By Melanie Petrucci, Contributing Writer
Westborough – In what seemed like an ordinary request by a community group to be allowed to use space in a municipal building (Forbes Community Building) turned into a robust and lively debate at the Dec. 20 Westborough Board of Selectmen meeting. At the heart of the discussion was “what is a right and a wrong use of space” in accordance with the wishes of the donors who bequeathed the building to the town.
Boy Scout Troop 100 Committee Chair Jim Rhein appeared before the board and requested that the town allow the troop to return to the Forbes Community Building located at 9 East Main St. weekly meetings and to store troop equipment. In doing so, in a letter to the board, he referenced the building’s donors’ (Frank and Fannie Forbes) wishes that stated, “… consider the request of Frank Forbes to utilize the building for the youth of Westborough, and specifically for Scouts, as he was a strong supporter of our program….”
According to the Donor’s Purpose Statement, dated May 26, 1941, “The aim was that the building should serve as large a number of the residents of the town as possible, and that it should be in fact as well as in name, a Community house.”
Selectman George Barrette remarked that the troop’s request was “premature.”
He explained, “As chair of the Municipal Building Committee, we need every inch of space that we’ve got until 2019 so this conversation is premature.”
Ian Johnson, the board’s chair, shared that there may have been miscommunication with first, the renovation of Town Hall, and starting in January 2017, renovations at the Forbes Municipal Building. Both projects required that town departments being relocated while the work is ongoing.
Barrette suggested the troop consider the Harvey Building and reminded the board that the community building is not compliant with the American with Disabilities Act. He also suggested further discussion at the next selectmen’s meeting.
Selectman Leigh Emery raised the concern of displacing community groups versus not wanting to spend the money on storage facilities.
“Are we following the letter of the law or the intent of the [1941 Forbes] Document?” she asked. She added that as the town’s stewards, perhaps the board should have town counsel look at the intent of that document.
It was also noted the building is home to the Westborough Food Pantry, which all agreed should not be moved.
Town Manager Jim Malloy offered to seek out town counsel opinion if the board so desired and to enforce any decisions. Barrette was adamantly opposed to bringing in legal counsel.
“This will complicate the process of the planning and the cost of moving departments for the renovations by throwing a monkey wrench into the process,” Barrette said.
“I would rather uphold something legally even if it caused some groups some discomfort rather than to just ignore it,” Emery said.
Johnson suggested continuing the discussion at the next meeting as well as other related topics such as options including the use of the Harvey Building. Barrette suggested looking at that building first to see if that is a viable space option before the next meeting so they would be prepared before seeking legal counsel. The board, as well as Rhein, agreed.