Sep 242012

Owen Shuman

Owen Shuman

Owen Shuman, Director of the Groton Public Library and a beloved friend of generations of Groton readers, has announced her retirement at the end of 2012. “November 2nd will be 25 years here and make 36 years working in libraries,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Shuman has been instrumental in leading the library forward into the digital age and was at the helm of the library during a massive multi-million dollar remodeling and renovation between 1997 and 1999.

Jane Allen, a member of the library’s Board of Trustees, said the board was advertising the coming opening in a number of locations and had not yet put a closing date on the search because “We want to get the absolute best person we can.” She did say that resumes were coming in to the library and that the board hoped to find a new director before the end of this year, so he or she could work with Shuman for a while.

What’s the library looking for in a new director? Read one of its job postings.

May 162012

The Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee made short work of a long night Tuesday, interviewing five finalists for the district’s one-year interim superintendent position between 4:00 and 9:00 p.m. The Committee reconvenes Friday morning at 8:00 a.m. in the conference room of the former Prescott School to further deliberate – and possibly make a decision – on its search.

Tuesday night, the questions were to the point and kept each of the candidates within the 45-minute interview window, but gave the Committee and a handful of community observers clear snapshots of five diverse and qualified candidates.

Paul Livingston, who served in both the Pentucket and Littleton School Districts, showed command of budget issues, and has a desire to build community and communication — a theme touched upon by all of the candidates throughout the evening. Genial and well-informed, Livingston showed a good understanding of the people and places he visited in Groton and Dunstable and a strong grasp of the rules and regulations about such issues as teacher evaluations and fiscal responsibility. He also understood the draw of a charter school ethos in which “students feel engaged and connected.” He added that “We need differentiated leadership, just like kids need differentiated instruction.”

Mary Dugan, a Littleton parent who served as co-chair of the elementary school councils under Paul Livingston felt Livingston “was a wonderful superintendent who never failed to put students first during his years in Littleton. He instituted many changes, from building vertical teaching communities to streamlining financial processes. His dedication to improvement resulted in Littleton winning the MassX state award in 2006, the first awarded to a school district.” When asked for his outside-looking-in view of the district, Livingston noted that things seem to be in great shape in Groton-Dunstable, which makes it a good place to serve as an interim (this would be his first interim post) and that he likes the idea of “bringing people back around the table.”

Anthony Bent, who has served as both a long-term and an interim superintendent, offered a more diverse skill set, including experience as curriculum director and as a coach for superintendents for the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. He is currently employed at the educational executive search firm NESDEC (a firm used by G-DRSD in previous searches) which would make him valuable as the District embarks on its search for a permanent superintendent. Bent said that the interim superintendent “should do a lot of listening to settle any turbulence that might be there with the exit of a superintendent.”

When asked what his priorities might be, he immediately identified three: settle any outstanding teacher contract issues; address the educator evaluation initiative and the communication and culture shift that may go with that process; and assist the incoming curriculum coordinator in settling into that role. Energetic and precise, Bent got a strong endorsement from a former Education Advisor to Governor Deval Patrick, Michele Norman, who said Bent “did some amazing things in Shrewsbury and is very well-respected voice among his peers and policy makers, too.”

Malcolm Reid and George Frost both spoke eloquently about their challenging and rewarding experiences in the Ayer-Shirley regionalization process, each of them upbeat but different styles (Reid is low key and business-like, Frost is affable and direct).

Reid, who worked for G-DRSD in various roles between 1968 and 1981 (counselor, Director of Pupil Personnel Services, and Middle School Principal) gets high marks from parents in both Boxborough and Ayer-Shirley, especially for his ability to collaborate among schools, parents and the larger community. Reid is also highly valued by staff in his former Districts. In the interview, he showed knowledge about and enthusiasm for the teacher evaluation issues that are currently a high priority for the District. He also emphasized his belief that a wide range after school activities is key to educating the whole child.

Frost has extensive experience with regional schools, working with the Massachusetts Association of Regional School on a process manual for districts considering regionalization. He is popular with parents from Ayer and Acton and gave a candid assessment of his view of the interim job, noting “I have no intention of keeping a seat warm for anyone; you cannot be excellent and stagnant. You must move forward, always.” Frost also showed plenty of knowledge gleaned from his site visit, recalling without notes the names of each school principal and his perception of G-DRSD”s need and desire to further build community among the school cultures. “We need to understand that we are going to fail of we don”t communicate with our constituents.”

