EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 7, 2013

Lawrence ponders improvements after years of neglect

By Keith Eddings
keddings@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — For a city that hasn’t done much shopping or rebuilding since the money ran out about a decade ago, the list of what’s needed is dozens of pages and tens of millions of dollars long: police cruisers, lawn mowers, roofs, boilers, pumper trucks, defibrillators, street sweepers, ball fields, snow plows, street lights, a salt shed and a new police headquarters.

Yesterday, department heads began assembling a list of what needs to be done to fix the neglect that’s occurred since a mayor last proposed a capital budget in 2004, beginning a period when the city spent little on infrastructure improvements and major purchases except to fix an emergency or respond to a state or federal mandate.

There’s still not much money — even less since the federal government announced last week that it will no longer pay the salaries of 38 firefighters, punching a $2.8 million hole in the operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

City Budget Director Mark Ianello reminded the seven other department heads who attended yesterday’s capital projects meeting of that several times, but insisted they leave nothing off their lists.

“It’s a priority, but realistically that’s not going to happen,” police Capt. Scott McNamara told Ianello, who chairs the capital projects group, when the discussion turned to replacing the 47-year-old police station, built for a much smaller department in a different, low-tech era of law enforcement.

“We need to get this into the public dialogue,” Ianello responded. “It’s many years out but the project still should get ranked high. The maintenance cost is high. It’s not functional for the Police Department. I know your offices are quite constricted. There’s no rhyme or reason for how it’s set up. It was designed for 50 people. You’ve got 100.”

Although Ianello suggested a public dialogue would be helpful in winning support for the projects, he rejected a request to release written copies of the departments’ lists because he said they were only drafts. But he said department heads so far have requested 46 pieces of equipment and building improvements.

Among them, Police Capt. Scott McNamara told the projects group that besides a new headquarters at a cost of about $15 million (Ianello said the cost would be closer to $20 million), police need 25 defibrillators ($42,500) and should also be buying eight cruisers a year, but proposed only five ($200,000).

Fire Chief Jack Bergeron said his list includes a pumper truck ($300,000 to $450,000) and a snorkel truck, which has an arm that allows firefighters to attack fires from above buildings ($950,000).

Public Works Commissioner John Isensee said he needs three snowfighters, or trucks that sand, salt and plow roads ($892,000), a salt shed ($135,000) and a street sweeper ($245,000).

Isensee oversees maintenance for each of the city’s 70 buildings, including 28 school buildings. He said many need new roofs, boilers, windows and other improvements, costing at least $10 million.

Isensee also said the city needs to shift its focus on ball fields.

“There are too many diamonds and not enough rectangles in the city,” Ianello said, comparing baseball diamonds to the playing fields for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey. He said the city has 32 baseball diamonds, which he acknowledged are usually booked solid, but just four fields for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey.

The capital projects group is scheduled to meet next on April 1. Its recommendations will go to Mayor William Lantigua, who is required by the city charter to submit a capital budget to the City Council by April 1, a deadline it’s not likely to be met.

As the meeting ended yesterday, Ianello said he was surprised that the lists submitted by department heads were not longer.

“Lots of people haven’t thought about what’s needed,” Ianello responded, “because they’ve never been given that opportunity.”