Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Modest Proposal

This opinion column was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz blog by John J. Fitzgerald, a Longmeadow town resident and member of the Longmeadow School Committee.
Recent months have witnessed recurring discussions about what Longmeadow should do about three major concerns. Those concerns are:  the condition of the two middle schools in town, the need for a decent Senior Center and the need for a safe and strategic home for the DPW department.

The Select Board seems singularly inept in dealing with this problem. Their solution seems to be: ignore the problems. This is neither just nor adequate.

A recent development has the seniors vocalizing on behalf of taking large chunks of land at Bliss Park for a Senior Center. A number of fellow citizens have objected.

I share their concern about the destruction of Bliss Park. I think we should leave it as it is, which is a wonderful family centered park in the middle of town.

What can we do to protect Bliss Park and at the same time address the other real town wide concerns?

The answer to that question is contingent on a holistic response that speaks to the concerns of the entire town and its community.

As I see it, the seniors do need a new center which is appropriate to their needs and appropriate to the best interests of the Town of Longmeadow.

We also need a new DPW location. (The recent proposal of the DPW committee speaks to this. I have not read the full proposal.)

We also need to seriously address the needs of the Middle Schools in Longmeadow, Williams and Glenbrook.

I support the following solution:
  1. DPW to be placed at Greenwood Park Center off of Maple Road. Minimum loss of playing fields and playground area.

    This would be the site of headquarters, mechanical service areas, radio communication center, repair, etc. Garage storage areas and parking lots. Some vehicle storage and repair sites at Wolf Swamp Road near East Longmeadow line. No diminution of playing fields. Create an attractive site near Twin Hills and Field Club.
  2. Senior Center to be placed at Glenbrook Middle School. No diminution of playing fields. Close Glenbrook. Renovate Glenbroook for Senior Activity needs.
  3. Middle School situation to be remedied in the following manner.
    Place new enlarged Williams Middle School on playing fields of Williams Middle School. Construct new and larger building. Tear down old building. And then create athletic fields.

    With New Williams Middle School complete, we transfer student population of Glenbrook to Williams. Turn Glenbrook over to town for Senior Center. 
This plan addresses all the needs of the town and does so in a practical manner. All major interest groups have their needs addressed. Those with abutting real estate are protected from any harsh changes or hazards. The Commonwealth pays for most of the funding for a new middle school. We will have to do some bonding to pay for the DPW and Senior Center projects.

What do you think?  I think we will need to create a coalition to bring this three part project to pass.  But that task is far superior to just doing nothing.

Let’s get this project rolling forward!

John J. Fitzgerald

Friday, September 23, 2016

Let’s Build a New Senior Center

This opinion column was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz blog by Betsy Port, a Longmeadow town resident.
[click image to enlarge]
Yes, we need a new building for The Longmeadow Senior Center – that is a fact! I do not know when or if it will ever be built since I do not own a crystal ball. I do know this; creating a building of 12,000 square feet within a 3.5-acre part of Bliss Parkland would be a mistake. Perhaps you can change my mind, but creating a structure on park-like land seems like an obvious problem. Traffic flow has increased over the years and Bliss Road and Laurel Street will only become busier when the construction ends at the shopping center and cars full of shoppers shop!

A Committee has been working hard all summer, holding seven meetings and discussing several sites across town. Our family received a snail-mail invitation to a September 1st meeting for neighborhood homes. We live near the wooded side of Bliss Park, but could not attend a meeting right before a long weekend. I wish we had been given more notice, but they were on deadline.

If built, the new center would be located in the southeast corner of Bliss near Oakwood. A total of 100 parking spaces would be needed and I fear over 30 trees would be cut down. These trees may not be that healthy or that green but I am a true tree hugger so I hate to loose them. If possible, I think the committee’s choice should be modified. They came up with only one option. People like to have choices. What is their second choice? Are they any other options for the residents to consider? Laurel Park is not an option in my humble opinion.

Some might say that to upgrade the structure at Greenwood Park would be costly and ill advised. Maybe the whole thing should be razed and we might build something better if we can afford to start over. It is my understanding that both Greenwood Park and Turner Park are not preferable options. The DPW project seems more urgent right now, but when can we really have room in the budget for the Senior Center? I have called the tree warden, the Park and Rec Department and some other leaders but I still have more questions than answers. Maybe I am just too crazy to think that a large structure inside a designated park is horrible to contemplate. What to me is short sighted is the way the process has moved ahead. Where are we getting the money for anything if the town has serious fiscal concerns? We need to be realists! Can we please keep the big picture in mind?

Maybe we need to rethink the whole long range plan set forth in 2001-2002. Saving our open space and green landscape was a top priority at that time, about fifteen years ago. Have our priorities changed? Do we need a Community Center instead of a Senior Center? The Community House is in the Historic District and not practical for our growing needs. As far as I’m concerned it is for voting, offices and dance classes. Should children have an opportunity to learn and share with their elders? Read the recommendations in other magazines and papers. This is the wave of the future. Where can we meet and come together as a community? Is it possible to redefine what is needed? Let’s find a peaceful and practical solution for everyone to agree on, if that is possible. I just don’t want to loose something that we can never get back!

