READING – For some, it was the culmination of a process that began in 2007. For others, it was a reason to release Welch’s Sparkling Rose.
“I feel like I have to honestly pinch myself,” Recreation Administrator Genevieve Fiorente said after the Select Board’s unanimous vote approving $1.5 million in ARPA funds to begin the redesign of Birch Meadow. “I never thought the day would come and I’d still be here when it did. I’m just beyond excited that this is a priority for the community and I think it will just be a great asset to everyone. .
In a four-hour meeting on Tuesday, the Select Board approved ARPA funds for five different uses. It’s a scene that has been going on for months, with the ARPA Review Advisory Committee (RAAC) recommending how to spend portions of the city’s $7.6 million ARPA pie and the select committee discussing and then approving those recommendations.
But this time it was different.
It all started with the arrival of the Sparkling Rose and cupcakes donated by board member Karen Herrick. And that included applause when each of the five items was approved, a far cry from the silence or occasional “thank you” of previous approvals.
“I would like to congratulate Reading. It was a long road to get here. Well done everyone and celebrate,” Herrick said after the votes.
But it also led to RAAC chair Marianne Downing being surprised at the pop-up party, which she viewed via Zoom.
“We’re not done yet. The worst is yet to come, we warn you,” Downing said. “I didn’t know it was a party time.”
Downing was referring to the last RAAC meeting on October 12, a meeting that will include a decision on how much money to give to essential city workers. The topic sparked lively discussions among RAAC members and with $1,917,314 left to spend, there is still a lot of work to be done.
But you couldn’t blame Fiorente for partying.
The council vote means Phase 1 of the Birch Meadow Master Plan can finally start in 2023. It all started in 2007 with the formation of the Birch Meadow Master Plan Sub-Committee. As the timeline in the Select Board package explained, the plan has been reviewed and revised several times. From the sub-committee to the task force, from the municipal inquiry to the municipal consultant, there has been a lot of discussion, but no real work has been done. This will change with the council’s vote.
“It’ll just be another massive win for the city,” Chris Haley said at the start of the draft.
The money will cover the creation of a central spine/walkway ($800,000) that starts at the left corner of the varsity softball field and goes left from the tennis courts to the parking lot. It would include a pavilion with benches and restrooms as well as a lacrosse practice wall ($150,000). The final installment of Phase 1 is $550,000 for the Imagination Station parking lot which will include 38 spaces as well as wetland restoration. Tuesday’s Select Board package includes drawings of the artwork and additional information.
When Phase 1 is complete, the plan is to add two artificial turf softball fields and a football field where there are now three turf softball fields. Additionally, pickleball courts behind the clubhouse and grass courts behind Coolidge are planned.
As for the other four recipients:
The YMCA of Burbank received $96,100 to create four major programs for children and adults with disabilities. The four programs include adapted swimming lessons for children and young adults, adapted aquatic exercise programs for adults with disabilities, a weekly or bi-weekly social group for children and young adults with disabilities, and mental health services. Reading residents will be given priority for all courses.
The Historical Commission will receive $13,500 to digitize 20 original photographs and maps of the history of reading, many of which are currently on display in the Boardroom and Board Room at City Hall. The money would also be used to hire a temporary archivist to sort, catalog and store documents, books and photographs in the municipal archives collection and to upgrade the current collections management database.
The Conservation Commission will receive $22,500 to manage invasive species, manage Bare Meadow, as well as install a bike rack at Mattera Cabin.
And finally, the Reading Food Pantry will receive $46,200 which includes money for two new refrigerators ($12,000), one year of gift cards ($19,200) and a space consultant to find a new home for the pantry in Reading ($15,000).
In total, the Select Board approved additional expenditures of $1,673,800 from the city’s ARPA funds.
Since May, the Reading ARPA Advisory Committee (RAAC) had approved spending most of the city’s original ARPA funds ($7,592,234) and the Select Board, which has the final say, agreed. Many were deemed urgent.
The select committee approved:
$2 million for a new literacy program for schools.
$650,000 to help limit rising water and sewer rates.
$900,000 for services for seniors.
$250,000 for covid supplies and test kits.
$77,000 for flood mitigation in Maillet Sommes.
$8,000 to survey two lots on Sanborn Lane.
$11,620 for the trail committee for work at Mattera Cabin as well as improvements to the boardwalk.
$100,000 to the Municipal Forestry Committee to continue its work of removing dead trees and invasive species.
And adding Tuesday night:
$1,500,000 for Phase I of Birch Meadow
$91,600 for YMCA adapted swimming supervised by the recreation committee
$13,500 for the Historical Commission
$22,500 for the Conservation Commission
$46,200 for the Reading Food Pantry
This amounts to $5,670,420, or 75% of the city’s ARPA funds. The Reading ARPA Advisory Committee meets for the last time on October 12, and the Select Committee will then vote on its recommendations. Another party might be on this agenda.