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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Franklin - Smart Growth - Considerations for Dean College

Dean College revealed an audacious plan for consideration of its own future and growth in Franklin. This has created something of a local controversy. Two of the more controversial proposals call for the college to obtain the Davis Thayer school building and to work with the town on plans to consider closing a section of Main St to improve the safety of the Dean students as they cross from one side of the campus to another. Safety is always a good reason to consider something, even if it is out of the ordinary like closing a part of Main St. Plenty of discussion should ensue to explore the options for improving the traffic flow in and around the campus. As hard as this might seem on the face of it, there is potential for a win-win, if we get the folks to the table with open minds.
These seems to be a more difficult task on the Davis Thayer proposal. Certainly the school is fully utilized and the school district is struggling with capacity. New schools have come on-line recently yet, each school in the district still has 'temporary' (or modular) classroom buildings that are heavily utilized.
''We still need that school. I don't see that happening anytime soon," said Town Council chairman Chris Feeley.


Town Councilor Carlo Geromini said the college's relationship with the town over the years had generally been positive.

''Dean has been one of our greatest assets," said Geromini, whose two sons attended the college.

But he agreed with Feeley that selling the elementary school to Dean would be the wrong move for the town.

''Schools right now are pretty much crowded, and to lose one of our schools, I don't see that right now," Geromini said.

I urge caution on this particular proposal. I grew up in Pawtucket, RI about 20 or so miles south of Franklin. I urge Franklinites to recall what happens to them as they drive down Route 95 to Providence, RI. as you cross the MA line into Rhode Island, you prepare to navigate the infamous S-curve in Pawtucket.
This S-curve is a permanent legacy to a similar stand off by the Pawtucket School Dept when Route 95 was being built. The Le Foyer Club was located on Fountain St. Le Foyer was a hall for the local French club. Joseph Jenks Junior High School stood on Broadway. It was an aging facility (very similar to Davis Thayer) but heavily needed by the school department. Route 95 construction tried negotiating with each group, the Le Foyer and the school department to purchase one or the other to allow Route 95 a smoother road through the city. Neither was willing to budge. Route 95 was then built to go around each obstacle creating the S-curve.
It wasn't too long after that the city did indeed have to replace the school and at the time had to go finance it alone having passed up the opportunity to get some funding from Route 95 to help defray the costs.
See the parallel to Franklin? No, there isn't a major highway being built through downtown but Dean is already there and needs to expand. Franklin needs space to provide an appropriate educational environment for its growing school population. Is Davis Thayer the best solution for Franklin's educational future? Only as a bargaining chip in negotiations not as an ongoing facility.
What do you think?
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