As Joni Mitchell wrote in 1969:

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a (Senior Center), a boutique and a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got Till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
They took all the trees and put ‘em in a tree museums
And charged the people a dollar and a half to see ‘em
Don’t it always seem to go That you don’t know what you’ve got Till it’s gone
They paved (Bliss Park) and put up a parking lot”

Betsy Port/ Farmington Avenue

Friday, September 2, 2016

Save Alex’s Bagels

This opinion column was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz blog by Alex Grant, a Longmeadow town resident.

Mom, apple pie, fresh air, the family farm, and the small business owner.  We pay homage to all these things.  They are America.  They are unassailable.  Everyone is for them, and nobody is against.  That is what we say at every kitchen table and every rostrum.

With such widespread support, it is hard to imagine how a family farm, or a small business that is beloved in the community, could ever fail.  But it happens all the time.  Sometimes we honor the idea of something more than the thing itself.

 And so it goes with what appears to be the final chapter of Alex’s Bagels at the Big Y shopping center.  With the end of Sam and Chippy’s barber shop, the departure of Brightwood Hardware, and the impending eviction of Alex’s, it should be clear that being a landlord to small businesses is no longer part of Big Y’s plans.  For a while, Big Y had a business plan that involved running a medium-sized grocery store and collecting rent on space that it figured it could not use as profitably.

With that business decision came reliance, reliance by the small business owners and reliance by the residents of Longmeadow.  Big Y, of course, never promised to lease this space in perpetuity, but to the community it certainly seemed that it had.

The bagel shop harks back to the 1960s and 1970s, operating though three owners, each linked to the one before.  Alex might have set a world record for the longest bagel apprenticeship by working there for 19 years before taking over as owner 10 years ago.  Brightwood Hardware was there for over 50 years.  In the barber shop, you could hear tales from the 1950s as Chippy clipped your hair.

The men and women of these businesses not only rented space from a corporate landlord, they devoted the best years of their working lives to serving the residents of Longmeadow.  Making that choice meant making investments in equipment, investments in building up a clientele, investments that only made sense if the business was a long-term proposition.  That choice was a leap of faith that their loyalty to their landlord and to the community would be reciprocated.  And for two generations it was.  

They carved out niches for themselves, none more so than Alex and his predecessors.  Even today, it is a rare skill to make a real, fresh bagel that has a firm outside and a soft inside.  Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, bagel chain restaurants, and grocery stores have all tried and failed to deliver a real, New York City style bagel like Alex’s. In their pursuit to make bagels that can be made, preserved, and distributed, these corporate bakers have rendered circular bread rolls.  The work of making a traditional bagel, it seems, requires the daily toil of baking in small batches and selling the bagels not long after they emerge from the oven.

From Big Y’s corporate boardroom, all of this may seem like small potatoes.  The names of Mo, Chippy, Kimmel, Phil Grant (no relation), and Alex may mean nothing at that level.  Alex’s children who have worked there and all the other teenagers and young adults who have worked the counter and have learned the craft of bagel-making may seem remote to the important business of wringing out another percentage point of earnings growth.  But to many people in Longmeadow, the vast majority of whom walk the aisles of Big Y, these people, these families, and the work they do are part of our town.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that “Man, like a tree in the cleft of a rock, gradually shapes his roots to his surroundings, and when the roots have grown to a certain size, can't be displaced without cutting at his life.”  After more than two generations, Longmeadow has shaped its roots around the bagel shop and its erstwhile neighbors.  Big Y needs to reckon with the loss of goodwill that will result from displacing Alex’s shop.

While I was on the Select Board, corporate landlords were all too happy to carry the banner of the small businessperson when it came time to consider the commercial tax rate for their properties.  Big Y and others touted the value of locally-owned small businesses like one would promote the value of motherhood, the Olympic spirit, and the United States of America.  Now Alex’s shop is an inconvenience to a larger corporate aim.  It is time for Longmeadow residents to make this eviction an even larger inconvenience for Big Y.

Alex J. Grant is a lawyer living in Longmeadow.  His email address is .

Monday, August 15, 2016

From the Desk of Longmeadow Police Chief John Stankiewicz

The following was published in the July 2016 Longmeadow Police Department Monthly Report.
Longmeadow Police Chief- John Stankiewicz
Policing in Longmeadow is a stranger offering to pay for your coffee while standing in line at Starbucks and an intoxicated and defiant man pushing an officer in the chest.  It’s stopping a new driver for speeding and warning him to slow down or the next time he will receive a ticket and sitting in an unmarked vehicle, with the engine off, in a parking lot in 90 degree heat for hours, waiting for drug a deal to go down.

