Downtown Millis will see a new playground and library in the spring, a revamp of the historic bandstand coming soon, and potentially large-scale redevelopment of two industrial and commercial sites.
While each project is distinct, they all seem to draw on a large dose of civic engagement, and together will add up to huge changes for a small town.
In one of the more recent moves, Town Meeting on Nov. 5 approved spending $60,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to rebuild the playground at the Clyde Brown Elementary School.
A few days later, a turkey shoot to raise money to save the Depression-era bandstand next to Town Hall was a huge success, according to Nathan Maltinsky, chairman of the town’s Historical Commission.
“We had a good turnout and it shows there’s a lot of pride in Millis,” he said. “People care about their town, and this is a perfect example of people showing up and supporting a small project.”
‘We had a good turnout and it shows there’s a lot of pride in Millis. . . . The bandstand was a big, big focal point back in the day.’
The turkey shoot raised $1,100 of the $5,000 needed, said Maltinsky, but with another $400 raised elsewhere and an offer from a former resident to match funds, volunteers might be closing in on what they need.
“The bandstand was a big, big focal point back in the day,” he said, so people showed up from all over town because they were nostalgic and didn’t want to see it torn down.
Boarded up because of safety concerns, the bandstand has been the site of vandalism. Maltinsky said plans call for interior lighting and a security camera, in addition to new paint, railings, and granite steps.
Volunteers are hoping the work can be done this spring.
“In the spring it will feel very new here in town,” said Denise Gibbons, a volunteer member of the Millis Playground Committee, which also helped win $15,000 in a nationwide contest to rebuild the play space.
Parents pushing for the playground improvements capitalized on a lot of spirited community involvement to raise money, she said. They made a video and entered it into the national contest against hundreds of other entries, and Millis was named one of 10 finalists. But to win the $15,000, the community with about 8,000 residents had to compete for online votes against rivals in big cities like Houston and Philadelphia, said Gibbons.
Using Facebook, local events, community e-mail lists, and a few other tricks, Millis garnered the most votes over the summer.
“There’s a lot of support here in tiny little Millis for the playground project,” said Gibbons. “It was really a social media push.”
But it was this month’s vote to spend $60,000 on the project that cleared the final hurdle.
New equipment, including slides, a rock wall, and other climbing structures, will be ordered soon, Gibbons said. A company will be hired to oversee volunteers installing the new handicapped-accessible play structures for children ages 5 to 12.
Volunteers are still raising money for ongoing maintenance and a second phase for the overhaul, replacing the sand around the swing set with mulch and also repair retaining walls nearby, she said.
Just down the street, the new 17,800-square-foot Millis Public Library is set to open in the spring with three times the space of the old library, including a children’s area for events and activities, and a local history room for town documents.
The $7.7 million project, partially funded by the state, has been in the works for more than a decade, and voters overwhelmingly approved it in 2010.
The existing library has had problems with water getting in and damaging books as well as other “structural deficiencies,” said its director, Tricia Perry.
And supporters are excited about what the new library will add to the town.
“There was a sense that what the library really needed was a community room space, dedicated young adult space, and a building that would be accessible for everybody,” she said.
The community room will live up to its name, said Perry, because it’s designed to be available even when the library is closed so it can be used for a wide range of meetings and events.
A short walk down Main Street, at the former site of the GAF Co. and the existing Ann & Hope Outlet Shops, town leaders are hoping to use zoning to attract what residents want.
With the input of residents and using a grant to hire consultants to shape a study, members of the town’s Downtown Development Steering Committee are gearing up to make recommendations to Town Meeting in the spring, said Don Roman, the committee’s chairman.
They are looking at the now vacant GAF site, which is up for sale, as a good location for a residential or mixed-use development, he said. It’s now zoned for industrial use but could not attract that type of enterprise easily because there’s too much competition from locations closer to major highways, said Roman.
The property is next to a residential area, and demographic research suggests that townhouses for empty-nesters, or perhaps an assisted-living complex for seniors could work there.
“But then again, that’s not absolutely cast in concrete,” said Roman. “Maybe there is a way to do something in that space of a village mall kind of idea.”
The Ann & Hope site is zoned partially commercial and partially industrial, but Roman’s committee is leaning toward recommending it be rezoned primarily commercial or mixed use.
Aside from the Ann & Hope store, much of the square footage on the site is not being used, and residents envision a few possibilities, including some kind of indoor sports facility, said Roman.
“Community involvement has been very important to us,” he said. “We had a lot of good dialogue, a lot of interesting ideas were put out.”