Jack Petropoulos

Oct 222012
 

On Monday October 29th, Groton Town Meeting will review two citizens’ petitions protesting the Spring Town Meeting’s vote to approve the building of a new fire station on the field belonging to Lawrence Homestead Trust on Farmers Row. In light of last Monday’s reaction to the Lost Lake Sewer proposal, it is reasonable for residents to wonder why they should feel confident in the proposal to spend $8M on a new fire station, or the wisdom of using the beautiful field as its location.

I can tell you that the fire station initiative was done right. I am proud to have been a part of the (Central Fire Station Building) Committee that generated the station design and recommended the Farmers Row location. Everything about it was thought through and backed up with data, research, and logic. The Committee operated against the objective of building the right station at the right location and was guided by a mission of providing Town Meeting with the facts that they need to make a good decision.

The feedback that we received throughout the process affirmed our objective of keeping the public informed, and at Spring Town Meeting an 80% majority approved the use of the field as the site for the 18,550 square foot station. Unfortunately, one of the realities of any community of 11,000 is that it is impossible to recommend a site that will not have its detractors. Nor is it possible to assure that all citizens are informed. Indeed Articles 10 and 11 are both authored by a citizen that was unaware of the Town Meeting vote, and who objects to the use of the field as its location.

It is also impossible to argue against the fact that this is a beautiful and important piece of property. Indeed, most of the individuals on the Building Committee would have preferred to put the new building on Station avenue, and we worked very, very hard to find a way to do that. But to put the building that we need on Station Avenue simply would not work. The proximity to wetlands would have caused such modifications to the building that it could not function efficiently as a Fire Station. Without these modifications, we would have had to locate roughly 5% of the station footprint within the FEMA Flood Zone. The only real option was to build at the Prescott School. This would have cost an additional $940,000 in construction costs. It would mean giving up alternative uses of a repurposed school including the tax revenues and downtown economic activity that those uses would generate. Lastly forcing the station design into Prescott”s footprint would have compromised the operational efficiency of the Station, and would have meant emergency vehicles exiting from Station Avenue onto Main Street, creating a public safety issue that is to be avoided if practical.

More importantly, the property on Farmers Row is owned by a private entity that has proven their willingness to sell the property for development, and worked hard to maximize the value of the remaining three house lots. If we determine to build elsewhere in the name of preserving the field, we risk spending more and getting less, only to lose the field when it is sold for house lots at some point in the future. We could preserve this field by buying it, the cost of which is likely to be at least $1,000,000. The total incremental cost of building elsewhere in order to preserve the field would be well over $2,000,000 after factoring for the cost of revising architectural drawings and the delay in construction.

Much has been made of the size of the proposed station. Again I can tell you that I am confident that we have managed the size tightly. We have utilized industry experts who have no stake in the size of the outcome, and product management processes that are used in America”s largest companies to guide the prioritization and scoping of our building requirements.

We will provide these facts at Town Meeting. Please feel free to review the Center Fire Station Building Committee Final Report that was mailed to every household in Groton and presented at the Spring Town Meeting. On this web page, you can also find minutes of every meeting held by the Fire Station Building Committee, describing in a narrative fashion, exactly what happened in each of the its meetings.

I only ask that you work hard to educate yourself using the available materials, and that you keep an open mind as we go in to Town Meeting.

I would like to offer to spend time with any citizen who would like to discuss this issue between now and Town Meeting. Please feel free to call or to email me at home or to contact the Selectmen’s Office to get my contact information if you do not have it. The Selectmen’s Office can be reached at 978-448-1111 or by email at selectmen@townofgroton.com.