It’s your spouse asking you when you’re going to bid off the midnight shift and your 8 year old daughter calling to make sure you are safe. It’s missing your son’s Saturday soccer game and a Christmas dinner at home with your family. 

It’s also putting a compression dressing on an accident victim who has a severe laceration while re-assuring them they will be all right and being ridiculed and sworn at by a woman for arresting her husband who moments before had punched her in the face.

It’s manning a public information booth at Longmeadow Days and engaging in conversation with adults and children alike and giving a tour of the station to a group of wide eyed boy scouts. 

It’s talking to teenagers who have questions as to whether an officer can search their backpack for alcohol and answering the mundane question of a stranger; “where is a good place to eat” or “how do I get to……”?  And, the mind numbing chore of checking businesses, The Meadows and side streets at 2, 3, & 4 AM.

It’s conducting an investigation and working on leads to locate stolen jewelry that has profound sentimental value in hopes of  being able to return it to its owner and performing CPR on a 17 year old who OD’d on a lethal dose of alcohol and opiates while in the background hearing the mother’s and father’s screams of anguish and despair.

Although there has been extensive media coverage replaying the actions of overzealous officers, with more than 12,000 agencies operating in the US and more than 477,000 law enforcement officers, the number of incidences of misfeasance, although appalling, is minuscule.

A warrior one minute and a guardian the next, an officer must adapt.   With the fatal ambushes of police officers both in Dallas and in Baton Rouge, the job has changed.  Even in Longmeadow, officers are a little more cautious…. It has changed the way we patrol.  When conducting a traffic stop, officers are taking more time to assess the situation before exiting their cruiser and approaching the vehicle.  Responding to calls for service in a remote or desolate area in Town has evoked a level of vigilance that wasn’t a concern a month ago; could someone be concealing themselves or lying in wait?

Officer are reminded to check their weapons before every shift, to discuss officer safety best practices, and to rely on their tactical training that was learned in the academy and is reviewed every year during in-service training.  

Fortunately, over the last month there has been an outpouring of support from the community.  Adults, children and seniors alike have been stopping by the station and bringing in gifts of food, soft drinks and yes, even donuts.  These gestures and well wishes are humbling yet confirm that the officers and staff of the Longmeadow Police Department are professionals, are providing a valuable service and their work is appreciated by the community.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

New Longmeadow Adult Center

This article was submitted by the Longmeadow Adult Center Building Committee (ACBC) summarizing results of a Focus Group Meeting held with a group of Longmeadow residents on August 3, 2016

Approximately 50 Longmeadow residents from a variety of constituent groups attended a focus meeting on August 3, 2016 at the current Greenwood Adult Center at 251 Maple Road to discuss the siting and construction of a new senior center in Longmeadow. Included were Select Board members; Longmeadow officials and employees, seniors, sports parents, other town committee members, site neighbors; Adult Center officials and board members; FOLOCA (Friends of Longmeadow Older Citizens Association) representatives; ACBC committee members; media and other interested community members. Presented by the Adult Center Building Committee (ACBC), the eleven member group chaired by Marybeth Bergeron, were on hand to inform residents of the group’s progress in identifying various sites in Longmeadow conducive to locating an appropriate building site.

Joining Marybeth at the front table were ACBC members. They were Phil Hallahan, co-chair, Fred VanDerhoof and Tim McKenna, the evening’s presenters and Pat Burden, secretary and recorder.  She also called attention to present Select Board members Mark Gold, Bill Low and Marie Angelides who serves as liaison for ACBC and thanked them for attending. She announced that the focus meeting format would be a formal presentation by committee members, a Q&A session following the presentations and a brief survey distributed for input. Also, that the evening’s meeting was televised on local cable TV.

She explained that ACBC consists of 11 community members who represent all aspects of life and possess years of experience regarding the project. The members’ mission is to identify a suitable site to construct a suitable adult center that will be presented to the Select Board before its first meeting in September. If approved, it will be presented to the broader community at the November town meeting.  It was stressed that ACBC members represented all present and input was of most important.  “We want your input,” Marybeth declared. She emphasized the importance of transparency and the significance of neighborhood and political impact.

Bergeron commended the committee for their diligence, many hours and commitment to the process. She highlighted the amount of work executed by the committee such as: meetings with historic commission, library trustees, town manager, conservation professionals, athletic directors, park and rec officials, DPW and others. They studied site maps, deeds, plans, Article 97, field use and non-use, even the original Frederick Low Olmstead designs (which in some cases have not been completed or terribly neglected). They have explored open space noting the 1/3 of Longmeadow is “open space” and therefore available for recreational use.