Former G-DRSD Superintendent Mary Athey Jennings retired from the Souhegan District in New Hampshire last year. She noted that this job is special to her and that she does not envision making interim superintendent her next career. Clearly glad to be back in the high school she was instrumental in building, Jennings emphasized her close connection to the district through her previous tenure and as a long-time Groton resident. She sees the interim role as a way of “giving back to the community” and views it as a “placeholder” role rather than one that requires her to be an “agent for change.” Later in the interview, however, she offered some suggestions for innovation and talked about new educational instruments she might introduce to strengthen the curriculum. She has a good reputation for working well with teachers and curriculum staff. Regarding communication, she expressed a desire to “get out there and meet people on their turf,” as well as using “e-mail and all of that awful stuff.”

Jenning also mentioned that she was asked to apply for the interim job but did not specify the source of that request. She observed that she encountered staff who “crave professionalism among other leaders like themselves.” The Groton Line queried a number of former School Committee members and Jane Allen replied, “I have always felt that Dr. Jennings did an excellent job for our students and our town.” Other former members declined to comment or did not respond.

Another former superintendent, Alan Genvoese, also expressed an interest in the interim post but did not submit an application.

Apr 042012
Selectman Fran Dillon's Retirement Opens A Three-Way Contest To Succeed HimArt Campbell | The Groton Line

Selectman Fran Dillon's Retirement Opens A Three-Way Contest To Succeed Him

Two political newcomers and one of Groton’s political old hands are running a three-way race for the Selectman’s seat left open by Fran Dillon’s retirement. Erich Garger of Redskin Trail and Jack Petropoulos of Kemp Street are taking on Bob Hargraves, a former selectman and former state representative who now serves on the town Financial Committee. Hargraves ran unsuccessfully in the 2010 Selectman’s race, finishing behind incumbents Josh Degen and Stuart Schulman.

The election will be held on May 22. Except for one one-year Water Commission seat to fill the remainder of an unexpired term, all offices are for three-year terms.

In contrast to the contested field for Selectman, a seat on the Park Commission is open and without candidates. David Howes is leaving the Park Commission when his term expires after the election this spring. In 2011, four candidates ran for two seats on the Park Commission. According to Town Clerk Michael Bouchard, an office without a candidate on the ballot would be filled by the write-in candidate who receives the most votes. If there are no write-ins, the seat would be filled by a joint appointment by the Park Commission and the Board of Selectmen.

Other boards and commissions have a match between openings and candidates seeking those openings. Three Planning Board seats are open. Two are likely to be filled by incumbents Russell Burke of Old Ayer Road and Carolyn Perkins of Reedy Meadow. Tim Svarczkopf, of Champney Street, is the third official candidate. Incumbent Ray Capes is leaving the board.

The Water Commission two openings. Incumbent Gary Hoglund of Duck Pond Road is seeking re-election. A one year opening created by the resignation of Alvin Collins on December 12, 2011. Jessica Cajigas of Orr Road was appointed by the Board of Selectmen to fill Collins’ vacant seat on February 6 and is running for the reminder of his term in this election.

The list of incumbents seeking reelection to their positions and who are running unopposed includes:

  • Town Clerk Michael Bouchard
  • Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee members Berta Erickson of Boston Road and Alison Manugian of Shepley Street
  • Groton Library Trustees Kristen Von Camp of Lowell Road and Jane Allen of Shattuck Street.
  • Board of Assessors member Jenifer Evans of Smith Street
  • Board of Health Commissioner Susan Horowitz of Lowell Road
  • Commissioner of Trust Funds Joseph Twomey of Martins Pond Road
  • Groton Electric Light Commissioner Kevin Lindemer of Boston Road
  • Sewer Commissioner Tom Hartnett of Martins Pond Road
  • Housing Authority member Alicia Hersey of Old Ayer Road

The retirement of long-time Town Moderator Robert Gosselin opens that office to an unopposed run by Jason Kauppi of Townsend Road.

Jan 252012

At first glance, the statistics for the Groton single Family home market for 2011 seem very similar to those of 2010. Not only was the average price close ($428,242 in 2010 vs. $430,316 in 2011) but the median sale price and the price per square foot were equally close.

The sale of the Lathrop / J. Geils farm on Old Ayer Road to the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts skewed the 2011 statistics a bit, so I removed that outlier from the “sold” list to get a more reliable picture. Looking at the residential market without that transaction shows that the average sale price for 2011 was $415,125, a 4% decline from 2010. At the peak of the last economic bubble in 2005, the average sale price was $585,451.

The average price per square foot in 2010 was $174; in 2011 it dropped slightly to $170. In some areas of the country houses are valued solely on the square footage. I have never thought that this was a very practical way to assess homes in our area, since we have such a wide variety of housing both in types of homes and ages. But as an overall annual figure I think it has some accuracy.

The number of days that a house stayed on the market increased slightly, by about a week. On average, in 2010, it took 160 days to sell a house. In 2011, again without the Thomas More College property included, the figure was 166 days.

