A group of 13 residents filed a new appeal against the Wilmington High School project, and town officials said the possibility of significant construction delays now looms on the horizon.
Chairman Mike Newhouse revealed the appeal at Tuesday's Board of Selectmen meeting. The Department of Environmental Protection has a site visit slated for June 7 on the school property and will offer its decision based on that visit.
“There is frustration building in the community, and certainly among town officials. The town has done everything to resolve some of the concerns that the appellants have had,” said Town Manager Michael Caira. “But they have the right to appeal. Unfortunately, the appeal is going to cost the town substantial dollars and delays, and in the end it’s the students who will ultimately suffer.”
A total of 13 residents signed the appeal. Among them were George Lingenfelter, Ilora Lingenfelter, Gerald O’Reilly, Michael Bodnar, David Romanski, Walter Collings, Dennis Rooney, Timothy Norton, Martha Stevenson, Suzanne Sullivan, Bradley Stevenson, Daniel Baima and Charles Baima.
The appeal is of the Conservation Commission’s decision to approve the plans, which occurred earlier this month. The approval came after two meetings during which design firms provided offsite mitigation options to make up for the impact on the environment the school will have.
Sandra Brock, the Chief Engineer for Nitsch Engineering, the firm hired by the town for the planning process, the company is confident the DEP will rule in favor of the town.
“The town has consistently responded to the concerns of the Conservation Commission and the community in providing an appropriate design of the nigh high school while protecting and even enhancing the protection of the wetland resource areas on the site,” said letter said. “Nitsch Engineering will continue to work with all stakeholders and the DEP to resolve the appeal as quickly as possible.”
Caira said the town already received bids for the demolition of the gym and the construction of the turf field in Alumni Stadium. Those projects are scheduled to begin this summer.
But if the DEP sides with the residents or if the group takes the appeal beyond the DEP, the Town Manager said those plans may need to be pushed back a year, causing major cost increases and slowing the project down significantly.
“I’m not happy. A lot of individuals in town are not happy,” said Selectman Mike McCoy during Tuesday’s meeting. “This is the first time in a long time we’ve had unanimous support among officials across the board for a capital project. The people of Wilmington voted in support of it. In the end, the big losers are going to be the children of the community.”
Several board members expressed surprise about the appeal, including Judy O’Connell who attended the Conservation Commission meeting when the plans were approved. During that session, O’Connell said several of the appellants lauded the town for working with them to address their environmental concerns.
Mike Champoux also said he was surprised to hear of the appeal, which was filed on Friday.
“I was of the mind that we had rectified the issues that were causing concerns,” said Champoux. “I’m hopeful and anxious that we will bring this to closure sooner rather than later so residents can see that we will deliver on the promise we made to them when they said they wanted this project.”
Caira said if the appeal goes forward, the town will have to make the decision on whether they will have to create a new timeline for the school.
“There is a day (that would be a deadline to begin by without delaying the project), though I’m not sure what that day is yet,” said Caira. “The town and the School Department will have to make a decision that is in the best interest of the students in terms of having the least amount of disruption. We’ve made our cost estimates based on beginning the project this summer, not the beginning the project a year from now or six months from now. If we have to do that, it’s likely the cost will go up.”