She addressed: “Why a new adult center?” Presently there is approximately 8K square feet used at Greenwood Center that is shared with food pantry; meals on wheels; veterans administration; FOLOCO; health services; outreach senior services;  senior programming and activities; administration and staff. Formerly an elementary school, the corridors are long, restrooms designed for children located a distance away, privacy compromised, limited parking, hidden asbestos and hazardous waste issues, space stretched to the limit!

Bergeron added that East Longmeadow Senior Center at 15k square feet is presently stretched for space. She noted a fact that, here in Longmeadow, there are more 60 and over folks than there are under 16 youngsters. With the onset of the baby boomers and the particular needs of the group, many area senior centers are emerging- Agawam/ Hampden/ East Longmeadow/Wilbraham (upcoming)/ Westfield and Chicopee.  By 2030 a 30% increase in senior population is anticipated. “Seniors want to age in place, stay at home, live and function at home.  It is fruitful and rewarding.  We need a larger center. Let’s get ahead of the curve!”

She stated that the task at hand was to explore and recommend a suitable site. There were eight: Greenwood Park; Turner Park-Site 1 and 2; Wolf Swamp fields; Academy Water Tower; Laurel Park; Bliss Park and Cordis/ Library property. Each site was thoroughly examined…deed restrictions, Parkland infrastructure, sport fields specification, impact on town, impact on neighbors, historical aspects, conservation restrictions, ponds and wetlands, political impact, favorable for building aspects, enhancement to sites.

Four are off the table: Wolf Swamp, Academy-Water Tower, Greenwood Park, Turner Park-Site 2. Wolf Swamp/political impact and preservation of fields for youth; Turner Park-Site 2/wetlands; Greenwood Park/loss of fields, cost of renovation, code requirements and relocation of activities including Park and Rec, and Day Care shared space; Academy-Water Tower/too large at 10 acres and impact on highly populated neighborhood with potential house construction and taxable benefits for town. Still on the table are: Turner Park-Site 1; Laurel Park; Bliss Park; Cordis/Library.

Fred VanDerhoof was called on to explore Turner Park, Laurel Park and Bliss Park, all of which are doable properties. He exhibited colored maps to locate the properties.  He highlighted Turner Park’s amenities including extensive trails, beautiful pond, trees, serenity, location to existing fields and opportunities for intergenerational activity.  He stated that kayaking , fishing, biking, hiking on improved trails are some of the favorable features. Also, sharing the facility with the town with use of rest rooms, meeting spaces, food concession, paved parking enhances its value to townsfolks.

Fred then identified Laurel Park as a “nice piece of property”…gorgeous hiking trails, serene pond, waterfall and its hidden beauty and environment for locating a new adult center, “a good feel to it.”  He went on to state that favorable location to Bliss Park, Police and Fire Department and center of town accommodates senior needs and activities. And its present state of neglect would be remedied.

Bliss Park, Fred reported, has great synergy and opportunity.  Pool, tennis courts, walking trails, proximity to town; little infringement on neighbors adds to its favorability. Public restrooms, presently closed, would be accessible. Site improvement of trails, lighting and paved parking would enhance the property for all to enjoy.

Tim McKenna was called on to report on the Cordis/ Library Property. Using a lighted pointer, he touted the center’s potential location on the central artery, close to the “heart of town.”  The availability of public transportation, location of town offices, additional public parking for town events adds to its desirability. It is flat, adjacent to churches, perhaps some wetlands with Meadowbrook, tight but with careful site planning and sensitive design to the other properties on campus, the overall project  provides an opportunity for the town  “looking back and looking forward. “

He went on to say:  It is, however, necessary to acquire the Cordis properties at an approximate cost of $1 million. These reconstituted properties could be resold or retained for town use which direly needs more office space. At any rate, it is an opportunity for the town of Longmeadow, he stated.

Thus concluded the formal presentations and Marybeth opened the floor to questions:

Where will they be sited?... Depends on each site and architect’s design in balance with site.
Will fields be impacted on Cordis site?...Strople Field will not be touched.
Will Cordis be torn down?...Absolutely not.
Will Casino traffic affect the choice?...Not known what Casino traffic will entail and at what times of day. A traffic study is pending.

Ernie Welker, Audit Committee member, reports that the town is in trouble financially and cannot afford a new center.  He suggested that Greenwood Park be renovated regardless of losing playing fields. Eleanor Stolar reiterated the importance of addressing seniors’ needs and having them stay in Longmeadow.

Jim Russell asked to be recognized. He clarified the fact that ½ of 1% of the town budget is directed the Adult Center annually.  He advocated that a need for privacy for veterans is evident and constructing a new center rather than renovating the present center even without unknown infrastructure issues is less costly.

The prepared surveys, whereby attendees could make comments and/or chose preferred sites, were distributed. Providing ones name was optional. Surveys were collected and will be analyzed before the  next committee meeting Thursday, August 11 at 7 p.m. All meetings are open to the public.

The next Adult Center Building Committee (ACBC) Focus Meeting will be held at Greenwood Park Adult Center on Wednesday, August 24 at 3 PM. Once again the public is invited.

