GROTON -- Running up to the Jan. 26 special Town Meeting, members of the Board of Selectmen worked to fine tune the handful of warrant articles scheduled to be presented to voters for consideration.
Chief among the articles discussed at the board's meeting of Jan. 14 was that of Fitch's Bridge, which will be the third measure to be taken up by Town Meeting.
Built and installed in the late 19th century by the Berlin Iron Bridge Co. of Connecticut, Fitch's Bridge has been closed to auto traffic since the 1960s and in recent times has been used mostly by teenagers looking for a good spot from which to jump into the Nashua River.
Plans laid out by consultants hired to do the work of replacing the bridge call for removal of the existing span and its replacement by a new, truss-style, 10-foot wide span intended for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The question for Town Meeting will be twofold: appropriate the necessary funds to either remove the bridge or remove and replace it.
To simply remove the bridge would cost $161,294, money that could be taken from the town's stabilization fund.
To remove and replace the bridge would cost $375,244 (plus $45,000 for an entrance arch made of parts salvaged from the old span) and would be rolled up into a bond shared with money needed to build a new Center Fire Station should voters approve that as well.
Town Manager Mark Haddad characterized the winning bid received for removal and replacement as "a great deal" and said that overall, he was "shocked" at how low all of the final bids turned out to be.
Haddad said bidding for the job was extremely competitive and recommended to selectmen that if they were at all inclined to support both removal and replacement, now was the time to act.
"I don't think you're ever going to get a better price," summed up the town manager, adding that the the company with the winning bid was excellent and came highly recommended.
Haddad then listed four options that selectmen could settle upon to pay for the work:
* Borrow the money and add it to the fire station bond.
* Appropriate funds from the Community Preservation Committee and stabilization.
* Appropriate all the money from the CPC alone.
* Support removal only and take all the money from stabilization.
With word from the CPC still due later that evening, selectmen voted to hold off on deciding how to fund the project and restricted themselves to a decision supporting both the removal and replacement of the bridge while informing Town Meeting that the option of removal only could still be considered.
Also at their meeting of Jan. 14, the board:
* Were informed by Haddad that another article dealing with the cost of a weed-control program for Lost Lake/Knops Pond using a herbicide would cost $95,000, including the bid price and contingency funding. The money would be taken from the town's excess and deficiencies account if the measure were approved.
* For the fire station article also on the warrant, Haddad told selectmen that the $6.9 million price tag would be covered from the town's stabilization fund and not tied to an override as suggested by some in town. The town manager said he was opposed to the use of a debt exclusion, which would have to be decided as a ballot question rather than by Town Meeting, and urged residents to support his payment plan as presented. Board Chairman Stuart Schulman agreed, seeing no need to encumber the town with a debt exclusion, something which could still be resorted to later if needed.
* Voted to hold annual Town Meeting on April 29 at the Middle School's performing arts center. Selectmen had asked Haddad to check for other venues in town where the meeting might be held on a Saturday, but none were sufficient. Board members also voted to open the warrant for spring Town Meeting on Jan. 15.
* With heightened concern for students following the tragedy at Newtown, Conn., Town Clerk Michael Bouchard approaced selectmen about seeking an alternative polling place for upcoming elections besides the Middle School location currently being used. Bouchard said he had consulted with police Chief Donald Palma and fire Chief Joseph Bosselait on possbilities and suggested the former Prescott School, Legion Hall and Town Hall as potential sites. Bouchard said the sometimes heavy number of people coming to the polls on election days presented a security problem for the school and thought a different location might be safer. Holding professional days for teachers on election days when students stayed home was explored but it turned out that there were too many election days coming up to accomodate such a scheme. Another option was to increase police presence on school grounds during election days but even that solution was deemed "not foolproof." Finally, the idea of simply relocating the polling place was suggested and selectmen, while noting such concerns as the availability of parking, agreed to allow Bouchard to explore potential sites and to report back at a future date.