1. ARPA PUBLIC INPUT
A discussion was held relative to a city response to motions filed by Councilors Mercier, Drinkwater and Nuon on the topic of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. In sum, the City is still in the process of figuring out what spending is allowed under the American Rescue Plan Act and how to best make use of the funds. Progress on this issue should be forthcoming after the hiring of an ARPA Finance Manager (expected in the next couple of weeks), followed by an additional series of hearings.
Why it matters: News reports have begun to surface of other communities’ plans for their ARPA funds. For example, in early December, New Bedford announced plans for how they intend to spend their $80 million in funding (Source). Lowell, on the other hand, appears to be taking a slower more deliberate path. As pointed out by Council Nuon, and Councilor Scott, it is important to take time to speak with residents and businesses to find out where stakeholders want to see the money spent. Further it is critical that we do not run afoul of federal regulations.
2. LHS PROJECT
Representatives from Suffolk, Perkins Eastman and Skanska were present to provide the new council an update as to the status of the Lowell High Project. There should have been a slide-show presentation, however there was a technical glitch and LTC was unable to broadcast the visuals. Hopefully, the city will publish this information on its website.
In sum, Phase 1 of the project is moving along smoothly and should be ready for “start up” in the Summer of 2022. In addition recent rumors of cuts to the scope of the project (ex: a loading dock being eliminated) are unfounded, as we were assured “the building is being built as designed.”
Further, Councilor Gitschier brought forth a motion requesting that the City Manager have all School Building Committee Meetings aired live on LTC. My understanding is that these meetings are aired live – however, there may be issues with the published start time of the meetings as well as the availability of other project information online. The discussion that followed echoed comments made during last week’s meeting calling for more information on the project for the council and the public.
Why it matters: Information on a project of this scope is always a good thing. An absence of frequent updates and factual data gives rise to speculation, rumors and outright misinformation in local and social media. Hopefully, the recent attention and energy focused on this project is aimed at ensuring Lowell gets the best possible result. To that end, I can only hope that we avoid wading into bad-faith arguments attributing any costs increases or delays to the the now-dead siting issue.
3. SOLAR PANELS ON SCHOOL PROPERTY
The discussion on the Lowell High Project update touched on the feasibility of adding solar panels to the new high school [by C. Gitschier]. As pointed out by City Manager Donahue, the MSBA will not pay for solar panels. However, the building will be ready to accept installation of this feature, if the city funds them or finds alternate funding sources.
In addition, Council Robinson filed a motion requesting the city manager look into the feasibility of installation of solar panels on the Robinson School Property.
Why it matters: The City’s Master Plan, Sustainable Lowell 2025 (I’m going to keep bringing it up) mandates that we:
“Identify and prioritize installation of solar photovoltaic arrays and other renewable energy systems on municipal property, including but not limited to parking garages, schools, and parks.”
The discussion on LHS and the Robinson School is exactly what we need to start moving in this direction. Plans and ideals are great, but at some point we have to start pulling the trigger on these projects.
I would also add that the Robinson-Robinson motion is an excellent example of the benefits of district representation in that the individual districts can act as test-labs for innovative ideas.
4. PRIVATE CORPORATION DISAPPOINTS THE PUBLIC (AGAIN)
Waste Management, a for-profit corporation, is contracted with the city to perform solid waste removal. Recently, many residents experienced delays in having their trash removed. A representative from Waste Management was on-hand
for flogging to provide an explanation as to why. An unfortunately timed winter storm, coupled with a holiday weekend, coupled with restrictions on driver hours were cited as factors in the delay.
Why it matters: Councilors certainly got an earful from constituents this week – and it showed. The explanation provided by Waste Management (or excuse depending on your patience level) seemed reasonable, but at the same time, a contract is a contract and there is a sense that Waste Management is falling short on their end of the bargain.
What’s more interesting is the fundamental question as to whether city governments should be privatizing public services. Recent issues with Waste Management should at least give us pause as to whether privatization necessarily translates into improved efficiency, or whether we may be better served by a properly funded public enterprise.
5. ROURKE BRIDGE
Councilor Rourke brought forth a motion requesting the City Manager contact the MassDOT concerning Rourke Bridge Inspections and any upcoming plans for redesign and construction of a new bridge. Discussion on this topic focused on recent damage to the surface of the bridge, which in turn damaged several cars. Councilor Rourke seeks a push from our state delegation and Representative Trahan for procurement of funds to move forward on this project.
Why it matters: The timing is spot on here. The bridge, constructed as “temporary” in 1983 is in need of replacement before someone is hurt or killed. In 2013, the DOT completed a “Corridor Study and Feasibility Analysis” (found here). In addition, in December of 2020, the Council received an update from the MassDOT regarding new bridge design options (found here). More recently, it was announced that more than $1 billion will be coming to Massachusetts from the federal government over the next few years for bridge replacement and repair projects. This funding is the result of the bipartisan infrastructure deal. Massachusetts’ share of a $27.5 billion bridge program is $1.1 billion over the next five years – hopefully we can grab a piece for the Rourke.