Space-Needs Assessment Wide-Ranging, but Not Definitive

December 21, 2023
Old Town Hall and ten other town buildings were discussed in a presentation of a municipal space-needs assessment during this week’s Select Board meeting. Courtesy Image

Several Bedford Select Board members on Monday expressed disappointment that a long-anticipated municipal space-needs assessment presented more suggestions than solutions for the 11 buildings reviewed.

“It’s not really telling us anything we didn’t already know,” said Emily Mitchell, who added that she was hoping for more specific options, and how specific moves would create other possibilities. “I wanted more understanding of daily use, daily traffic patterns,” she explained. 

Shawn Hanegan agreed that he was “looking for more recommendations about how to shuffle things around. You can kind of get a sense of that if you move things around yourself.”

“We’ve done a study that tells us we are going to need more study,” commented Margot Fleischman. “Every time there’s something that’s actionable, there might need to be a next-phase study of remaining space. Do we have to pay somebody else to do what I thought was going to be in here?” 

Town Manager Matt Hanson put more of a positive spin on the report. “There still is enough useful information for us to continue our work, especially when a couple of the dominoes fall. There definitely are some short-term things we can work on. And there’s no really bad crunch point that needed to be fixed – and maybe that’s why there are not stronger recommendations.”

Paul Mortenson said, “It could be a useful tool to help the town manager form his opinion on space use. Let’s all read it some more. I think it’s a continuing process.” 

Mithell acknowledged that “there is a lot in the appendices.” The document is almost 300 pages. 

The study was conducted by the architectural firm of Drummey Rosane Anderson of Waltham during the spring. 

Hanson said any near-term response will be “small corrections” such as improved signage and wayfinding or some reconfiguration in the Planning Department suite.

He said relocation of the food bank also could be prioritized. 

“I would much rather start with better utilizing our existing assets,” he said. 

The food bank is in the Shawsheen Room on the ground floor of Town Center, space that was used by several agencies before food insecurity, a pandemic byproduct, had to be addressed. 

“Now that we are not in emergency response mode, we can step back and optimize a different space,” said Fleischman.

The report also presented various options for the current fire station, which will be replaced if the Historic District Commission accepts design plans and the March 2024 town meeting approves funding.

“If that moves forward, I think we will be able to start those discussions,” said Hanson. 

Hanegan advanced the idea of repurposing the current fire station for public events. He mentioned dinners and performances, noting that “we really don’t have a community center.” The studio and offices of Bedford TV could be a fit for that context, he said.

Some highlights from the municipal space assessment are:

  • Departmental operations in Town Center would improve if the food bank, and even all or part of the Recreation Department, could be relocated. The food bank could move to the former Veterans of Foreign Wars post that the town owns on Loomis Street at Depot Park, or to the fire station. Hanson said staff has also floated the idea of a church or other nonprofit hosting the food bank. 

The VFW may be more appropriate for a park or public use, he said. Mitchell said the Friends of Depot Park would like to demolish the Cape-style structure to restore an earlier appearance of the corner. Hanegan was enthusiastic about the idea; he said the placement of the building on the grounds is “awkward.”

Hanson noted that the site of the dilapidated town-owned storage garages at the VA Hospital is on land restricted by deed for recreation use. Relocating the Recreation Department there would necessitate a new building. The report did not designate an alternative use for the recreation space.

  • The relocation of Bedford TV from the second floor of Old Town Hall would allow expansion there by the town museum, now being operated by the Historical Society as a pilot on the ground and third floors. The society’s original proposal for a museum in Old Town Hall incorporated the first and second floors, but there was no alternative location for Bedford TV.  The report suggested the fire station or Town Center. 
  • Town Hall would benefit from additional space for archives, financial records, and other storage, according to the study. The consultant said relocating the information technology department could create space, although there was no solid proposed destination.
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Patty Dahlgren
December 24, 2023 2:38 pm

Delighted to read that the relocation of the Food Bank can be prioritized. The hardworking FB team built a robust program in challenging space. Deep bow to them. Relocating it is a win-win. 
When the Food Bank moves, we get to utilize the kitchen and serve our delicious hot meals downstairs again. Real not paper plates! Metal not plastic cutlery! Soup! Tea! More time for socializing at lunch! Thank you for working to relocate two great programs into more appropriate space so we all can thrive.

Patty Dahlgren, Volunteer 

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