DRACUT — Annual Town Meeting on Monday approved funding for two high-profile projects.
The body voted 184-179 to approve Article 21 for the appropriation of $661,000 from the Community Preservation Fund to rehabilitate the former Dracut Centre School at 11 Spring Park Ave. The property to be owned by the Coalition for a Better Acre (CBA) is set to be converted into nine units of veterans' housing, according to the warrant.
"We would like to continue the project forward," Town Manager Jim Duggan said before the vote.
Two unclear voice votes led to a standing vote in Dracut High School's Lester G. Richardson Center for the Performing Arts: 184 people voted to approve the article, and 179 voted against it.
Duggan said the CBA would be paying property taxes as part of the agreement, and that a housing preference would be made for Dracut veterans. He described it as a fantastic, very important project.
Michael Rollins, a decade-long resident, spoke out vehemently against Article 21. He said he feels it is "not in the spirit" of the Community Preservation Act to take public money and give it to an organization that will then develop the property and collect rent through it.
"This is not for your benefit," Rollins said. "This is not for the benefit of the town of Dracut... this is a waste of your money, and they've wrapped it in a flag."
Town Meeting also approved Article 40, which looked to see if the town will vote (pursuant to the recommendations of the Community Preservation Committee) to appropriate $5,495,202 to rehabilitate the playing fields and splash pad at 80 Broadway Road, install two synthetic turf fields and to renovate and resurface the track surface at the Dr. Christos Daoulas Education Complex.
"Clearly this is an exciting project and we've got robust sports programs in this community for the kids, and it's absolutely outstanding," Duggan said before the vote. "I request approval."
Dracut resident Joe Espinola said he figured he'd speak up on behalf of the male and female coaches who have coached at Veterans Memorial Park. He urged his neighbors to approve the article, joking that he thinks he still has mud on his shoes from the times games were canceled as opposed to when they were actually played.
The approval brought loud cheers from those in favor.
"I think it's wonderful for the students," Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone said after Town Meeting was adjourned. "The focus for the School Department has always been on students and youth sports in town. We've always supported and allowed youth sports to play on our facilities, whenever we have the ability."
Stone said having the turf field will allow youth sports more opportunities to play. He added that, for him, it's really about safety issues and noted that the playing and grass surfaces are becoming unplayable.
"Having synthetic turf fields — with concussion pads, with the best technology — will support our students' health and safety as opposed to what's beginning to happen now in the grass fields," Stone added.
Amaris Castillo: @AmarisCastillo on Twitter