DEVENS -- Devens Education Advisory Committee member Maureen Babcock thanked the MassDevelopment board of directors for agreeing to a renewed contract with the Harvard School District for the continued education of Devens' school-aged children. Her words came during a board of directors meeting held on Devens.
Devens' secondary school students have been educated in Harvard since 2006, followed by Devens' elementary school students in 2009.
"You are actually our school committee," Babcock said to the board. "At the end of the day, we advise you and you make the decisions."
"We have an education contract covering kindergarten through grade 12," said Babcock. "I think it's great. It shows a renewed commitment by both of the parties."
Babcock also shared with the board the third annual survey of Devens residents regarding satisfaction with the Harvard contract. "Overall the community continues to be pleased," said Babcock. However, "One concern is clearly cost." The renewed contract retains reimbursement for Harvard at the rate of $13,500 per Devens student educated in district, plus the actual costs for special-education students.
Babcock noted that the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District, formed July 1, 2011, has "rejoined us" by sending a representative to attend DEAC meetings. Overall, the DEAC hopes to "increase communication to the Devens community," said Babcock. Fresh off the presses is the DEAC's newly launched newsletter, which will regularly report news about the schools and the 74 Devens students in attendance.
Police contract concerns
Harvard Selectman Ron Ricci thanked MassDevelopment for leading the E911 effort, calling it a "good accomplishment. It's going to benefit my town (and) provide services at a lower cost."
But Ricci pressed the board about the recent renewal of the Devens policing contract with the Massachusetts State Police for two years despite the fact that under state law "it's a requirement that the policing contract be put to bid to towns and neighbors."
"I'm a Harvard selectman. I want Harvard to get it," admitted Ricci. "But all I ask is that each of us has an equal opportunity to bid on it. In the long run, it will benefit all of the towns."
Devens Executive Vice President for Devens Operations George Ramirez said the E911 center is distinct from policing because the dispatching facility "is truly a regional center" whereas the policing contract "would be more like a subcontract out of services."
"But you're right," said Ramirez. "We've committed to it." Ramirez said a timeline is being constructed and will be shared with the three Devens towns -- Ayer, Harvard and Shirley -- as well as the State Police. "It's sort of a closed bidding process -- no one outside of that can bid."
A subcommittee consisting of Ramirez, MassDevelopment attorney Lee Smith and Devens Fire Chief Joseph LeBlanc are planning to meet again with a consultant the agency hired to get advice on Devens policing needs. By Jan. 1, the committee will meet with a charge to wrap its work by Dec. 31, 2013. The committee will be communicating with "all the stakeholders" over next year. The goal is to contract with a police department by July 1, 2014.
"I know it's sort of an outline, but that's all that we have at this point," said Ramirez.
Devens Advisory Committee member Tom Kinch said "I'd be interested in the board's attitude about the residential development of Devens. We've always considered it to be an enhancement to attracting industry."
Jones said the Devens Reuse Plan contemplates the residential development of Grant Road. Remediation on the land is complete.
Jones said MassDevelopment has retained urban designer Don Powers of Providence-based Union Studio to start work with the DEC about the appropriate number of building lots to place on Grant Road and determine the size of each lot.
"We intend to move forward," said Jones. Eventually a request for proposals for developers will result. There was no mention at the board meeting of the agency's unsuccessful effort on March 28 when it's chosen developer, Trinity Financial of Boston, was unable to secure tri-town approval for a 246-unit low-income housing conversion of the vacant Vicksburg Square on Devens.
"That's really next on our plan for housing development," said Jones.
Devens Advisory Committee member Philip Crosby thanked Devens Recreation Director Kim Walsh for working to ensure the "hundreds of thousands" who use the Rogers Field playing fields "don't just trample our property." Crosby said Walsh was "exceedingly active and willing to work with the residents."
Babock said Devens recreation "is one of our gems" and said it was a prime factor in her move to the former Army base. Babcock encouraged the agency "to continue focusing on that as one of our assets."