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Got Any Ideas for the Nichewaug?

On Nov. 13, 2017, the Worcester Telegram published a story bearing the headline "Got Any Ideas for an Old Inn?" The question has finally been answered - tear the whole thing down.

A new Nichewaug Inn and Academy Committee surveyed town households in an effort to determine a preferred course for the future of the property. The survey produced an anemic response that indicates that some people would like to create a park and some recreation on the site but no answer as to why the town has not rebuilt an existing double tennis court or provided water for ice in an existing skating area.


Parts of the lower levels are filled with ground water? Why not turn on or repair the sump pump system that kept them dry for decades. Leaky roof in places? Fix it. General maintenance of the exterior? Is that not the cost of ownership?

The year 2017 was a banner year for the old place. The town did commit more than $500,000 - a half million dollars - to remove asbestos from the buildings. That would make the place more attractive to a hopeful redeveloper. So now the floor tiles and ceiling tiles have been ripped out and -- except for some pesky groundwater in the large auditorium -- that work is done. Now we face another series of committee meetings intended to determine whether there is town-wide agreement on a way forward.

A plan for the Nichewaug

For the record, the town accepted ownership of the buildings with the notion that a citizens' committee would be better able to come up with a redevelopment plan than the handful of private owners who had tried since the girls' Catholic school was shuttered in the mid-70s. That two-year effort did not go so well and finally sputtered to a stop.

It is increasingly clear that certain town officials including Nancy Allen and Becky Legare (our current Selectboard) and Ann Lewis, who chaired the current Nichewaug Committee, want much of the complex demolished if some part of the historic inn could be reused.  None of them has come up with a way to pay for such a step.

Most residents are understandably weary of all this. Misinformation abounds. Some voices proclaim that the buildings are decrepit, neglected by their owner (the town) and should be demolished But no expert analysis has been done. Other voices say that any redevelopment would destroy the center of our town. The facts do not support that opinion. One after another, experts who have looked at the structures report that the complex is in surprisingly good shape despite years of no maintenance and shameful neglect. As a school with more than 140 students and a full staff, the place did not ruin our town center.

Ideas? Absolutely. The property could have delivered solutions to any number of pressing problems, all without taking away from the beauty of our town center. Any development could be predicated on providing a low-density mixed-use opportunity to meet several needs.

Petersham's town offices are presently housed in a charming antique building that could only be brought up to code at great expense. They could move to the Nichewaug buildings and easily be made accessible to all. The space is ready for renovation.

The town has no senior housing. Senior apartments could be created at the Nichewaug. A "chapel" at the front of the property could serve as a senior center. It is as big as the lower town  hall

Moderate income housing is also lacking. State law gives developers who include low and moderate income housing in their development plans a pass on local zoning rules. Petersham currently has no low or moderate income housing. The Nichewaug  could include a number of units for seniors in the former nuns quarters.

More than 100 home-based businesses in town have no local space in which to grow. A Boston consultant recommended  considering a few condominiums but didn't really think much about a mixed-use project that could blend accessible town offices, senior housing, private housing units and other units to meet community needs and generate income at the same time - all without disrupting the look of the common.

Even the rooftop has value and could produce new revenue. It could host about 3,500 square feet of solar panels to produce an estimated 85,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year and more than $25,000 in new revenue. A redevelopment could even provide some relief to the nearby library by supplying water and sewer services.

The town owns the building. It could continue to do so while working with groups like the Petersham Partners committee (meeting the needs of our seniors) and others who might want to take on small pieces of what could become a mixed-use facility. The town could create an Economic Development group or a Redevelopment Authority to serve as an independent landlord for several tenants. Leasehold improvements could be the tenants' responsibility.

The town has convened community meetings to see if a "consensus" can be agreed upon.  If the answer is NO, then we go back to square one and the "tear it down folks" will come back in force with a recommendation to spend more than half million for demolition -- to throw away a building that could meet several needs and generate new revenue for the town -- a building which the town presently values at $626,000.

