School Committee Balks At Ceding Land For Chatham COA

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Monomoy Regional School District , council on aging

A conceptual plan shows how a senior center could fit on land off Stepping Stones Road near the bike trail. COURTESY ILLUSTRATION

HARWICH — Without taking a formal vote, Monomoy Regional School Committee members made it clear last week that they’re not excited at the prospect of providing the town of Chatham with access to 1.5 acres off Stepping Stones Road for a new senior center.

Meeting on Feb. 11, the committee discussed the possibility of declaring as surplus the parcel of land between Stepping Stones Road and the Old Colony Rail Tail, where petitioners have suggested the town should build a new council on aging. The proposal will be brought before voters in a special town meeting on March 7, but before then, it will be the subject of a special Chatham selectmen’s meeting on Feb. 24 at 5 p.m.

“It’s kind of an interesting situation for the school committee to be in,” Chairman Jackie Zibrat-Long of Chatham told the meeting. She asked Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter whether, under the petitioners’ proposal, the schools would lose access to any of the existing parking area near the basketball courts.

Particularly during sports events, “that lot is frequently used,” Carpenter said, though the petitioners’ proposal calls for all 60 of the parking spaces to be located on the parcel in question, which is separated from the remainder of the property by the bike trail. The existing parking area is used not only for sporting events, but provides an alternative location for parents to pick up their children without having to join a traffic jam on Crowell Road, he said.

“We already clearly have a parking issue,” Zibrat-Long said. The existing parking spaces are over-utilized, and the area is also a fire evacuation route designated by the Chatham Fire Department, she added.

With Chatham selectmen favoring a tract of donated land at 1610 Main St., West Chatham, for the new council on aging, school committee member Joseph Auciello of Chatham said he would tend to support that plan in favor of using the Stepping Stones Road land.

“If I were to vote right now, that’s the direction I would take,” he said.

Another Chatham representative on the school committee, Nancy Scott, said she favors leaving the wooded area off Stepping Stones Road intact.

“It’s just a nice buffer to our property,” she said. Scott said she frequently walks the rail trail in that area, and sees lots of kids present at dismissal time. “Just adding additional cars into the mix in that area” causes her concern, she said. “I can see where it might be helpful for the school to have that for expansion,” she added.

The Stepping Stones property, like the rest of the Monomoy Regional Middle School property, is owned by the town of Chatham and leased to the school district. In order for any portion of it to be released back to the town, the school committee must vote to declare it surplus.

Zibrat-Long said she has concerns about additional vehicle traffic in an area where pedestrians are present and bikes speed downhill on the bike path, sometimes failing to stop when crossing the road.

“Accidents happen,” she said. “This road itself is a nightmare to me.”

Terry Russell, a Harwich representative to the school committee, said it’s clear the Chatham selectmen have weighed their decision carefully. “I think it’s a Chatham decision,” he said. But if the Cranberry Valley Golf Course came to the school committee asking for Monomoy High School land to add additional holes, “I probably would be in objection to that,” he said.

School committee member Jo-anne Sheehan of Chatham said having a senior center on the Stepping Stones Road parcel makes her uncomfortable.

“It’s not resting well with me,” she said. “It’s a neighborhood. It’s full of houses.” Any more vehicle or pedestrian traffic in the area would pose a safety problem, and the idea of using land near a fire evacuation route for the school is a particularly bad idea, Sheehan said.

School committee member Tina Games of Harwich said she worries about traffic on Stepping Stones Road, and said the existing parking area is a quieter place for parents to pick up their children at the end of the day.

“We have kids with special needs. It creates a lot of anxiety” for some children to be picked up as part of the usual crush of students, Games said.

Though a strong majority of school committee members opposed the idea of offering the Stepping Stones Road land back to the town, the committee took no vote, having not received any formal request to declare the land surplus.