The televised meeting of August 3 can be seen on the following dates:
Air dates on LCTV 12 (Longmeadow only)

Monday (August 15) at Noon,
Wednesday (August 17) at 7 PM
Thursday (August 18) at 7 PM
Saturday (August 20) at 2 PM
Sunday (August 21) at 7 PM

It can also be viewed 24/7 on LCTV's YouTube Channel.  Here is the video...

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Black and White Window into our Local History

This article was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz by Betsy Port- a long time resident of Longmeadow. 

Photo Credit: Cory White
The Longmeadow Historical Society is a real treasure trove of antique furniture, American decorative arts, documents and memorabilia. A special collection of glass plate negatives by Paesiello Emerson, give us each a chance to reminisce and relive past days in rural Longmeadow. This budding photographer was born in Hopkinton, Mass in 1832.

Mr. Emerson loved photography and took his camera along as he explored the world around him. Our area was bursting in the early 20th Century when he moved here. In 1900 there were slightly more than 800 residents here. It was the age of the American Industrial Revolution and the end of the British Victorian Era.  By 1920 the population had tripled due to the farmland transformation to suburban home development. The family car was not commonplace, but soon it would be. The streetcar trolley made commuting into Springfield possible. The railroads had come to Springfield and big social and economic changes were happening rapidly. The Jazz Age was around the corner.

Builders saw opportunity to make money and help the new residents find places to live. Open space in the northern part of Longmeadow soon became ripe for construction. Paesiello Emerson was almost 70 when he came to Longmeadow in 1900. His activity may have started as a hobby or science experiment but it soon filled his hours. In 1923 Center School was completed and ready for students! By 1925, St. Andrew’s Stone Church was built! The First Church was remodeled and it was an exciting time to experience these first buildings. In 1925 the photographer received the gold-headed ebony cane that was and is traditionally handed to the eldest in the community.  By that point he had been capturing Longmeadow images for a quarter of a century. He passed away at age 95 in late December of 1927.

His legacy today is over 1500 glass plate negatives of our town stored in the LHS vault. You can see the Longmeadow Country Club in 1924 and The Community House with an early car in front during the Spring of 1923. He took photographic images of 214 different locations. A trip to Bermuda at age 80, took him out of the country, yet most of the images are New England locations.. Today we are reminded of his name when we visit Emerson Road, which had been named Depot Road previously. Thanks to his half sister Annie, who lived at 476 Longmeadow Street (corner Emerson Road), for she donated all his work to the LHS after he was gone.

If you are interested in this topic, please go to the Longmeadow Historical Society website for further information about his life and work. He had been a wounded Civil War veteran and a boot maker in the eastern part of the state. The Digital Commonwealth also has links to these photo resources. I googled his name and was directed to a great site called Lost New England which was full of fascinating street scenes in our area and present day comparisons. Enjoy the nostalgic images shown here, and there are plenty more on the website.  You may have seen an exhibit of the photographs at the Storrs Library, and I hope more images will be printed and exhibited soon. Jim Moran, a board member of the LHS has organized the photos and using a map from 1920, placed images in their locations.  This project is called Through the Lens- Longmeadow 100 Years Ago. All of the Emerson glass plate negatives were digitized by the Massachusetts non-profit organization, Digital Commonwealth. This service was provided free so we can browse online and see how Emerson viewed the world.

Betsy Port

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Keep the Big Picture in Mind

This article was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz by Betsy Port- a long time resident of Longmeadow.

Everyday we deal with details and the minutia of life. Groceries, laundry, work, dishes, email corres- pondence and phone calls.  We run errands and drive in circles getting it all done in time for the deadlines we set for ourselves. It is time to reassess our priorities and look at the big picture. What will Longmeadow be like in thirty years? Envision 2046 in your mind… Where will you be? Will I be in New England hanging out with the grandchildren I don’t even have yet?

A 2004 report entitled Longmeadow Faces the Future: The Longmeadow Long Range Plan summarized efforts by both community residents and leaders to create a plan for the future.

There is also a new Long Range Plan Survey that town residents are being asked to complete. 

Check it out! Fill out the answers! It’s time to revise the plan. Have your priorities changed in the last 20-30 years? The values and goals of parents are surely different as younger generations mature. Longmeadowites are responsible for helping our leaders make decisions that will affect the future. How can we cut costs and also increase income? We are 96% residential and do not have the ability to keep increasing real estate taxes.

