CHESTER – Disagreement over what a monument to important Chester citizens should look like has halted work that voters approved at last year’s Town Meeting and has prompted a warrant article to be considered at the upcoming Town Meeting that would defund the project.
John Colman, chair of the heritage committee, the group overseeing the project, thinks the proposed article is a slap in the face to the group’s volunteer efforts,
In 2011, when Colman and Darrell Quinn met with the selectmen in an effort to get the fire station named in honor of Red Dolloff, it was suggested that it would be a good thing to commemorate in some way citizens like Dolloff who helped build Chester through their volunteerism. The original idea was to recognize them in town reports.
On the suggestion of selectman chair Steph Landau, Colman formed a committee to do just that. Members are Quinn, Gen Rowell, Richard Noyes, Judy Balk, Dean Leighton, Web Anderson, Don Brown and Colman as chair.
Colman noted that the members were chosen for many reasons, including their longevity in town, active role in Chester life and most importantly, their ability to speak up and share their views and ideas on the project.
Last year voters approved $10,000 for work to create a granite monument to memorialize the citizens the committee would research and choose for recognition.
So the heritage committee went to work creating a plan for the monument. They made a lot of progress, Colman said, and donations came in from supporters.
But when the plan was presented to the selectmen, some were uncomfortable with what was being suggested.
The committee suggested that together with the monument project, they also spruce up the grounds in front of Stevens Memorial Hall. The granite structure would be the focus point of a more park-like green. They proposed cutting trees the committee said didn’t look good anyway, planting shorter flowering trees in their place and laying a walkway. That vision hearkens back to the way the green once looked years ago.
The plan would also show off Stevens Hall. Colman noted pride in that building and frustration with the inability to see it from the road, as it’s hidden behind trees.
But selectmen, especially Jack Cannon, did not like the idea of cutting trees or the scope the project had reached.
Contacted for this article, Cannon said he thinks the monument idea was a great one in the limited way it was originally presented, but it had grown out of proportion and should be reeled back.
For his part, Colman said the group is willing to compromise, having met with a couple of the selectmen on that point last fall, but the committee was now being brushed aside.
The green in front of Stevens Hall offers a great opportunity to show off Chester’s centerpiece, he said, but when he looks to get an answer from the board on how to move forward, the informal answer he keeps getting is ‘No.’
Landau, contacted for this article, said both parties needed to sit down and talk the project out. He noted that there was discomfort among some board members with the idea of cutting any trees, the major sticking point to the current plans.
“We need to have a discussion about it, but we’re at two loggerheads about how it should be done,” said Landau.
Landau abstained on a vote to move the article that would defund the project to the warrant.
Cannon said he was also in favor of a compromise. He said he didn’t think the current incarnation was what the town had agreed to, but he was unaware of a meeting between some of the selectmen and the committee that had presented a compromise last fall.
For his part, Colman is fed up with the way the selectmen have been handling the matter. He’s thought for many years that the town could use a town manager, and this project has further convinced him of that. He said the town needs a central person to keep tabs on projects, make sure they get done instead of languishing as many do, and deal professionally with the people and initiatives in Chester.
Colman was not aware of the article to defund the committee’s project until after the selectmen agreed to send it to the warrant.
Colman said he’d like to hear from the public on the matter, and was uncomfortable with the idea that five selectmen were so far deciding for everybody. He urges those with opinions, pro or con, or those wishing more information, to call him at 496-6703.
Committee member Gen Rowell also said she’s interested in the public’s viewpoint. She said she hated to cut down any tree, but the green hadn’t always been so wooded, and without them Stevens Hall could be more easily displayed.
“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” Rowell said of the current impasse, but added she was hopeful a solution could be found.