ORLEANS — Town hall went back to its roots as a schoolhouse Tuesday, introducing 40-plus Orleans Elementary School fifth graders to their local government's people and services. At the end of the morning, the students strolled around town-owned Sea Call Farm.
Selectman Kevin Galligan, the first to greet the classes, asked what they thought selectmen did. “Make decisions,” a girl said. To get something done, Galligan said, it's important “to listen to what people say.” No one guessed what he considers the hardest part of his jobs: dog hearings.
“I understand the theme today is conservation,” Galligan said. “I've been involved in conservation since 1985. Your parents, your grandparents went to town meeting to buy Sea Call Farm, the most special property in town.”
Downstairs, Town Clerk Cynthia May invited everyone to crowd into the town's vault. “If you had your toys stored here, think how many more toys you could have,” she said. The children crowded around as May brought out the town seal, which was used to emboss certificates for each of the boys and girls.
The youngsters had a lively time talking with the town's new assessor, Brad Hinote. “We cut up the town of Orleans into little pieces of land,” he said. “Most of your parents own the little pieces. My job is to determine who owns it, how big it is, what's on it, and how much it's worth.” Parents pay taxes on the pieces of land, Hinote said, “and the taxes pay for the school bus, the buildings, the roads, getting snow off the roads. All of your parents have to help us pay it up.”
“Do you have to pay taxes?” a child asked. “Yes,” said Hinote. Another asked if he had to document his own land. The assessor, who lives in Harwich, said he's doing just that so he can fence in an area for his dog, a husky. Some of the children knew Hinote's fiancee, OES occupational therapist Danielle DeSimone.
As Treasurer Collector Scott Walker talked to the class about making tax payments, Diana Hunt found herself the center of attention as she arrived to pay an excise tax on her old car. Accounting clerk Meghan Mahieu accepted the payment.
The tour continued through the finance, planning and water departments (did you know there are a thousand hydrants in town?). Health agent Bob Canning had the students watch a video on the proper way to cough and sneeze, which featured experts judging various methods. The boys and girls were soon groaning when someone sneezed or coughed into his hand rather than onto clothing covering the crook of one's arm. Canning urged everyone to tell their parents so they can tell others. One boy said his mother has allergies and wears a mask at home if she's sneezing. “Your mom must really love everyone in the house to be doing that,” Canning said.
In 1959, Building Commissioner Tom Evers said, the town's building code was covered in nine pages. Then he disappeared below the department counter and surfaced with a stack of several fat volumes. “Today, it's thousands of pages,” he said. “Why do we need a building code?” teacher Cirrus Farber asked the students, and one replied, “If you don't build it right, someone could get hurt.”
After the tour, everyone moved over to the lawn and steps of the Orleans Historical Society's Meetinghouse for a snack and group picture. Historian Bonnie Snow, who had the idea for the tours more than a decade ago, prepared the youngsters for the short bus ride to Sea Call Farm by explaining how the town purchased the property's six acres for $1.65 million.
Because of that decision, she said, “Now we can all go to Sea Call Farm, have a picnic, go down to the shore clamming, rent a plot for a summer garden, or just go for a walk.” That last is just what the fifth graders did later, walking up the steep farm road to an overlook that on this bright autumn day promised a view of the Provincetown Monument.
Like the former owner of the farm, Gertrude Fiske, the students will write about their visit and the theme of conservation in pieces that will be on display at the historical society.
“Are you learning something?” Snow asked a girl standing in line.