A group of about 50 residents was in attendance on Tuesday night as the Board of Selectmen and School Committee held a joint meeting with representatives from various groups involved in the planning process of the new high school.
During the session, officials discussed the latest appeal of the project. Stuart Lesser of Joslin Lesser and Associates told residents about how the current appeal and potential further appeals could impact the project timeline.
Lesser said if the DEP sides with the town and the residents appeal that decision, an adjudicatory hearing is the next step. If the appellants choose that route, Lesser said there could be a cost impact of at least $3 million and a delay of about a year is likely.
“I’m disheartened and disenchanted that we’ve received this road block that we need to overcome,” said selectman Judy O’Connell. “I want to keep everything in a positive tone. We’re here for the benefit of the children and faculty and staff of the school to ensure that Wilmington continues to be a great place to live.”
Suzanne Sullivan and Martha Stevenson, both members of the Headwaters Stream Team who are a part of the high school appeal, were unable to attend Monday’s joint meeting because they were at an appointment regarding the Olin Superfund site.
However, Sullivan said in an e-mail to Patch, “I am encouraged that issues will be resolved.”
George Lingenfelter, the spokesman for the group of appellants, was in attendance for the beginning of the Board of Selectmen meeting, but left before the public comments section of the joint session and did not comment on the appeal.
Appealing resident Michael Bodnar said during Monday’s meeting that when he agreed to join the appeal, he did not intend to hold up the construction timeline.
“I did not want to stop this project. It will go through. But I’m concerned with the oil remediation,” said Bodnar. “More needs to be studied about the future parking lot site, the drainage, etc. I guess that’s why I’m here.”
Lesser said he believes the town has satisfied all of the requirements to assure that the oil located on Church Street will have no impact on the plans.
“As eager as we are in our desire to move forward with the schedule, I don’t believe anyone on this team would want to move forward if we were at risk,” said Lesser. “If there was a sense that we were at risk, we would take a step back.”
Following the discussion, Board of Selectmen chairman Mike Newhouse asked Bodnar point blank if he would consider removing himself from a potential second appeal that could come down the road. Bodnar said he could not commit to changing his position on the appeal.
Resident Karl Sagal said he was one of the 31 residents who opposed the school during the Special Town Meeting. Though Sagal said he stands by that vote, he added that he believes it is time for the project to move forward.
“I’m proud that I voted the way I did, but I recognize the way we’re going. Now let’s go there,” said Sagal. “The fence sitting is over. It’s time to move on. Whether there are appeals or not, we are moving in this direction. My sincere hope is that the DEP finds this project is sound.”
There were several moments during the meeting when residents in attendance spoke out, and there were multiple cases when the majority of the crowd provided a round of applause when a speaker finished a point in favor of the school.
One of those ovations came following an exchange between Bodnar and Finance Committee member Dick Hayden, who was among the residents in the crowd.
“I said to (Hayden) after the school passed at the election that you guys won fair and square,” said Bodnar.
From his seat, Hayden responded, “So how come we’re still fighting?”
Selectman Mike Champoux said that on both sides of the argument, emotions are high.
“This is an emotional issue,” said Champoux. “We’ve been following this process for a few years. Some of this appeals process has been a difficult pill to swallow for those of us who were so excited when the vote was approved at Town Meeting.”