By: Tom Duggan – April 203
North Andover Town Manager Andrew Maylor worked in post-receivership Chelsea for six years. He told The Valley Patriot it was a great learning experience.
You have worked in cities and towns, which do you prefer, which do you see as functioning better?
“After six years, I became the first town administrator in Swampscott. I spent about 10 years there,” Maylor said. Overall, he adds, “I preferred working in towns.”
“I think there’s more involvement and more interaction with people in towns. That drives the accountability. There’s more accountability in towns because you have more feedback and engagement with the public than you do in a city. In a city, the accountability needs be driven by personal responsibility and structure of government.”
“In towns like North Andover, there are more people who are paying attention. I think from that perspective, a good example of places where accountability doesn’t work, would be my experience with the Essex Regional Retirement Board; I was appointed by the state to take over the chair because of the controversy there for a protracted period of time. There was a good example where people stopped showing up to meetings. It was an independent body, so it was not like a town or a city [board]. The governing board was completely independent and there weren’t interactions with media or residents quite frankly, so it was a good example how things can go wrong.”
“I think the town provides that constant feedback which I appreciate. So, yes I prefer working in a town and I think a town functions better.”
Was North Andover your first pick?
“I had been applying for positions, and I told the people of Swampscott I was looking for a bigger town with more resources. I had been applying for a number of positions at the time. I was a finalist here. I was a finalist in Winchester as well, but I did tell the folks in Winchester that if I was offered the job in North Andover I was going to take it. So yes, North Andover was my first choice. No disrespect to the Winchester folks, but this seemed to make more sense to me. So, yes, it was.”
So now that you are here, did North Andover meet your expectations?
“It did. Yes. You know I had dealt with commercial businesses and commercial industry in Chelsea, but in Swampscott there was very little commercial interaction. So, I’m putting my hands back in the game as far as attracting commercial businesses, get them to interact and participate in government. Now, that’s what North Andover has, but it’s also what North Andover needs, right? I think we can all agree that we need more corporate presence whether it’s at 1600 Osgood Street, or the loss of commercial business down at Electric and Converse. We need to engage more heavily and attract more businesses in North Andover. That’s one of the pieces that I’ve had past experience in and an interest in, but didn’t have much experience with in Swampscott, which is much smaller.”
Do you live in town?
“I live in Lynnfield.”
Are you thinking of moving into town?
“Yeah, I think the limitation right now is that I have three school age kids. I have a daughter who attends Merrimack, a daughter at Lynnfield High, and another daughter who’s in high school. Trying to move your kids out of a high school they have attended for a few years is not something that goes over well. So, I am close by. I am here often. I was here last Sunday watching the storm response by our DPW staff. I think there are ways to engage in the community when you don’t live here, and I have found that very easy to do. Lets’ see how things go as the kids get a little older.”
There were a lot of complaints at our news office about the piles of snow all over Main Street during the last blizzard. Talk about what happened.
“It was a blizzard. My reaction having watched our initial response, and then our response that Sunday was that, when we were actually able to remove snow physically … I think it was the appropriate response. We have a DPW that’s responding to clearing parking lots in schools, sidewalks as walking routes to school, the Main Street corridor, and then the other streets. So, given the fact that it was about 30 inches of snow in less than 24 hours, I think the response was pretty impressive.”
“I think every storm is different, and you have to look at the magnitude of what you are trying to remove. We are very aggressive on Main Street. I think you see it on the sidewalks, and that we removed snow. Many towns don’t remove snow on the sidewalks but we make an aggressive effort to not just plow the snow, but to remove the snow. It does come with some of its own limitations. If you were just plowing it and moving it you wouldn’t get the piles, but in the end you are asking all these small businesses to clean in front of their spaces, and we would have less of a ‘return to work’ environment. The fact that we are removing the snow means we are going to pile it first.”
“When you have 30 inches of snow, that means you are going to run into some complications. The snow occupied half the parking lot out back here, 30 feet high. We staged it there and hauled it to Sharpners Pond behind the soccer fields.”
VP: What about the Bradstreet School? (this interview was done prior to the Selectmen’s decision not to approve the low-income housing proposal).