Let’s take a ride on a magic carpet high above the trees! How does the Town of Longmeadow look from above the treetops? It sure looks green from plane rides I have taken to Bradley as we circle overhead. Does Longmeadow look like a rural suburb or a crowded area near a city? It depends on your view! There is somewhat of a split personality I see that was created by the sometimes-awkward development of our locale. We started as a little farming village within the city. We then became a nearby suburb when Springfield developed from a Western settlement in the 1600s-1700s to a true residential area. Did we need to build six schools? Did we need two town centers? We have a special historical center surrounding a typical New England Town Green and then a second town shopping center built in the 1960s that is undergoing a major renovation this year. Times are constantly changing! When we moved here twenty years ago I felt like I was entering a time warp! This place was not as up to date as the suburban communities I lived in near Boston and Manhattan. Many changes have come to Longmeadow that have improved and updated services and facilities here. The new High School and three elementary school additions were all overdue. Now we need to look ahead and see the future. Can we keep the things we value most?

Please go to the Town website and fill out the Long Range survey as soon as possible. Tell all of your neighbors and friends! Let the leaders of our town know what you need and want. They cannot read our minds, but eagerly await the results of the survey. At least 700 people have already completed the online questions and Richard Foster; Town Chair of the Select Board hopes to double that number. Get involved and be heard! I recently had the opportunity to discuss the town’s future with Mr. Foster and I have a new understanding of just how complicated it is to balance all the factors in developing a comprehensive plan for our collective future. We are lucky to have such a fine group of leaders in our select board with the addition of Bill Low as a new member. Their roles can be difficult as they weigh and balance all the issues. The truth is this – we need to increase our income without adding a huge tax burden to the residents. Let’s get creative and discuss the possibilities.

There are many priorities to consider. Will newcomers want to move to our town? How will the Springfield casino and highway construction impact us? Where will the DPW be relocated? The dump and recycling center can stay where they are in the flood plain, but the storage and office aspects of the DPW must move. Will the Wolf Swamp Fields, Grand Meadows or the former synagogue land on Williams Street become possible solutions? Where will the senior center be built? Should we build senior housing on undeveloped land? Stay tuned for a discussion of the options. I think preserving our parks and open space are the top priority. Participants at the Town Meeting do not want to forfeit our parkland. We do not need shortsighted fixes. Clear-headed solutions are possible if we listen to each other without getting too emotional.

Remember – Always Keep the Big Picture in Mind!

Betsy Port/ Longmeadow, MA

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Mark Gold- Candidate for Re-Election to the Longmeadow Select Board

The following letter was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz blog by Mark Gold, candidate for re-election to the Longmeadow Select Board.

To the Citizens of Longmeadow,

There has been much discussion over the past few months about Longmeadow approaching the Proposition 2½ tax ceiling.  The concern is that Longmeadow’s FY 2016 tax rate is quickly approaching the $25.00 limit allowed by Proposition 2½.  If taxes grow at 2½% per year, and there’s no change in the value of homes, our 2021 budget – just four years from now – will be limited.

As we approach the limit of the town’s ability to raise taxes, there are many actions the town can take, but panic shouldn’t be one of them.  We must not allow the 30 year-old Proposition 2½ law to trigger short-sighted actions that would change the 233 year-old character of Longmeadow.  Many suggested proposals advocate expanded development, including conversion of our open spaces to commercial and residential use.  I disagree with this singular approach and believe that most Longmeadow residents agree with me.  Surveys have consistently indicated that people are attracted to Longmeadow by its parks, tree lined streets, and beautiful residential neighborhoods.  With a thoughtful approach, we can meet the challenge of Proposition 2½ without turning our open spaces into commercial developments and our ball fields into housing sub-divisions.

The tax ceiling limit issue must be addressed by understanding why we are near this limit and developing a comprehensive approach to resolving this challenge.  A discussion with our state legislators about the impact of the tax ceiling will have on Longmeadow is a necessary starting point.  Legislative action that would modify the $25 tax rate ceiling component of the 1982 Proposition 2½ law, while retaining those elements of the statute that limit the town from overspending should be considered.  Carefully considered development should also be included in our plan, as well as actions that provide alternate sources of income.  Four years ago I lead the adoption of the local options meals tax that now provides over $135,000 each year in added revenue, and I believe that opportunities like a solar power facility can be part of a program that provides revenue growth without compromising the character that drew us all to Longmeadow.  Converting taxes to fees, whether for storm water or trash collection, isn’t a long term solution to the issue we face. 

By taking a judicious approach with the open space land we offer for development, looking for new sources of revenue, and keeping a close eye on our spending levels, Longmeadow can continue to provide the level and quality of services we have come to expect without changing either the quality of life or the Town’s character that attracted us to select Longmeadow as our home.

I’m running for re-election to the Longmeadow Select Board because the critical decisions that determine our town’s approach to the Proposition 2½ limits must be made over the next 3 years. I intend to bring the same balanced approach I have brought to other issues in town to the resolution of this challenge.
I ask for your support in the June 14th election to continue as a member of Longmeadow’s Select Board.

Please join me in helping assure the rich future of our community, and that in addressing the financial challenges of the town we don’t compromise the character that defines Longmeadow. 

