephants – she believed she had been reincarnated from one, and enjoyed drawing pictures of their posteriors. Alas, we broke up in seventh grade – I guess she wanted to see other middle schoolers. But I digress.
Given my past, I am perhaps not the best person to assist with baseball practice. Toward the end of a practice early in the season, the coach said something I did not want to hear: “Well, we’ve got ten minutes left . . . Let’s play some Pickle!” I was instructed to get on first base, and the coach got on second. The coach is of slightly below-average height but has the triceps of a gladiator – a worst-case scenario in Pickle. The coach hurled the ball at Papelbon speeds about 18 inches over the heads of the gleeful, scampering kids. (Anyone who says that all risk has been squeezed from modern childhood is painfully mistaken.) I started to sweat. I threw the ball back to the coach, but given my childhood memories of kids splayed face-down in the sand, the ball sailed about eight feet over the coach’s head. I looked over at my wife, and of course she is laughing at me. It’s like I’m back in school. How did this happen?
I write this on the day before what I hope is my son’s penultimate game of the season. If his team wins tomorrow and the day after, then they win the championship, and I will be one proud dad. And so I will continue to encourage my kids to embrace sports – and hope they got their mother’s genes.
© 2010 The