Public weighs in on Chester greenhouse proposal Select Board continues speed limit talk; town garage rehab hits a budget wall

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Before taking up the regular business of its agenda for Wednesday, July 21, the Chester Select Board held a forum for the organizers of the community greenhouse project to explain what they are working on to the public, answer  community questions and take comments and suggestions. Around 25 people attended the forum at Town Hall with another dozen or so on Zoom.

Greenhouse group president Cheryl Joy Lipton introduces the presentation. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Cheryl Joy Lipton, president of the board of the Chester Community Greenhouse and Gardens, explained the origin of the idea of erecting a greenhouse for the community to use to grow vegetables, herbs, flowers and other plants. She said that as the group explored ways they could make their vision a reality, they got an offer of a free 32-foot by 100-foot, 1930s Lord and Burnham greenhouse in Walpole.

As he showed slides of some of Lord and Burnham’s more ornate structures, board member Robert Nied said that the company was a premier greenhouse and conservatory manufacturer of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The group’s hope is to restore the 1936 greenhouse, retro-fit it with double pane glass and reconstruct it on one of two town properties that fit the requirements they set out when they began looking for a site. Among others, these include proximity to downtown for walkability, southern exposure, access to water and electricity. Double glazing would help take it from a three-season facility to year-round use.

Robert Nied explains the details of the greenhouse project

Nied said that the greenhouse would have primarily raised beds with some “ultra raised beds” for accessibility for handicapped people. Anyone who lives, works or goes to school in Chester will be able to use the facility. Eventually the group hopes to have outdoor gardens and landscaping and offer educational programs and mentoring. He believes it will become a destination that many will want to visit.

The greenhouse group says that no public money will be used in the project and that construction will not begin until they have it fully funded.

As has been reported here in the past, the two locations are behind the Academy Building and at the Canal Street well site. Abutters to those sites said they were in favor of the project – but in effect – not in their back yards.

Abutter Gary Baker (right) and greenhouse group member Tim Roper shake hands as Roper answers a question about siting

Gary Baker, whose Grafton Street property borders the Canal Street site, asked why the project could not be done at the Pinnacle recreation area. Group member Tim Roper said they had looked at that, but there was not enough level space there.  Main Street resident Jerry Stewart told the meeting he is not opposed to the project, which would abut the property his family has owned since the 1860s, but said it was his understanding that the area behind the Academy Building was to be an extension of the Brookside Cemetery. “I do believe we’re going to need places to bury people,” said Stewart.

Board chair Arne Jonynas explained that a cemetery expansion study found that the site could not be used for burials due to the risk of flooding.

Huzon (Jerry) Stewart saying he believes the Academy site will be needed as a cemetery extension

Chester resident Linda Diak said she was concerned about the safety of the children living at the former Hugging Bear, which shares a driveway with the  Academy Building. Jonynas noted that the plan would be for only pedestrian access to the site.

Downtown business owner Scott Blair said that the Academy site would stress the parking needed by businesses on the Green and would make the agriculture component being offered in that space at this year’s Fall Festival impossible in the future.

Calling it a “huge project,” Bev Lauren, who used to operate several large greenhouses at her Andover Road home, asked a number of questions. Lipton and Roper answered her questions and also asked Lauren to continue to raise questions.

Nick Boke saying that he moved back to Chester for ‘things like this’ referring to citizens with an idea taking action

Chester resident Nick Boke told the meeting that he and his family moved back to Chester in part “because of things like this.” He referred to citizen groups who take on projects and said he thought it would be a destination.

Elementary school teacher Frank Kelley, noting that either site would be walkable from Chester-Andover Elementary, said he supports the project because it will help students understand where food comes from. “I’ve seen the pleasure that kids get from getting their hands dirty.”

A couple of people were confused about whether this would be a commercial venture, objecting to the use of public property for that. Pointing to the group’s non-profit status Nied said there would be no commercial uses of the facility and nothing grown there would be sold.

After about an hour and a quarter, there were no more comments or questions and Jonynas closed the forum, saying that there are a lot of things to address and that the forum is part of that process.

Enforcement first in addressing speed limits

Lee Gustafson called the speed data for Andover Road ‘very disturbing’

Town manager Julie Hance explained that the speed data collected from High and River streets as well as Andover Road was in the board’s packet for a discussion of what steps to take regarding residents complaints about speeding.

Board member Lee Gustafson noted that the speed numbers that were collected for High and River streets did not seem particularly problematic, but found the Andover road speeds “very disturbing.” Gustafson pointed to the figure showing that the 85 percentile of drivers were traveling at more than 50 mph in a 40 mph zone.

But Gustafson thought that rather than lowering the speed limits to 30 mph the first step would be to running radar on the road and writing tickets to get the attention of drivers. Board member and part-time Chester Police Officer Jeff Holden said that he generally does not write a ticket for 5 mph over the limit because it will get thrown out if the driver contests it. Board members suggested that police should write warnings for speeding under 10 mph over the limit and then a ticket for multiple warnings to the same driver.

Heather Chase suggested adding flashing lights to the 40 mph signs to get drivers’ attention

Member Heather Chase asked if flashing lights on the 40 mph signs at the Chester/Andover line might alert drivers of the speed limit. Hance said the town would look into lights and she would also speak with Police Chief Rick Cloud about more enforcement and whether the road is considered a state or town highway, which would affect the procedure for changing the speed limits.

As she has during several other meetings, Andover Road resident Ginger Roper asked that the speed limit be reduced from 40 mph to 30. She said that people walk along the road and drivers go way over the limit.

Renovations to town garage projected to be over budget

While Hance told the board that the town’s financial picture is looking good and that department heads are working to hold the line on expenses again this year, the major renovation to the town garage will likely be over budget due to material price increases. The building is sorely out of compliance with state codes, and the state is anxious to see the work begin.

Julie Hance explains the increase in the cost of the town garage renovation

Hance told the board that planning and bonding have bought time with the state but the project can’t be pushed off into the future.

According to Hance, if the town were to build it as designed, the cost would be over budget by $200,000. So now the town is looking for things to cut including the wash/welding bay with its exhaust hood, the sprinkler system (at least for now) and sealing the concrete floor.

Hance said the project needs to go out to bid very soon, if only to see what the costs will be and then look at cuts and financing options. Chase suggested this be an agenda item for future meetings. Other members agreed that the work needs to be done.

“Where we are is where we are going to start,” said board member Leigh Dakin.

Gravel pit road construction, completion of Safety Building nears

Hance told the board that construction of an access to the town’s gravel pit on land purchased for the 2nd town water tank — off Route 103 South between the high school and Drew’s —  is coming along. The public may notice some smoke from burning stumps and the road crew is getting ready to put in road culverts.

The Public Safety Building is close to being finished and Hance said that an open house is being planned for Sunday, Sept. 12. Chester’s Fire, Ambulance and Police departments will move in before that. Holden asked about putting a properly sized flag on the building’s flag pole, and about displaying blue line and red line flags recognizing the police and fire departments.

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