Mark Gold
Candidate for re-election
Longmeadow Select Board

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Shifting Tides

This article was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz blog by Betsy Port- a long time resident of Longmeadow.

Warm weather is finally here and it is the time of the year that I love to get out in the garden, digging and planting. Last week I went to the hardware store I love to get some potting soil and miscellaneous tools. Walking into the familiar setting, I saw Ken and we chatted. Somehow I fought back the tears…keeping my emotions in check. Brightwood Hardware is moving to Enfield, Connecticut this summer after fifty years in our town. We will all miss this local landmark! Carr Hardware will merge with Brightwood and you may have seen the truck in the parking lot recently.

Vividly I remember the first time we stepped into Brightwood and met Moe Fieldstone in the summer of 1996. His store felt welcoming and friendly in a world taken over by malls and big box stores. “I might like living here!” I thought to myself.  He could find everything easily although his inventory totaled thousands of items. When I asked for paint, he said, “Follow the footsteps!” and my little kids and I headed down the stairs. ...just like a follow the leader game, what fun! He was helpful and knowledgeable and could offer advice about the area when we asked for directions or needed something he did not carry.

Moe told us to buy lampshades in West Hartford, he suggested a place to buy plants in East Longmeadow, and he sold us a caulking and electrical supplies for our old fixer upper. It took us years, but somehow our house became updated and modernized thanks to the supplies and tools available at Brightwood. The kids loved to visit the talking parrot in the basement, while I discussed ant traps or the possible need for deer blood to keep the squirrels away from my bulbs. Speaking of bulbs, we bought many light bulbs there in all shapes and sizes, from little night-lights to large floodlights for the front yard. I found a large Welcome mat for the entrance to our home. We fertilized the garden beds, bought an ice chopper, and we even stocked up on the drain declogger that is a much sought after staple and an item we do not want to run out of. Later, as the years passed and the children got older we got a dog. We gave Dave a lot of business as Cody continually jumped on the screen door and it needed annual fixing. “let me in”, the puppy said silently. Basically, Moe and his staff became our home support system to a young family relocating to New England who knew almost no one here twenty years ago. The kids could buy candy and some small toys as I perused the aisles looking for plastic shelf paper or a spool of twine. They made keys for us and sharpened our scissors many times over. We put change in the MS donation container and got a piece of gum. Every time I bought a peppermint paddy I was reminder of my grandfather in Connecticut who gave them to me as a child.

So why am I feeling so emotional about a hardware store? I am taking this opportunity to reminisce because I know our time here will change without a local place for home supplies. The tides of change are becoming more obvious as I see mounds of dirt near the bank – are they building the pyramids? Where will the farmer’s market go? I know a huge CVS will be built but will the homey charm of this neighborhood shopping area in the suburbs still retain that local feeling I like?  The Big Y will improve and that is a very welcome change, but I might miss the small town feeling evident when we arrived here. Little businesses get swallowed up in this modern world, and I know that we must all adapt to the changing times. Bigger isn’t always better, although I know the bigger shopping options across the way at the shops will allow for a redesigned parking lot that we hope will bring with it a safer flow of traffic. I am just feeling thankful that my children knew a local old-fashioned hardware store that was warm, friendly and convenient. As for me, I will trek to Enfield along route 5 and think of the good ole days! I won’t go anywhere else – that is loyalty! I am feeling thankful that the tradition will continue nearby.

Betsy Port
Longmeadow Resident

Friday, May 6, 2016

Replacing the Wolf Swamp Road School Principal...

This letter was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz blog by a Wolf Swamp Road School parent who is concerned by process for selecting a new principal to replace Dr. Neil Gile.

For the past 5 years, Wolf Swamp has been extremely fortunate to have Dr. Gile at the helm.  He has brought incredible energy and compassion to the school, and we are all tremendously appreciative of his tireless efforts on behalf of our school community and wish him well in his new endeavor.  Dr. Gile's departure is certainly a huge loss for not only Wolf Swamp, but the entire Longmeadow community.  

With Dr. Gile’s departure, Superintendent Doyle is responsible for hiring a new principal.  The timing of Dr. Gile’s departure and Superintendent Doyle hiring his replacement is complicated by the fact that Superintendent Doyle is retiring on June 30th, and she will be replaced by Martin O’Shea.  Therefore, Superintendent Doyle will never actually work with the new principal who is slated to start on August 1st.  

On Tuesday, May 3rd, Wolf Swamp parents received an email from Superintendent Doyle outlining a very quick application and vetting process for hiring Dr. Gile's replacement.  The position of principal at Wolf Swamp is a very important one and unfortunately, this position has been a bit of a revolving door lately.  Just during my own children's time here, we have had Kim Stillwell for a few years, Dr. Gile, and now this new hire will make the third principal in the past 8 years.   We want to ensure that the person selected will be happy, stay at the school long term, and have a productive relationship with the superintendent. 

