Brendan Fitzpatrick

April 17, 2024

Finance Subcommittee Approves Most CPA Projects, Hung on Athenaeum Plan

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FRAMINGHAM - The Framingham City Council’s Finance Subcommittee has approved most of the recommended projects for Community Preservation Act (CPA) money, as the four-member group was divided on the plan for Athenaeum Hall and its adjacent firehouse.

During their meeting at the Memorial Building on Tuesday, April 16, the Finance Subcommittee received details on the recommended package from the city’s Community Preservation Committee (CPC). The CPC recommended that 13 projects receive a total of $3,023,250 in CPA funding.

That package of recommendations included $210,000 for community housing, about $1.3 million for recreation and open space, and nearly $1.5 million for historic preservation plans.

The Finance Subcommittee approved 12 of the 13 plans, with the pitch of $500,000 for the first phase of the Athenaeum’s preservation being left up in the air.

Director of Planning and Community Development for the city Sarkis Sarkisian told the subcommittee on Tuesday that the $500,000 recommended by the CPC would be used alongside $1 million in PUD money previously set aside for Athenaeum about a decade ago. He explained the first step is to renovate the building’s exterior in order to comply with the state government’s regulations for historic structures.

“We’re not in compliance (with the regulations), it looks horrible from the street,” Sarkisian told the subcommittee.

“What can we do to at least get the front of this building up to some type of decent condition so it’ll look good? Whether we sell it, lease it, that’s a whole other process—a long-term process—but in the meantime, at least bring this and have it presentable for the public. That’s our first goal.”

Chair of the subcommittee and At-Large City Councilor George King was joined by District 4 City Councilor Michael Cannon in voting against the earmark for the hall, while District 5’s Noval Alexander and Leora Mallach of District 7 approved the Athenaeum grant.

King and Cannon are looking to ensure that a long-term plan is in place for the Athenaeum before pumping money into its renovation.

“I think there’s a lot of potential in that project there between the fire station and the Athenaeum, but it’s also a lot of money to meet that potential,” King said.

“I just feel, like some of the other projects, we’re taking relatively serious amounts of money and putting it towards something that we don’t ever know if we’re going to be able to follow up with.”

Alexander, though, agreed with Sarkisian’s belief that this proposed investment can jumpstart movement.

“If you build it—or in this case, make some renovations—maybe, they will come,” Alexander later contended.

“I think I’m willing to bet on our community and Mr. Sarkesian and his crew to make a pitch for somebody to come and make (the Athenaeum) a beautiful building.”

With the subcommittee’s Athenaeum vote being split evenly, the matter will be discussed among the entire City Council. CPC Chair Tom Mahoney’s hope is that the CPA recommendations can be placed on the council’s April 30 agenda.

The remainder of the CPC’s recommendations were approved by the Finance Subcommittee, albeit with some stipulations.

Cannon wanted to ensure that city employees do not get preference for the income-based Rental Subsidy Program—which the CPC recommended allocating $120,000 for—while also mandating that veterans of the armed forces do get preference. Other subcommittee members and Mayor Charlie Sisitsky agreed with those mandates, and the funding was eventually approved.

Meanwhile, $35,000 for improvements at the Walsh Middle School and Dunning Elementary School softball complex were recommended, though King added he would like to see the municipal government provide assistance in order to add more “structure” to the project’s plan.

A total of $200,000 for the preservation of the Memorial Building was also approved, but Cannon emphasized his belief that matters of accessibility improvements should be included in the city’s capital budget.

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