Thank you for your diligence,

Jack Petropoulos

Selectman, Town of Groton


Sep 032012
 

Dear Editor:

I want to thank The Groton Herald for its role in educating the public on the fire station to be built on the Lawrence Homestead Trust (LHT) property on Farmers Row. Indeed, as (now former) Chair of the Fire Station Building Committee, it was my hope that the Committee”s efforts would generate interest and participation, and that the Herald”s influence, among others, would further that cause. In fact, prior to the Spring Town Meeting, the Committee:

  • held more than 30 public meetings, five of which were televised and repeated on cable
  • distributed a 20+ page presentation by mail to every home in Groton
  • held 3 public walk-throughs of a neighboring fire station
  • posted summaries of each of its meetings to the Town website and to local papers
  • received extensive and accurate coverage in the news sections of those same papers and on The Groton Line (www.thegrotonline.com)
  • appeared on the Jane Bouvier show

I believe that the 80% approval at Town Meeting was, in part, a reflection of that effort. Yet it is clear that no effort and no decision is perfect, and that we will need to continue to answer both informed and uninformed concerns over time. A few of those that come to mind and have been expressed in the Editorial Section of the local paper”s recent editions include the following:

One contributor cited expertise in mortgage brokerage and real estate, together with the professional appraisal of the LHT site and current market conditions, as the basis for deeming the negotiated price for the site irresponsible. On their face these are valid critiques, but when the law of supply and demand are applied to a location for a fire station, residential experience and market appraisals are of limited value. In fact, in this case, supply was limited to one, demand was absolute, and the seller was not actively pursuing a sale. To make the jump to imply that this means that “Greed is alive and well in Groton.” seems to be, at best, an unreasonable conclusion based on an incomplete understanding.

The Tax Payers Alliance has expressed concern with, among other things, the timing of this initiative, and has suggested that it should be delayed. While it is always tempting to delay incurring expense, it ignores the very real inflation and financing costs. Municipal building costs currently rise at 3% per year. Accordingly for a $7.6M project, construction costs alone would rise by over $1.2M if it were to be delayed by the 5 years that the Alliance suggests. This difference would be further magnified should either inflation or bond prices rise over the same period.

Lastly, in its August 17th editorial, the Herald asks how the Fire Station initiative can “…be in the planning stages without thorough examination of both the proposed plan and less expensive alternatives?” While I respect the right of anyone to question government at anytime, and the responsibility of the press to inform and to opine, I do not understand how the Herald can pose this question about a process which has been so thoroughly documented in, among other channels, its own publication. In fact I am unaware of any instance in which a member of the Herald”s editorial board has ever attended a single Fire Station Building Committee meeting, nor contacted any member of the Committee or the Selectmen”s office in an effort to inform its opinion. The consequence of this is that a number of inaccurate assertions about the Fire Station initiative have been published in the Editorial Section of the Herald over the last 6 months. While the Editorial Section is accepted to be opinion rather than fact, readers have a reasonable expectation that those opinions and assertions will be well founded.

It is all too easy to complain and to oppose. Learning takes effort, and contributing takes even more. I would ask all citizens who would like to understand and affect this important project to attend the public meetings, read the meeting minutes, and to contact the Committee and/or the Board of Selectmen with questions. No one will try to convince you; rather the effort has, and always will be, to provide you with unbiased fact.

I recognize that it is insufficient to wait for questions and have made an effort to be publicly available. I will continue that by being available to meet in person at Clover Farm Market on West Main St on Tuesday September 3 from 5 PM to 6 PM and at Main St Café on Wednesday September 11 from 7:30 AM to 8:30 AM. I would be glad to answer questions about this or any current initiative before the Board of Selectmen. I know that other Selectmen feel the same way and have made themselves similarly available. You can reach any of the Selectmen by calling the Selectmen”s office at 978-448-1111.

To be clear, my intention is not to stifle debate, only to inform it.

