Think Tank session shows Auburn ready to launch into the futureMar 10, 2021 10:14AM ● By Rob Lee
The entrance to the Auburn Public Library. As part of a $1 million redevelopment project in the town of Auburn, the library will get a sunroom off the back of the building, and a connection to Goddard Park by way of a pedestrian bridge.
A “Think Tank” meeting hosted by the Auburn Chamber of Commerce via Zoom the morning of February 10 and featuring Town Manager Julie A. Jacobson as lead presenter showed how much Auburn has accomplished in the ten years since she arrived on the scene from neighboring Worcester.
Ms. Jacobson, speaking from behind her desk, wasted no time in ticking off the positives, starting with a total of $41,749,475 in savings to taxpayers through FY 2021 “and never a 2-1/2 override,” for example. Then there is free cash, which has grown from $1.4 million to nearly $16 million over that period; and more than two hundred grants received, totaling $6,246,516.
All of which points the town toward “priorities” it will be focused on for the coming year: enhanced public health initiatives related to the Covid-19 pandemic including education and outreach; no large crowd events; a continuation of the delivery of services through various mechanisms including remote communication; continued economic and housing development; grants management; continued roadway improvements; “conservative budgeting and adherence to financial policies;” and regular updates provided to residents of the town.
Looming large on the development front, Ms. Jacobson pointed out, is the need for a new public safety facility. Neither the Auburn Police Department nor the Auburn Fire Department buildings can be renovated. “We have no idea if residents will support” such a facility, to be located somewhere between “the mall and Loew’s,” but “that will be on our radar screen” going forward with a Town Meeting vote on the issue anticipated soon, she said.
A highlight of Ms. Jacobson’s “exciting news” for her fellow Zoom’ers (in a meeting moderated by the Chamber’s Virginia Murphy) was a recitation of development projects around town. Principal among these is work involving Auburn St., Drury Square, the Auburn Free Public Library and Goddard Park.
Noting that “you can’t get there from here,” Ms. Jacobson said a pedestrian bridge will be built, connecting the library with Goddard Park. With this there will be construction of a large sunroom on the back of the library and improvements to Goddard Park itself.
The pedestrian bridge, she said, will link the two parcels of land, which are separated by Auburn Pond.
“Planning is only good if you implement it—and we are,” she said.
With more than $500,000 in grant money already received from the Pappas Foundation toward the library/Goddard Park piece, the town is halfway there “to get this done,” Ms. Jacobson said. This is the costliest component, she said. “Engineering is very expensive.”
The Camp Gleason renovation project, the new joint public safety facility, completion of “Mary D. Stone redevelopment into senior housing with playground upgrades,” redevelopment of the Julia Bancroft property into senior housing, proposed commercial/industrial development on fifty acres at 190 Washington St. (the Dartmouth property), proposed development of 50 Washington St. and development of 325-unit Chapter 40B housing at The Reserves at Ashworth Hill are all on the drawing board.
Wayfinding, streetscape and street lighting work will be undertaken. “We are finalizing a wayfinding logo” that will bear the message “Auburn: Embracing the past and launching into the future,” she said.
“In my opinion” the various projects that have been ticketed for completion “will enhance the business community of this town,” Ms. Jacobson said.
Ms. Jacobson enjoyed a receptive and appreciative audience in the person of School Superintendent Casey Handfield, Steve Londregan of Chuck’s Steak House & Margarita Grille, Dennis Antonopoulos of Edward Jones, Kerri Cunningham of Fuller Automotive, Tina Puzo of bankHometown, Realtor Matteo Gentile and Jackie Faron of Atlas Distributing.
All shared their thoughts on operating businesses in the face of a worldwide pandemic.
“Like everyone else, we had to adjust,” Ms. Puzo said. “We can do pretty much everything at the drive-up.”
Ms. Jacobson agreed.
“People used to say you could never work remote if you are a public-service employee. That’s just not true. You can be anywhere and service that customer. We have a drive-through kiosk in our parking lot. If banks and McDonald’s can service through a window, why not us?”
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.