By Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW – Voters at the Nov. 5 Special Town Meeting approved the bonding of an additional $1.3 million to be used for the completion of the construction of a new Department of Public Works headquarters on Dwight Road.
Town Moderator Rebecca Townsend’s declaration of a two-thirds majority vote was supported by a subsequent hand count with 111 residents in favor and 45 opposed.
Prior to the vote, Finance Director Paul Pasterczyk told those assembled in the gymnasium at Longmeadow High School that the total expected costs for the project are now up to nearly $23.9 million, including $1.35 million in unissued bonds approved at the initial vote on the project that he expected would be utilized and the additional $1.3 million in new bonding.
At issue has been the discovery and subsequent required removal of widespread asbestos contamination on the site.
Building Committee Chair Marybeth Bergeron explained there was some known asbestos remediation that needed to be done in the existing tennis club’s structure, but major unforeseen delays and costs became realized when heavy rains exposed asbestos throughout the site after the asphalt parking lot was removed.
“I can tell you that there is not a soul involved who hasn’t gotten very angry and upset,” Bergeron said. “You cannot bid and you cannot anticipate what you cannot see … That is exactly what happened here. There was no choice. We had to move forward.”
Select Board Chair Marie Angelides fielded several questions regarding the site and possible courses of action. Citing environmental laws, she stated the town became responsible for the removal of the asbestos containing materials as soon as they were discovered. She also stressed that options such as stopping the project and redesigning the facility could cost the town more money due to factors including the rapidly increasing cost of materials.
When asked about legal liabilities, Angelides said the town was “looking to the courts to find remedies and remedies are out there,” however, they would not present viable options in the short term to address the costs of the project.
Earlier in the meeting, residents voted in favor of transferring $125,000 to the fiscal year operating budget to cover legal costs, including those related to the DPW facility.
Angelides confirmed at that time that the town was preparing for litigation. When asked if a criminal investigation against the previous landowner was being pursued, Angelides said she could not say, but noted the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has filed a complaint against them and charged them with illegal disposal of hazardous materials.
Finance Committee Chair Maury Garrett said his committee supported the article and stressed that this issue was more scrutinized than any other on the warrant.