Building a new Senior Center made the list of projects planned to be undertaken by the City of Watertown over the next five years, Watertown City Manager George Proakis at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
Proakis presented the Fiscal Year 2025-29 Capital Improvement Plan, which includes $210 million of projects with $93 million of general obligation bonds to cover part of the cost.
The City explored replacing the Senior Center in 2022 as part of a review of the Phillips Building site. That study by Ai3 Architects, done during the planning for the new Watertown High School, looked at tearing down the former Phillips School, but Proakis said that would be too disruptive for the Watertown Public Schools administration, as well as Watertown Cable that now resides in the basement. Other options from the study will be considered.
“The Ai3 study did two options to build on the current Senior Center site, which I would like to refine,” Proakis said. “Although we could look at other sites if they became available, I think that is probably our best bet.”
The Capital Plan includes $32 million in Fiscal Year 2028 for the Senior Center project.
“I am cautiously optimistic that this is a viable borrowing project but we need to make sure that we have borrowing and payback on the High School (construction) in good order relative to the incoming revenues and new (property tax) growth before I can definitively say that is the solution for this particular project,” said Proakis, who hoped to have settled on a funding source by the time next year’s Capital Plan is submitted.
The Capital Plan includes funding for Watertown’s school building projects.
“The three elementary projects, we are very excited to have that closed out,” Proakis said. “With an initial budget of $170 million, we are closing out at $172 million — probably about 1 percent above the total estimate. It is worth noting that for a project that has been ongoing through the Pandemic and supply chain challenges, that is a remarkably reasonable place to land.”
The cost of the Watertown High School project, which is currently in the demolition phase, has a total cost of $201.4 million. The City received about $1 million in funding and tax returns for the new building’s solar panels, Proakis said, but $2.1 million does not have a funding source.
“We will continue to work to address that,” he said. “I am not at all worried about essentially 1 percent of a very large project that doesn’t have an identified funding source. We could borrow that if necessary. I would like to keep borrowing at $150 million.”
Last year, Proakis presented a schedule for when park projects would be completed. He updated the progress this year, including a few adjustments.
“We got quite a lot of work done there. The first four (parks) on the list, Irving, Moxley, Filippello and the upgrade of the Victory Field turf, which are from earlier capital years, are done,” Proakis said. “Arsenal Park Phase B will begin construction this year.”
The Arsenal Park Phase B project came in over budget, at more than $10 million. At its next meeting, the City Council will vote on a proposal to fund the Arsenal Phase B project. Proakis gave some background on the project, saying that rather than splitting up the project into more phases to get it under budget, he plans to cover the additional cost with the general obligation bond funding originally planned to go to the renovation of Casey Park, as well as a portion of the bond money that would go toward Victory Field Phase 2.
Proakis added that Casey Park has been sent back for more study by the City Council and is now on the schedule for Fiscal Year 2029, and the Victory Field Phase 2 — the track and courts area — will be moved from FY25 to FY26 with plans to begin work in July 2025.
Another project starting soon will be the replacement of lights at the athletic field and basketball court at Saltonstall Park, with a loan of $498,000 approved by the Council on Tuesday. The project originally included replacing the surface of the park’s tot lot, but that has been split off into a different project that would include renovating the whole tot lot area.
Another project at Saltonstall, which includes building a gazebo, is going before the Community Preservation Committee to get funding.
Streets and Sidewalks
The City plans to spend $67 million on street and sidewalk projects from a variety of funding sources, including $15 million in Fiscal Year 2025.
“Streets and sidewalks are very well funded,” Proaki said “We have a backlog of work to do.”
The Department of Public Works is working on the list of projects, including the Mt. Auburn Street project. They will use money from the state’s Chapter 90 local transportation funds, as well as money designated by the City for the long streets program.
The City will begin a study of energy use in municipal buildings. Recently, the City looked at HVAC systems, but Proakis said there are other systems that need to be looked at.
The Watertown Free Public Library will be studied in FY25, with upgrades planned for FY26, Proakis said. In FY26, City Hall and the Parker Annex will be studied, followed by the Watertown Police Station and Main Fire Station in FY27.
Other studies planned include looking at where would be good places around town to put dog parks and spray pads, Proakis said.
See the Fiscal Year 2025-29 Capital Improvement Plan by clicking here.