Considering that Superintendent Doyle is retiring before this new principal would even start, I think that it is in the best interest of the school community for the entire process of hiring the new principal to be in the hands of incoming Superintendent O'Shea.   Although Superintendent Doyle's email refers to having Martin O'Shea involved in the process, I am not confident that he will be allowed to be an independent voice in the process with Superintendent Doyle holding the reins.  Also, I am interested to know how much input Superintendent O’Shea has had or will have in this process as he is not officially working for the department yet.  Did he help write the job description?  Did he create the hurried time line?  Will he help review the applications to determine which candidates are promising? Will he conduct site visits to finalists’ current districts?  Who holds the final vote: Superintendent Doyle or O’Shea?

Furthermore, the current timeline indicates that a decision will be made on June 13th, which would make this entire process only 6 weeks from posting the position to filling it, and only 3 weeks of screening, vetting, interviews, site visits, and consideration from the time of the application deadline.  There are 4 days between the job posting being closed and in person interviews.  How are these applications going to be vetted so quickly and interviews arranged in mere hours?  This would seem to limit the pool to applicants in a very restricted geographic area and raises concerns about whether the position has already been earmarked for someone.  It is hard to believe that a thorough review of candidates can be conducted in such a short amount of time.  Curiously, June 13th is the day before town elections when two of the current school committee members' terms will end and two new voices will be elected to the committee.  It would be fair and prudent to let these new school committee members have a hand in selecting the principal in conjunction with the superintendent with whom the principal will work. 

I am concerned that this process is being unduly rushed so Superintendent Doyle can select the principal and then leave without any accountability to the Wolf Swamp community.  Therefore, I am asking Superintendent Doyle to respectfully and professionally step aside and allow incoming Superintendent O'Shea to lead the entire process. With a projected start date of August 1st, there will be time for the process to be conducted entirely under Superintendent O’Shea’s direction.  I don't object to starting the process now by advertising the position; however, the review of applications, selection of candidates for interviews, interviews, and hiring decision should be entirely in the hands of Mr. O'Shea and the selection committee that is put together, even though that entails stretching the time-line.  We are talking about a delay of a few weeks, which is worth it to get the process right the first time.

I realize that the timing of hiring a principal is delicate and ideally completed prior to the end of a school year to ensure continuity between the outgoing and incoming principals.  I understand that principals undertake an enormous amount of work during the summer in terms of including planning, restructuring curriculum, and squaring away budget allocations, and leaving the position unfilled is less than ideal.  However, hiring this late in the current school year might handicap the caliber of candidates applying, as it is likely the best qualified candidates have already solidified plans for the upcoming school year.  That being said, I feel that the time line for the search and hiring is being unduly rushed to fit into the allotted time left in the current superintendent’s tenure.  My understanding is that principals usually receive 3 year contracts, and if this process is rushed to fit into manufactured timed constraints it could result in a less than ideal choice.  This would mean Wolf Swamp would have to suffer through that time and then do the whole thing all over again and perpetuate the revolving door of principals. I think it would be better to have an interim person fill in so we can take the time to do it right. I fear that a bad choice in the principal’s office has the potential to poison the whole school.  A three-year contract might not seem like a long time if the wrong choice is made, but please consider that is half of a child’s elementary school career.

I understand that hiring principals is at the sole discretion of the superintendent and the selection committee has no real power.  I am respectfully asking Superintendent Doyle to slow this process down to ensure that we have a thorough search of qualified candidates rather than a hasty rush to get the first available person who meets the minimum qualifications.  Furthermore, I am asking Superintendent Doyle to cede the entire process to her successor, Marty O’Shea, since she will not work with this new principal.  I truly think it is important for the new superintendent and the new school committee to have ownership and accountability for their choice. If the new principal turns out to be a disaster, Superintendent O'Shea should own it - he should not be able to blame Superintendent Doyle. And if, as I hope, the principal turns out to be wonderful, then he should get all the credit for it.

I am writing this as not only a concerned parent of 3 children who are progressing through Wolf Swamp and the Longmeadow schools, but as a graduate of Wolf Swamp. For 30 years I have had a connection to Wolf Swamp, and I care very deeply about this wonderful school.  It would be disheartening to see a rash process diminish the spirit and quality of the school. 

Please remember that we all want what is best for our children at Wolf Swamp.  They should not have to suffer because there was a rush to check off a box before time expired.  The Wolf Swamp community deserves a thorough process entirely under the direction of the incoming leadership team. 

If you support this effort, please join the group of Wolf Swamp parents at the School Committee meeting on Monday, May 9th at 7 PM at Longmeadow HS in room A15 (central office).  A strong show of support is vital as we work to ensure that the process of selecting a new principal for our children is handled with the importance and time it deserves.  Please also take the time to contact Superintendent Doyle and the members of the School Committee.

Laura Gebhardt
Wolf Swamp Parent