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How would you spend $5.5 million in New Bedford?

Okay, the headline is clickbait. But the funds are real. With a few caveats.

On Tuesday, June 20, the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) held the first of three public meetings to solicit input for a plan to utilize Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds – estimated to be roughly $5.5 mil by the end of this year. About 30-40 civic-minded folks came to the Hazelwood Park Senior Center to learn more about CPA – and offer their input.

Don’t worry – we didn’t spend all the money Tuesday evening. In fact, we didn’t spend any of it.

Everything you ever wanted to know about CPA

Community Preservation Committee co-chair Colleen Dawicki and member Ross Nunes

CPC committee co-chair Colleen Dawicki kicked things off with a robust and skillful presentation all about the CPA. It is 1) State-wide enabling legislation allowing communities to create funding to preserve open space and historic sites, create affordable housing and develop outdoor recreational facilities; 2) Funded by a tiny property tax surcharge approved by New Bedford voters in 2014; and 3) A big pot of money – that will be replenished every year.

That money can be spent on projects proposed by organizations such as non-profits or even the city itself. If they meet the CPA requirements and fit the needs of the community. Determining those needs and setting spending priorities and turning them into a plan is what the public meetings are all about. (You can go deep into CPA at this link.)

If you missed Tuesday’s meeting, no worries. There are two more meetings scheduled for the coming week. One on Thursday, June 22 at the Buttonwood Park Community Center. Then again next Tuesday, June 27 at the Brooklawn Park Community Center. (This one will have simultaneous Spanish interpretation.) Both take place from 6:00-7:00pm.

A CPA Grocery List

At this Tuesday’s meeting, we all got down to offering our input with alacrity. It’s not every day you get to help spend a wad of dough like this, after all.

Some familiar names for preservation made it onto the list. The Orpheum Theater. The Armory. But it’s important to note that preservation encompasses more than just buildings (as outlined above) and you can get creative with your needs.

I was with New Bedford’s grassroots renaissance man, Carl Simmons at the meeting and he suggested scanning important documents and other ephemera as an idea. Something the New Bedford Free Public Library could certainly take a shot at.

Some others noted that the very park we were at – Hazelwood – could benefit from some preservation on its grounds and some enhanced outdoor recreation facilities.

But, I like my idea best and am going to write the most about it – because it’s my blog post and in my neighborhood. :-)

The Kempton School Market on Shawmut Avenue

I’d like to see CPA funds used at the former Kempton School on Shawmut Avenue in a  manner that would meet a lot of the needs of the community around it – and also check a lot of the state requirement boxes.

I call my neighborhood “The Dead Zone.” It has few eating establishments and is actually a food desert when it comes to fresh produce and the like. It also suffers from a lack of meaningful outdoor recreational facilities like parks. And, there are few historic structures of significance.

Yet, the red-brick former Kempton School (in the featured photo at top) is sitting empty on a big plot of land – and both can be put to much needed use here.

Like a huge community garden – nay, urban farm – on the site. In the building, a year-round food hall/market selling what’s grown on-site supplemented by local farmers and other purveyors of decent foodstuffs could set up shop. Throw in an artisan market and build affordable live/work artist lofts in the former classrooms upstairs and man, you’re on your way to transforming an entire neighborhood – within important CPA guidelines.

It would result in a bustling community center of commerce and enterprise that 1) Preserves a historic building; 2) Provides outdoor recreation of a unique variety; 3) Offers low-income artists and craftspeople a place to live, work and sell their wares; and 4) Addresses a long-standing even urgent need in the community. (The project is already getting good press, thanks to ace reporter Wesley Sykes.)

Additionally, the terrific GROW Education program is already doing great work with community gardens at New Bedford schools – and working with up and running organization checks another box on the state’s list of should haves if not must haves. It’s easy to imagine them scaling up to tackle a chunk of this project.

Another great organization, E for All Southcoast, could also find a role in helping entrepreneurs start and run the individual market stalls. Both organizations are Groundwork! members so have experience in collaborative spaces.

It may be a dream – but it’s in Ward 3, which has new, hot-shot representation in councilor Hugh Dunn. If anyone can advocate for neglected Ward 3, it’s him! Okay – I’m shamelessly kissing his ass to get him on side  – and tagging him on Facebook to make sure he reads this.

But that’s what these meetings are all about.

Passionately promoting your ideas for spending millions of dollars to better and strengthen New Bedford by preserving not its past – but its future.

That’s priceless.

  • New Bedford’s Historic Preservation Planner, the brilliant Anne Louro is your official host for the CPA meetings. You can let her know you’re coming to either of the remaining meetings here.
Steven Froias