Jack Petropoulos

Selectman


Jun 142012
 

I want to thank the management of National Grid for their responsiveness to our concerns over the impact that their gas line project will have on our local businesses and on our residents. Initially the project was expected to generate serious delays and drivers were encouraged to “seek alternate routes.” While this may be standard practice, the reduced traffic along Main Street could have had a disastrous effect on local businesses and on the neighborhood streets that would have been used as “alternate routes.” In response to requests from the town and from local business owners, National Grid has implemented an exceptionally effective traffic management plan that now schedules work outside of the heaviest commuter traffic, periods, and allows traffic to flow with minimal delay.

This success is in no small part due to the work of the police officers that have been diligently managing traffic. Even the normal traffic delays that are caused by school bus traffic are only marginally lengthened as a result of this project.

National Grid has taken two additional steps to help our business and residents. First, they have offered their Claims Department as a first stop for business owners who feel that their business has been hurt by this process. Second, they have agreed to provide daily updates on work locations and schedules so that the town can post that information for residents and business owners to use for planning purposes. This information will be available shortly on the town”s website: www.townofgroton.org

I encourage residents to continue to use Main Street to transition through town. Many of our businesses depend on this traffic, and many residents of the side streets will appreciate the easing of traffic through their neighborhoods.

Sincerely,

Jack Petropoulos
Selectman, Town of Groton


Jun 052012
 

The next phase in moving Groton’s Center Fire Station forward is the Design and Approval Phase. During this phase the Station’s final layout will be specified as will its exterior appearance and site design. The designs will form the basis of a request for bids which will in turn inform the request to Town Meeting to fund construction.

This is an important phase for many reasons:

  • Final layout determines square footage and has a large impact on final cost.
  • Exterior appearance and site design are critical, both for the way the Station works with the location visually, and for cost.
  • A successful approval process will minimize the impact of rising construction costs (~$660 per day on an $8M project)
  • Details of design and operation will affect the impact on abutters.

The Center Fire Station Building Committee would like to encourage public input to this phase, and to provide as much information as possible regarding the process and opportunities to contribute. A public notice was sent to every household in Groton last week announcing a Community Meeting this Wednesday June 6 at 7:00 p.m. at Town Hall.

During this meeting we will describe:

  • Current Status
  • Objectives of this Phase
  • Timelines
  • Approvals and Board / Committee Involvement
  • Traffic Management
  • Impact of Daily Operations
  • Architectural Process
  • Public Participation and Availability of Information

Please attend if you can. The meeting will also be televised live on the Groton Channel and repeated throughout the week. More importantly, please participate during the next few months. This is a critical phase.

Sincerely,

Jack Petropoulos


Apr 242012
 

Dear Editor,

At the Spring Town Meeting on Monday April 30, Groton voters will be asked to support the purchase of land belonging to the Lawrence Homestead Trust, and to fund the final design of a Center Fire Station to be built on that land. The location is one that will interest many, as today it is a hayfield located at the intersection of Farmer’s Row and Pleasant St. The initial design will also be of interest as it is the basis for the estimated $6.9M to $7.6M construction cost.

It is not easy to justify the use of such a beautiful piece of property for a fire station, nor to approve such a large amount of money for its construction.

The Fire Station Building Committee would like to ensure that Groton taxpayers and voters have the opportunity to be informed of how these decisions were made and what a 21st century fire station looks like. We will be running our third and final walk through of the Ayer Fire Station located at 1 West Main St. in Ayer, on Saturday April 28th at 10 a.m. We will present a review of the site evaluation process that led to the recommendation to place the new Center Fire Station on the Lawrence Homestead Trust property. We will also provide an overview of design considerations and the process that we used. We will conclude with a tour of the Ayer Station so that this knowledge can be applied to something tangible.

The presentation and tour will take just under two hours. This is not a sales pitch. It is informational only. This has been an extremely valuable opportunity for those who have taken advantage of it in the past. We invite all Groton residents to join us on Saturday so that they may cast a more informed vote on Monday.

Sincerely,

Jack Petropoulos
Chair, Center Fire Station Building Committee


Apr 132012
 

Dear Editor,

Groton Town Meeting is in danger of taking an uninformed vote.