Demolition brings the out of pocket cost of creating a big blank spot in our town center to somewhere around $200,000 an acre.

What's really missing here? Simply put - the town suffers from a lack of imagination and an absence of willingness to take direct responsibility for a complicated task. It is past time to stop looking for a saviour. The Nichwaug was not a monolithic big problem. Rather it was a set of small opportunities that could work well together to meet several pressing local needs.

Now it is just 6.6 acres of missed opportunities.

Where Are All of You?

The US 2010 Census Bureau said 1,234 people live here. Our town government spends a bit more than $4 million each year on roads, schools and all that other stuff.
Two people attended a recent Selectboard meeting. Three Selectmen, two town employees, two newspaper reporters, the transfer station assistant and the animal control person were among them. Two just plain residents? Where is everybody else?

Drunk - On (Our) Money

The US will overspend its income by more than $1 trillion again in the coming year. You don't have to be a right-winger to work out that most households would be in huge trouble if they spent more than they earned.

So how about Congress and the President? The US spends 10X more than anyone else in the world for weapons and soldiers, billions on aid to other countries, billions for agencies that spend their time writing more rules and more regulations designed to "fix" everything that could possibly go wrong.

Isn't it about time that someone in government realized it is time to re-think, to spend less? To limit the costly rules and regulations that  drain needed dollars from home budgets and small businesses? To recognize that household budgets are straining, people are cutting household spending so they can stay warm and pay for gasoline? Or is government at all levels just drunk on our money?


The System Is Broken - 1

"We are sorry for the delay but all of our representatives are helping other customers. Please stay on the line and someone will be with you shortly." How many times have you heard that and waited 20 or more minutes to get  a simple question answered? Are call volumes "unusually high" or do these companies simply not have enough folks answering the phones? Here's an idea -- hire a few more call center representatives. Answer more calls in less time. Give a few folks badly needed jobs and give the rest of us a little well-deserved relief..

Call or write:
Sen. Anne Gobi 617-722-1540
Rep. Susanna Lee 617-722-2425

                        DAY - D. Tatlock

To find out who your legislators are, visit the Massachusetts legislature's website at . Or just look at the bottom left hand corner of the home page.

Send all snail mail to: The Honorable (name of your state representative/state senator) State House, Boston, MA 02133. Your representatives all have e-mail addresses as well.


Sometimes it is a good thing to live at the top of a hill.






If you have a comment, click to send it here.

Dear Editor:


It was a Banana Republic kind of day

Brash, gutsy, armed to the teeth

A racist rebellion sort of grandstand

An ideal vision of hell-on-earth news

Emboldened by a defeated president

With unprecedented gall

The throng amassed at his command

Envisioning American Carnage

Wrought and paid for by the power

Of an Emperor-King, a Grand Poohbah proclaiming

An Imperial Presidency, Donald J's self-grandeur

Emboldened the gathering to mob up and march

To the Capital, they went smashing norms

So, the Pretender-to-the-Reelection Throne

Might live another day as Ruler-in-Chief

Clothed in the gauze of legitimacy.

LOCK HIM UP! ,...before he strikes again.

Genevieve Fraser
Orange, MA 01364

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Perhaps a Refund is in Order?

US Senators are paid a base salary of $174,000 a year for their work. Our Senator Elizabeth Warren has understandably been busy during the past year -- too busy to do the job she is paid to do. She is running for president of course.

Warren ranks fourth among all senators in the number of senate votes missed.

All Senators most absent
#1 64.7% Sen. Cory Booker [D-NJ]
#2 63.3% Sen. Bernard “Bernie” Sanders [I-VT]
#3 61.9% Sen. Kamala Harris [D-CA]
#4 53.7% Sen. Elizabeth Warren [D-MA]
#5 39.3% Sen. Amy Klobuchar [D-MN]

Presumably, the paycheck keeps coming, regardless of day absent from  senate deliberations.

Perhaps a refund is in order from the senator.