Homeowners who are selling are frequently concerned that lowering the price on their home will bring them an even lower offer. That may be true, but those offers are frequently rejected. This is demonstrated by the average list price for Groton homes in 2011 was $425,091. The average sale price was $415,125, just a few percent less. Rarely are these figures far apart.

The graph below shows the number of homes that have sold in various price ranges last year. It will come as no surprise to most people that more lower end houses are available and are selling.

If you have any questions about the market or an real estate concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at MRM Realty or call me at 978 448 3031.

Selling Prices of Groton Homes in 2011 Jane Allen

Selling Prices of Groton Homes in 2011

Sep 222011

Sacred Heart Church, waiting in the rain for a new homeArt Campbell | The Groton Line

Sacred Heart Church, waiting in the rain for a new home

In a surprise announcement, Father Paul Ring and Paul Slaney revealed that Our Lady of Grace Parish, owner of the Sacred Heart church building at 279 Main Street in Groton, is giving the historic building to the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts for use as the chapel on the college’s new campus on Old Ayer Road. Ring is the Our Lady of Grace Parish priest, which includes Groton, and Slaney is a member of the parish finance committee.

The surprise gift truly was a surprise to the college, which has been negotiating over the building since this spring. Asked to comment on the gift, Thomas More COLA President William Fahey wrote in an email this morning that “To clarify: no one has given us Sacred Heart church. I would be happy to be given Sacred Heart church.” Later in the day, he expanded on that, writing: “There is nothing official. Fr. Ring has made it clear that he would like to see TMC have the church. We have nothing but a gentleman’s agreement (which is good enough for me), but nothing on paper. Lawyers like paper and ownership requires paper. So, yes there is generosity of spirit and the desire to give TMC the church. And no, there is nothing on paper or official.”

Ring explained that because the church building had been a gift to the Groton Catholic community in 1904, he and the parishoners felt they should continue the tradition of passing the building on as a gift. Built as a chapel by Groton School in 1884, it was given to town residents by the school and moved on rollers to its current location in 1904.

Thomas More COLA is planning a staged fund raising effort. A first phase would raise money to move the church to its permanent location. Then a much larger second phase would fund construction of a new undergraduate campus in Groton. Early estimates obtained by the college to move the church building, construct a foundation and basement meeting room, put on a new roof, and make required repairs could cost $500,000 and may go higher, according to Charlie McKiney, Vice President for Institutional Advancement. The college hopes to obtain some of those funds from Groton residents who want to help preserve the local landmark.

Town officials have been eyeing the lot on which the church stands as a prime site for a new central fire station for about a year. The Sacred Heart building was listed “For Sale” almost three years ago for $600,000 dollars. The asking price was $499,000 when the town made an offer of $450,000 this spring. An appraisal of the building and land for the town set the value at $480,000 before voters declined to fund the purchase.

Town interest in the site heated up again this week when engineers reported that an alternate fire station site on Station Avenue may not work out. The Maguire Group, working for the Groton Electric Light Department, is trying to position both a GELD garage-office building and a four-bay fire station on land owned by GELD. If both buildings could share the lot, the town would reap significant savings. But first attempts to place the buildings ran into engineering problems, according to Town Manager Mark Haddad.

To maintain momentum in the push to replace the obsolete current fire station, the Board of Selectmen voted Monday night to put “place-holder” articles on the warrant for the October 17 Fall Town Meeting, in case the board decides to go forward with a purchase offer for the Sacred Heart church lot.

Haddad was following up on Monday night’s instructions from the Board of Selectmen to re-open negotiations by participating in a conference call with the Boston Archdiocese this afternoon.

“No price structures have been discussed as far as what we would feel would be appropriate for the property itself, building or no building,” Ring said. “We’re open to talking with the town to do what’s best for the town. I still personally feel that Sacred Heart is the best location for the fire station — I’m behind Chief Joe’s (Bosseleit) desire to make this happen for the firefighters in Groton.”

Ring is also the town Fire Department and Public Safety chaplain.

The average price of a residential house lot in Groton is currently about $250,000. This spring’s appraisal of the Sacred Heart church lot, which is slightly less than an acre, did not include a separate evaluation of that specific lot without the church building, Haddad said. Without the church building in place, the special business zoning that allows the church building would revert to residential.

Jane Allen, of MRM Associates Raltors on Boston Road, said that if the church building was removed from the lot, she would expect the value of the parcel to decline, possibly to around $250,000. Jeff Gordon, of Exit Assurance Realty on Main Street, had a contrary view, predicting that the value of the lot without the church building would increase to more than the $480,000 appraisal price for land and building because of its prime location.