BY DENNIS SHAUGHNESSEY, Valley Dispatch Staff
DRACUT — He wasn’t born in Dracut and he didn’t grow up there, but by all accounts, Dracut Town Manager Dennis Piendak is a townie.
His passion for the town is evident in the way he speaks with pride about the projects that have occurred on his watch. But the soft-spoken, unassuming Piendak, who became Dracut’s town manager in 1985, deflects the praise and points to his department heads and their staffs, as well as the army of volunteers that serve on the various committees and boards in the town.
Shortly after Piendak’s arrival, the state fell into a recession, which forced the closing of the town library and the Collinsville Fire Station. Through prudent fiscal management, the town has rebounded and not only the library and fire station reopened, several capital projects have reshaped the landscape in Dracut.
“We were able to renovate 30,000 square-feet of the high school in 1995. We’ve built a new junior high school and renovated the Englesby Intermediate School. We have installed permanent modular units at the Englesby and the Greenmont Elementary School as additions. We’ve built two new fire stations and doubled the size at the Council on Aging. And except for a concession stand, Veterans Memorial Park is virtually complete,” Piendak said, adding with a boast, “And we were able to do all that within the budget.”
“The town’s in good shape. We’re starting to climb out of a tough period, economically, which has gone on throughout the state,” Piendak said. “But we still have work to do.”
And while no burning issue keeps him awake at night, he stresses the critical need to build a new Town Hall.
“We have to,” he said emphatically. “It’s one of our most pressing needs. We did a feasibility study that indicated it could be built on the present site. We would probably need to acquire some adjacent properties, but if you look at the library next door and the acquisition of the (former Fire Chief Jerry Carle) house, then go further up to the Yellow Meeting House and the Grange Hall, and you’ve gone a long way toward the creation of a real town center.”
If there is one thing that Piendak would change about Dracut, it would be its location.
“It would be great to have better highway access. It would bring in more business and diversify the tax rate,” he explained. “I don’t think we will ever see some of the large-scale business developments that you see in other towns like Billerica, Chelmsford, Wilmington and Tewsbury. Geographically, it’s just not going to happen.”
At 58, Piendak has been a town manager since his college days when he interned as an assistant town manager in Cape May, N.J. A history buff, Piendak said he would have probably done something in that field had he not been a town manager.
The town operates on a $54 million budget and Piendak said it is sometimes a balancing act meeting the needs, desires and competing interests with the resources that are available.
“For instance, we’re going to have to start looking at building another school,” he said. “Whether that’s an elementary school or a high school, I’m not certain.”
In what sometimes has been a heated political environment, Piendak has managed to stay above the fray.
“It’s important for town managers not to get politically involved. I do vote in the elections, but that’s the extent of it,” he said.
When volunteers are needed, Piendak leads by example and can be seen helping out at various town events, such as flipping burgers at the summer concert series.
“The thing that amazes me about Dracut are the volunteers and the giving that takes place to bring things about. Look at what gets done. The annual (Dracut Scholarship Foundation) telethon, the summer concert series, Veterans Park. The support that comes from this community is phenomenal. It’s something to really be proud of.”
Have a story idea? E-mail Dennis Shaughnessey at firstname.lastname@example.org.