So often, a lack of understanding is at the heart of actions taken by good people who, had they been better informed, would have done otherwise.  Accordingly public education has changed the habits of millions who once thought nothing of throwing all of their trash into a single bin.  Today people buy apples with spots and beef at a premium, because they understand the benefits of such actions.

We may be asked at Town Meeting to spend good money to pay for a new Center Fire Station in Groton.  To most of us that is a garage with some trucks and a few fire fighters with big grins and big hearts, drinking coffee and waiting for the alarm to sound.  We appreciate that they are ready to put their lives on the line to help us…..but little more.  But today a Fire Station is no longer just a brick building with a few engines and a coffee pot.  It is a working program, responsible for inspections, records, regional training and public education.  It launches fire and rescue operations ranging from excavation and submersion, to multi-story structure fires and shipments of hazardous material on our rails and roads.  And today, because of the range of skills required to do the job and an effort to manage costs and distribute personnel efficiently, Fire Departments are increasingly integrated with Emergency Medical Services.  This allows the same individual to respond to a fire, a car crash or a cardiac emergency all from a single building with the efficiency of having only to choose the right vehicle, and to don the right gear.

But until we understand these things, we cannot responsibly vote to approve or disapprove the spending that will be required to build the facility that makes them possible.  The Center Fire Station Building Committee has worked hard to affect a process that the public can trust in sizing and siting a new station, and has worked equally hard to get that information out to the community, and to ask for public participation.  But that response has been low.  An opportunity to tour the Ayer Fire Station on Wednesday evening yielded one Groton resident.

One.

The Committee understands the challenge and the reality that we face in trying to educate the public as we head to Town Meeting.  We expect that there will be speculation and debate about the need for a new Station and the size of the proposed facility.  But we want desperately to have that speculation be informed, and we ask you to do the work to secure that information.  We are trying to make it easy for you.  The most important thing you can do is to take advantage of the next  (and last) tour of the Ayer Fire Station which is available on Saturday April 14th.  It starts promptly at 10 AM at 1 West Main St in Ayer.  This tour is not a sales pitch.  It is delivered with the same objectivity that has guided our work to date.

You can find more information about this tour and about the work that has been done at http://www.townofgroton.org/ .

Please come.

Jack Petropoulos Chair, Center Fire Station Building Committee


Apr 052012
 

My name is Jack Petropoulos and I would like to announce my candidacy for Selectman of the Town of Groton Massachusetts, for the election to be held on Tuesday May 22, 2012. Here is why I am running, and what I think I can offer:

With Selectman Dillon”s decision to not seek reelection, Groton has lost a valuable set of technical and interpersonal skills. While I will humbly admit that I am no Fran Dillon, I believe that I have both the drive, and the analytical and interpersonal skills that it takes to succeed in the position; and to fill, in part, the void that his departure will leave.

I will not offer a broad range of promises that are under-researched and over-reaching. Instead I can say that, if elected, I would start with a focus on a particular set of issues that have come to my attention over the years, and to which I believe I can contribute some specific improvement. Beyond these, I can promise to apply my abilities to listen, to learn, and to act with passion and dedication as a member of a team, in the service of this wonderful Town.

I believe that I can help to make Groton a better place to do business. The things that I have heard from business owners in Town about the challenges that they face seem unacceptable for a community that is dependent on its downtown for its character.

I have seen Town initiatives pushed forward to the objection of residents who demanded a more transparent and well executed approach. My background is well suited to helping to advance a process that operates toward a mission, sets objectives and executes against them in a methodical manner. My participation in the current Center Fire Station Building Committee has shown me that I can contribute to the kind of process that people can feel comfortable with; knowing that their concerns have been heard and have been addressed thoroughly and with excellence.

Though I have established many connections throughout Groton over the years, I never cease to be amazed by the sense of community that exists here. I see this every day in the West Groton community where I live with my family on our small farm. Its historic roots and the connection that our many neighbors have to this property, remind me of how interconnected a community can be.

