ARPA fund strategy approved by town boards

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North Attleborough Town Hall

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

A strategy for spending $8 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (APRA) has been approved, and the Allen Avenue School is first on the list of potential projects.

Town Manager Michael Borg, meeting with the Finance Subcommittee on Oct. 20, said the price tag for the repairs to the school is approximately $5 million. Closed in 2015, the school has been mostly unused, with the exception of the Richards Memorial Library book sale. There are a number of issues, including leaks in the roof, hazardous materials that need to be removed, and mechanical problems. Attempts to sell the building in the past were unsuccessful.

At the meeting, Borg said the town has a need for the building, saying that the three-story house used by the Senior Center—which the town pays $30,000 a year to lease—is not ideal for North Attleborough’s elders. Rooms are too small for some programs, and a tent outside the center is used for many of the exercise programs.

With the new Allen Avenue building, they could run year-round fitness programming,” said Borg.

Other uses for the school—along with the Senior Center—include being a polling place, replacing the Showcase Cinemas. Borg added that the Veterans Agent and other departments could be relocated to the school. All told, it would take around three years to finish renovations, and the price could increase during that time.

Allen Avenue has a lot of potential,” said Borg. “I think there’s an opportunity for the town to seize on this, use this funding for that and be able to work through that.”

The town initially received approximately $3 million from ARPA, and another $5 million distributed by the Bristol County Commissioners. $1.5 million has been made available so far, with the rest to be released around the middle of 2022. The town has four years to spend the funds.

ARPA is the third round of economic payments to provide relief from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bristol County—which North Attleborough is part of—has received $110 million, and money was distributed on a per capita basis. The funds have a wide range of possible uses, with public health, infrastructure, and developing economy among them.

Other possible uses for the funds outlined by Borg are $750,000 for economic development, repairing the LeStage Property—Borg mentioned that the town has spent nothing on the building—purchasing energy-efficient systems for the schools, and mitigation of PFAS contamination in the town’s water supply. A new LED sign outside Town Hall to display information was also suggested.

Borg stressed that this list is not set in stone, and approval of his strategy from the FinCom and Town Council doesn’t lock the town into a specific spending plan. The next step will be for the town manager to develop specific plans for the funds, which will need to go to the FinCom and Town Council for approval.

This is a framework,” said Borg at the Town Council meeting on Oct. 25. “These projects will change some.”

An important part of the process, said Borg, is the hiring of a manager for the funds. He said that an audit of the town’s spending of the federal funds is a certainty, and suggested $70,000 over a two-year period be set aside for a contracted position. John Simmons—who sits on both boards—said he felt comfortable leaving the plan in Borg’s hands. Town Councilor Mark Gould abstained from the vote, wanting to watch the FinCom meeting before committing. Town Council President Justin Pare expressed support for the ideas Borg proposed.

I love the idea of the ARPA program manager to protect us,” said Pare. “We want to avoid those situations.”