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Concord

Bus depot at landfill is rejected

Concord’s Town Meeting last week rejected a proposal by the School Committee to build a bus transportation facility on the former town landfill, and instead urged officials to keep it on the regional high school property.

But school officials say the landfill is the best site for the buses, and now that it has been rejected, they will have to consider hiring an outside company to provide transportation services for Concord’s students.

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Town Meeting voters also rejected a bid by the Walden Woods Project for a conservation restriction on the former landfill, and narrowly upheld the local ban on the sale of single-serving plastic water bottles that was enacted by last spring’s session. The article seeking to repeal the ban was rejected by a vote of 621 in favor to 687 against.

Voters also turned down a nonbinding article asking the School Committee to review the management and financial practices of Superintendent Diana Rigby.

The bus depot issue is a long-simmering dispute.

The town had long operated its own school buses using a maintenance and parking facility on the grounds of Concord-Carlisle High School. However, with a new high school being constructed on the site, the bus depot had to be moved to make way for project.

The town has been renting space in Billerica and Acton until it finds a permanent solution.

‘It’s been there for 35 years, so why should they leave now?’

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School Committee chairwoman Maureen Spada said the panel previously approved a resolution stating that if its plan for the landfill site was turned down, officials “will proceed to plan for private services,’’ or outsourcing, an idea that has been unpopular among many residents.

While Town Meeting rejected the use of the former landfill, it did support a nonbinding article submitted by resident Phebe Ham that asks the committee to keep the transportation facility at the high school.

“It’s not a pie-in-the-sky idea,’’ Ham said. “It’s logical and reasonable. It’s been there for 35 years, so why should they leave now?’’

But Spada said it would not be feasible for at least four or five years due to construction at the high school.

“There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved,’’ Spada said. “The School Committee has been clear that it’s not a viable option.’’

Spada said there is some question about whether the bus depot would violate environmental standards at the new high school, and Carlisle officials do not support the idea of placing it there. But she said the biggest issue is that there is not enough room to accommodate the bus facility .

She said the only option is the former student parking lot, which is being used by the construction company and is “under a large pile of dirt.’’

Ham said the issues at the high school can be dealt with one at a time if the School Committee is willing.

“The School Committee keeps saying no,’’ she said. “But it passed by a huge majority and in my opinion, it would be hard for the School Committee to ignore such a big vote.’’

The second warrant article concerning the former landfill, which called on the town to sell a conservation restriction limiting the use of the site to the Lincoln-based Walden Woods Project, was also turned down by residents; both landfill measures needed a two-thirds majority to win approval.

Kathi Anderson, executive director of the Walden Woods Project, said she was disappointed and thinks the competing article for the bus facility hurt the conservation restriction’s chances. She said if the bus article was not on the warrant, the restriction would have easily passed.

The article asked residents to authorize the Board of Selectmen to convey to the Walden Woods Project, or a similar organization, a conservation restriction that would limit the use of the 35-acre property. In return, the Walden Woods Project would pay the town $2.6 million.

Anderson said she is not sure whether the issue will be revisited.

“It’s a bit soon to make any conclusions about next steps,’’ she said. “We need to talk with other supporters.’’

Selectman Jeffrey Wieand said the town has spent a significant amount of time working with the Walden Woods Project to set up the restriction, but said there are no immediate plans to reopen discussions.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.
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