“Ultimately, there are a lot of factors that will go into the decision of what happens with the Bradstreet School. Obviously, the interest of the business community downtown is one piece of that. In fairness, defining it as just low-income housing is an interesting approach. There’s affordable housing all over the place. This [proposal] is work-force housing. If you attended the meeting and presentation, you would have seen we were clear about the application process, and who could qualify. A good analogy for the income range of the people who would qualify would be in the range of what we pay police officers and firefighters. I think you have to look at that program in total. I am not taking sides. It’s part of the selectman’s process to evaluate what’s been presented.”
“All I have said from the beginning, in relation to the Bradstreet School is this: people have to recognize one of the trickier things any community does is surplus an asset, and then have to sell it. It’s never what people think it is going to be. If you can imagine what people would put there in a perfect or even a semi-perfect world, it never turns out to be that. There are a lot of articles nationally about the stockpiling of surplus municipal buildings and how long they stay unoccupied. Bradstreet still looks good after five years, but overall you start to see the signs of blight. Blighting Main Street would drive businesses out more than whatever use it could be.”
“It’s a public RFP (request for proposal) process. If I had an option to pick a vendor, call in people and ask them what they think is the best use for that building, there are things I would prefer. But it’s up to the selectmen and the people.”
Tell me about some of the other properties North Andover is sitting on and not using and what we are renting.
“We currently lease two spaces. We have a no cost lease till 2015, I might be off by one year on that, for the Community Development Department, which includes inspectional services and the like. We pay utilities for use of that space located at 1600 Osgood Street. We will go full rent by about 2016. The School Central Administration Office is currently in that space at 1600 Osgood. They pay approximately $100,000 a year to occupy that space. The facilities master plan committee formed by the town several years ago first identified intent, and funded in fiscal 2011. We had a company come in with the help of a committee which met dozens of times, talking about rental spaces, existing structures, and what to do with them. It was a thoughtful plan. It began long before I arrived, but I saw the benefits at the end of it. There’s been an estimate to rehab that for public use at $9M.”
“The feeling is, that’s $9M. Is that really where we are going to spend $9M compared to other choices? So, the decision was made as part of the facilities master plan, that rather than invest $9M into that facility, (as an example of using it for offices for Community Development and School Department Central Offices), it would be best that we make other choices. It’s not as easy as turning the key. When you leave a building unoccupied for a year and reopen it, you must meet full code compliance as if it was a new building. That [building] is not near code compliance. It doesn’t serve well in the public environment and if you make it a public building, you are going to spend $9M. So, then you are left with a public process of putting it out for another RFP.”
“We got one response [last time]. My experience on those kinds of buildings is that you will only get one to three responses. Really, it’s for the selectmen to decide. From my perspective, what doesn’t make sense is to do nothing. Doing nothing is a problem. We are spending between $40,000-$50,000 per year watching it get old. You can’t do that. Spending money for the sake of retaining a building where I see one car parked every day and nobody is using for recreation space or even parking makes no sense. Letting the Bradstreet School sit there without taking actions is the wrong action.”
What about any other unused buildings that we are paying for?
“First, to be clear on what we pay, the biggest cost associated with non-used public buildings is insurance. The liability and risk insurance is higher on an unoccupied building than one that is occupied. The rest of the cost is utilities, but we keep the temperature down and are not burning the midnight oil on the heating.”
“The second building we have is the former police station. As part of the facilities master plan, it called for the former police station to be rehabilitated, or knocked down and rebuilt. That is underway to study, to place the School Central Administration Office and take it out of 1600 Osgood. We are paying $100,000 a year to be at 1600 Osgood so, the feeling was that the town will be around for a couple of hundred years, rather than paying $100,000 which will grow in rental costs, we would rehab the former PD and put the School Department Central Offices there.”
“That puts them close to the Kittredge School, Middle School, and the Atkinson. So that is the plan which is underway. The design is ongoing, the Town Meeting funded that and we will go back to the town meeting this year and ask Town Meeting to fund the construction of that project. And we fully expect that Central Office will come out of 1600 Osgood, stop paying rent and move to that facility.”