TOWNSEND — After months of anticipation, the West Townsend Reading Room Committee is being granted its wish: the replacement of the old, rotting wheelchair ramp that leads up to the historic building. And they have Nashoba Valley Technical High School to thank for the work.
As part of their education, the students take on projects for their community towns, ranging from construction and electrical engineering to auto mechanics and culinary work.
About three weeks ago, Town Administrator Andy Sheehan announced to the Board of Selectmen that three Townsend projects were approved; in addition to the ramp, the school will be constructing a tool shed to be located behind the library. Nashoba Tech also approved an electrical project, which has been put on hold for the time being, said Sheehan.
But the ramp is the top priority for the town, said Sheehan.
“There’s an existing ramp but it’s in very bad shape and has needed to be replaced for a while,” he said.
Sheehan had initially contacted the school about the ramp last year, but it had been too far along into the school year to take on a project of that scale.
The students are beginning work on the projects within the next week. The students will be constructing both the ramp and the shed on their school premises and will be bringing the final projects over later to be installed. Paul Jussaume, vocational coordinator at Nashoba Tech, said he expects the projects to both be installed by the spring, but it will ultimately depend on weather conditions.
The reason why the projects are being built off site, to be brought over later, is because of the unreliable winter weather. By doing the work in-house, there won’t be any time lost.
“The quality of the project is going to be better in an environment with controlled conditions,” said Jussaume.
The electrical project is currently on hold as the town evaluates a few issues that arose with it.
Originally, they had hoped for Nashoba Tech to put a conduit between Town Hall and a small brick building, referred to as the annex, that sits in front of it against the sidewalk of Route 119.
“It’s been vacant for a number of years, so what we’re hoping to do is move all of our technology services over there, all of our servers, give the MIS a place to set up shop,” said Sheehan.
The town currently has servers in a number of locations, including the offices of the town administrator’s assistant and the veteran’s agent, but they hope to consolidate.
“In order to do that, we need to get our generator power over there for backup power,” said Sheehan.
The issue is that the foundation of town hall is granite, which would have to be bored through. The project has been shelved for the time being as the issue is evaluated.
Each year, the school sends out letters to its eight contributing towns asking for a list of projects. In order to be able to accommodate the towns as best as possible, Jussaume requests that the towns label their top priorities.
“We have to make sure they’re educational, too. We’re not going to go and — of course I’m being facetious, but — rake a yard,” said Jussaume.
Although the shed wasn’t a top priority, said Sheehan, it was something the town had hoped for and a fairly easy project to fit into the students’ schedule.
It had been a few years since the town had requested projects from Nashoba Tech. The last project was (completing) a garage at the recycling center in 2010.
“So they were anxious to come help us again,” said Sheehan. “And we were anxious to have them.”
Next year, Sheehan hopes to ask the school to repaint some of the Highway Department vehicles.
The program is mutually beneficial, said Jussaume and Sheehan.
Sheehan estimated that the town will be saving about a third of the costs that the projects might otherwise be. He didn’t have estimates for the ramp, but the shed could have cost the town upwards of $3,500; through the school, it will cost a little over $2,000. The costs will go toward materials and 25 percent gratuity that is paid of the school.
Meanwhile, the students are able to gain experience in the hands-on application of their education. The projects can then be submitted in their portfolios to potential employers once they graduate.
“A lot of them graduate and years later drive by and see (the projects) and it fills them with pride,” said Jussaume. “They say, ‘Every time I drive by the job, it always makes me think of working with that community.'”