Today I am a Software Product Manager for one of Americas” largest companies, yet my roots are in small startups. I am familiar with the process and accountability that comes with working for a well oiled machine; but I also know how to wear many hats, how to get things done and how to spot and fix the gaps in a new and less refined system. I have spent time in the public sector as well, both professionally and as a volunteer. I have administered multi-million dollar budgets for DYS and for various correctional programs in Connecticut and Rhode Island. I have served as Chair of the Open Space Planning Committee in Hopkinton and on the Conservation Commission of Medway.

I would like to offer these things to the Town as my contribution to preserve what we value, and achieve what we want.

If you would like to learn more, to volunteer, or just to tell me what you think, we will have a kickoff event at the home of Jane Allen, 34 Shattuck St on Friday, April 13 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. If you can”t make it I am eager to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to read more about me, contribute, or let me know what you think at: www.jackpetropoulos.com .

If you would like to contribute, please send whatever you are comfortable with to:

Jack Petropoulos – Selectman
34 Shattuck St
Groton 01450

Thank you, and please vote on the 22nd.

Jack (John) Petropoulos


Jan 092012
 

On January 26 we will have a Special Town Meeting to review a number of Articles, including one that will begin the creation of a Lost Lake Sewer District. It is important for residents to understand that this initiative is absolutely not an effort to advance in any way, the construction of sewer infrastructure for Lost Lake. In fact the commitment to such a project is now on hold while the effort is looked at afresh by a newly appointed Lost Lake Sewer Committee.

The purpose of bringing the creation of a Lost Lake Sewer District to Town Meeting is to take advantage of a time sensitive opportunity to establish our eligibility for USDA grants in case we determine to build a sewer project at some point in the future. In order to qualify for such grants, Groton must have established a Lost Lake Sewer District by March 31, 2013. By approving the creation of a District at Special Town Meeting we can apply for USDA funding using data from the 2000 US Census and our Lost Lake Income Survey. After March 31, 2013 the USDA will adopt the 2010 US Census and Groton will no longer be eligible for USDA funding due to changes in our population size and median income. We have already filed the grant application and now need only to create the District to have the application marked as “complete.”

There are a couple of things worth noting:

  1. While there is no guarantee that our application will be successful, grants from the USDA could provide up to $1,000,000 in cost reductions.
  2. Neither the grant application nor a vote to create a District, would obligate us to move forward with the creation of an actual sewer.
  3. The administrative tasks involved in creating an actual Lost Lake Sewer District will take more than the available time between Special Town Meeting and the March 31, 2013 USDA deadline. The USDA has informed us that if we show a substantial commitment to the creation of the District by approving its creation at Town Meeting, it will look favorably on a request to extend the March 31 deadline for District creation.
  4. While the District would indeed be the required vehicle for administering fees and betterments associated with a sewer if it is eventually built, Town Meeting will have at least two opportunities to ratify and amend the District before such a milestone is achieved.
    • The District could be expanded or reduced in size, or even dissolved by a vote of Town Meeting before any betterment or fee is levied.
    • Approval of the District as defined at the January 2013 Town Meeting does not oblige us to the District Map that would ultimately define the District *if *the sewer system was built.

In summary, this Article seeks to put the Town in a position to reduce the cost of a sewer if it is ever built. It creates no obligation of any kind. There will be two information sessions held prior to the Special Town Meeting:

  • Saturday January 19 at 9:00 a.m. at Lost Lake Fire Station
  • Tuesday January 22 at 7:00 p.m. at Lost Lake Fire Station

I ask you to vote to support this initiative and trust that we will use this, and our effort to reevaluate the Lost Lake Sewer project, to provide you with a full set of options, comprehensive information, and every possibility for reduced costs should a sewer system be a/the recommended solution.

Jack Petropoulos
Selectman
Town of Groton