Rochester to tackle solar, fixes, upgrades at Town Meeting

Nov 13, 2019

ROCHESTER Solar projects, repairs to town property and a controversial Old Rochester Regional High School press box project will be on the agenda when fall Town Meeting convenes on Monday.

Held at Rochester Memorial School, the meeting will begin at 7 p.m. All registered voters can attend, participate and vote.

The press box project will have Town Meeting revisit a proposal that was shot down in the spring. The Old Rochester Regional Athletic Booster Club is requesting $20,000, Rochester’s share to construct a handicap-accessible press box at the high school’s primary athletic field.

Last spring, Mattapoisett and Marion approved money for the press box. The measure failed in Rochester after some residents complained about the cost and the fact that, while the press box would be on public property, the town was being asked to give money to the private booster group.

Justin Shay, president of the booster club, said that the box was torn down in 2002, during renovations and there were plans for it to be rebuilt, but it never was.

Shay talked with a member of the ORR School Building Committee, who said the project was cut as a cost-saving measure, when the school failed to take into account how expensive handicap access would be.

The president said that his plan for  the box goes beyond the minimum handicap requirement to improve the view for sports fans who require handicap access, and that, if approved the project would be completed by May 2020.

At an October review meeting, Selectmen expressed discomfort because the project would give taxpayer dollars to a private organization. Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar said the move was illegal.

But Shay said he has been working to address wording changes to avoid that hurdle.

“I have been working with town officials to make sure that the wording is cleared up and that at Town Meeting, we are discussing the merit of the project and not splitting legal hairs,” Shay said.

He added that, “the majority of town officials that I have spoken with think... it will benefit the citizens and community as a whole.  They simply want to make sure that it gets done in a legal and fiscally responsible manner.  As a resident of Rochester,  I respect their efforts.”

Another article related to an accessory structure to a school would allow the Board of Selectmen to negotiate an agreement for payment in lieu of taxes for a proposed solar project at Rochester Memorial School.

The rooftop array could produce 60% of the school’s electricity needs and avoid the emission of 5,300 tons of carbon dioxide over a 20 year contract.

In early October, the town and school were looking at the contract, which means the Rochester School Committee has not yet voted to approve the project. 

Another article asks Town Meeting voters to allow Selectmen to enter into a PILOT agreement with a solar project developer at 61 Mendell Road.

Selectman Woody Hartley explained that PILOT agreements are “beneficial to the town because it’s a contract. You know exactly how much you will get for 20 years.” Hartley explained that even if the laws change, the organizations would still have their contract. The agreement also lets the town incorporate solar payments into its budget. 

Three other Town Meeting articles are not thematically related, but are somewhat geographically related, as they deal with fixes that are right next to each other.

One article would allocate $17,000 for an overflow parking area on Dexter Lane next to the Senior Center. Work on that project was first proposed in June.  Selectmen and the Friends of the Senior Center put together some money for the project, and had some Rochester residents donate work time to the effort. As a result, clearing of the land for the project started in September.

Hartley said the project is critical especially for presidential elections, where Rochester uses the Senior Center and has run out of parking in the past.

The town also intends to apply for a lighting grant for the lot, which is also critical, as November elections run well past dark.

Parks Commissioner David Hughes presented an article that would build a concrete structure with a covering for picnic tables, a handicap accessible sidewalk and two picnic tables near the park.

Hughes explained at an Oct. 7 meeting that the playground is the most-used part of Dexter Lane Ballfield, but that he has not done any work on it in five or six years.

Another article in the area would swap a small strip of land from the Parks Department, near the police station and give it to the town to use.

Selectman Brad Morse was on the committee that originally planned the land swap. “That was our purpose when we designed it,” Morse said.

Other articles include allocating $50,000 to purchase a dump sander truck and an update to the town’s tax maps.