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Foxborough

More casino plan data is sought

Some in Foxborough want proposal aired

Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff/File

Casino supporters rallied outside a meeting at Foxborough High School last month. Though there has been vocal opposition to a casino in Foxborough, some in the town would like a detailed airing of the plan to build across from Gillette Stadium.

Much of the noise coming out of Foxborough lately suggests that the town is dead set against the $1 billion casino proposed by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn.

But in some quarters, including on the School Committee, people still want a chance to learn more about the proposal and how it might affect the town and its 2,800-student school district.

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While Foxborough’s Advisory Committee, town manager, and a majority of selectmen have pledged opposition to a casino in the town, public safety officials say they will just do their jobs however things play out.

Meanwhile, four of the five members on the School Committee said publicly last week that they want more details aired about the Kraft-Wynn plan. The issue is not expected to make it onto a meeting agenda any time soon though, school officials said.

“I view this as a town issue,’’ Superintendent Debra Spinelli said in an interview, when asked about the committee members’ views. “It does not belong in the hands of the School Committee or the administration.’’

Everyone has the right to a personal opinion, added Town Manager Kevin Paicos, who has decried the casino idea he said has already hurt the town by dividing it.

Still, he said, “I would find it odd if the School Committee ever voted to oppose the selectmen.’’

At face value, the school panel members’ assertions are at odds with action taken by other town committees to reject the casino proposed for land Kraft owns across Route 1 from Gillette Stadium. The Planning Board has vetoed zoning changes offered by a Kraft Group attorney that could have paved the way for such a development.

But School Committee chairman Bruce Gardner said the members’ views are easily explained.

“Several of us feel as if we don’t have enough information to have an opinion, but it’s our responsibility to examine the facts,’’ Gardner said. “I wouldn’t be in favor of a casino myself, but it’s my duty to learn more about the positive and negative impacts to the school system.’’

Spinelli, Gardner, and committee member Martha Slattery were among a number of local leaders invited to join Kraft and Wynn on Dec. 4 for focus groups. The invitation did not hint at the subject matter, Spinelli and Gardner said. But when word leaked out a few days before the meetings, it was clear what was being proposed.

The meetings did not address specific impact to the schools, Spinelli said last week.

“We have not been made any promises, nor do we have any information,’’ she said. “My principal responsibility is the quality of education of children.’’

Over the years, Kraft has donated millions to local causes and offers the use of Gillette Stadium for the high school graduation ceremony if it rains. Spinelli said that generosity will have no bearing on any decision the committee makes.

“Not at all,’’ she said. “The Kraft Group has a strong record of public philanthropy, and shows its support of local school and community groups in a myriad of ways, but there has never been an expectation of school support or involvement of any kind in their business development decisions.’’

Among many concerns raised since the casino proposal surfaced is how an influx of children of resort workers might affect enrollment.

“We do have the capacity to take more students,’’ Spinelli said. “But what number are people talking about? We have no idea.’’

Current class sizes in Foxborough average 18 to 22 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, she said.

“We are obviously proud of that and want to preserve it,’’ Spinelli said.

Fire Chief Roger Hatfield and Police Chief Edward O’Leary, meanwhile, said they remain focused on current facts and will not fret over what may or may not happen.

“My responsibility is to provide fire protection and emergency medical services,’’ said Hatfield. “I try to keep my personal opinions out of it. The fact of the matter is we haven’t seen any real plans.’’

Gambling is coming to Massachusetts and there is a strong chance a casino or slots parlor will be located in Foxborough, Plainville, Raynham, or Bridgewater, he said. But without any details, “the cart is ahead of the horse,’’ Hatfield said. “We have rumor and fear come to life. We should stay calm and try to be as professional as we can.’’

O’Leary said he is researching the potential effect of a casino on crime, traffic, and call volume. But that’s playing second fiddle to the task of overseeing security coverage for Patriots playoff games and other town matters.

In the forefront is work to curb the binge drinking that has plagued game and event days at the stadium and elsewhere in town that results in more than 1,000 protective custodies for Foxborough police a year.

O’Leary, Selectwoman Lorraine Brue, and others on a study committee have spent the past year developing revisions for Foxborough’s liquor restrictions, which they will present at a Jan. 24 selectmen’s meeting. A wrench in the works now is new casino legislation that allows the state’s future gambling halls to not only offer free drinks to patrons, but also serve alcohol until 2 a.m. - an hour after Foxborough’s 1 a.m. cutoff, O’Leary said.

Liquor licenses for casinos will also be granted and policed by the state’s new Gaming Commission, he said, and not the town.

“It appears from my reading of the legislation that the town is going to have very little say in the operation of that liquor service,’’ nor would the stiffer regulations he and Brue are about to present have any effect, O’Leary said.

Paicos and O’Leary said the town will probably ask state lawmakers for local control of the liquor license if a casino materializes.

Hatfield, on the other hand, said that he can’t imagine any community would agree to hand over full control and that the state legislation may receive many “facelifts’’ between now and when a gambling operation is sited.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com.
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