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WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

Enhancements to Annual Town Meeting aim for higher accessibility and wide-spread attendance

Kate Kelly
The PAC sits empty, soon to be filled during the Annual Town Meeting.

As Westford Academy prepares to host the Annual Town Meeting on Saturday, March 23, with registration starting at 8:00 a.m. for its 9:00 a.m. start time, anticipation is high. Prior to the vote on the future fiscal years, town communities have offered accommodations that they hope will enable a higher and more widespread voter attendance rate. 

Parking and Transportation

WA has a total of 528 parking spots available in addition to the field behind the school serving for overflow when the weather permits. According to the US Census Bureau’s count of nearly 19,000 eligible voters in Westford as of last July, it is simply a fact that there is not enough parking for all possible attendees at WA. 

However during most town-related meetings, the attendance is not high enough on average for this to be an issue. Still, at the Special Town Meeting on Oct. 16, 2023 which notably discussed the establishment of a town gun shop, traffic congestion and spacing became a prominent issue. Because of these difficulties, the town has worked to ensure all interested individuals can attend the March 23 meeting.

“All lessons that we learned from the Special Town Meeting in October have been applied to make this much more seamless and hopefully enjoyable for the voters,” Select Board Vice-Chair Scott Hazelton said. 

Firstly, the front portion of the school parking lot will be designated for exclusively handicap parking. These spaces are located outside the meeting’s entrance and can be depicted in this map. All regular parking WA locations will also be made available. 

When the school’s lot is nearing capacity, the members of the Westford Police Department (WPD) regulating traffic will communicate with the Town Manager and moderator to alert attendees via social media messaging. These notifications plan to be posted additionally on the Westford Police Department Facebook page

As soon as announcements are made, attendees will be able to park at two offsite locations, Crisafulli and Robinson schools, and the town will provide free transportation systems for anyone sent to these locations. 

Four total vehicles, two school buses and two Council on Aging (COA) handicap-accessible vans, have been reserved for the day of the meeting. They will rotate as constant shuttles between WA and the parking lots, starting from 8:30 a.m. through 5:00 p.m.

WPD officers, including Chief of Police Mark Chambers, will be positioned both outside WA to help guide traffic, and inside the school to oversee the events of the meeting. 

“One of the reasons why we did select the Robinson school and Crisafulli school is because […] of the proximity. It is easy to get to, a nice big loop for the transportation services,” Chambers said. “Unfortunately, as this event has grown in scope with what we’re going to be discussing, we’re probably going to have eight officers working.” 

For those who are in need of transportational assistance to and from the meeting, the Cameron Senior Center will be providing free transportation in their COA vans. To request for transportation assistance, residents can fill out this form by Wednesday, March 20, or call the COA. Ride services are not automatically guaranteed by submission of the form, but will be confirmed with a follow up from the Transportation Department. 

Logistical Meeting Enhancements 

According to a response document released by the Select Board, WA’s gymnasium has a maximum capacity of just under 900 people due to Fire and Building Code requirements. Once this limit is reached, any further residents are redirected to be seated in the Performing Arts Center (PAC). Yet, during the Special Town Meeting in October, members in the PAC faced a shortfall of voting clickers as well as technical difficulties with the discussion projection from the gym. The town has also made adjustments to ensure these are not recurring issues. 

Once parked, all attendees will be asked to check-in in the bell lobby rather than gymnasium to avoid congestion and promote efficiency. Additionally, the town moderator plans to work with the Commission on Disability to provide assistance to those with accessibility challenges, helping to ease the process of signing and settling in. 

While there are no noted changes to the atmosphere in the gymnasium, the logistical components of attendees in the PAC will be adapted. According to Town Manager Kristen Las, the town has secured an additional 800 clickers. These clickers will additionally be in different colors depending on the room a voter is in order to eliminate any further confusion.

There have also been enhancements made to the audio-visual equipment in the PAC to prevent a disconnect in communication for those who are not seated in the gymnasium. 

“There is clear communication between the gym and the PAC,” Las said. “You can see in [the PAC], you can hear in there, in real time. That will be tested again a week before town meeting, but there is seamless communication.”

Moreover, any non-voting attendees will be redirected to a separate room to ensure Westford resident voters are given the opportunity to be seated in either the gymnasium or PAC. 

Services and Accommodations

While the many logistical struggles have been eased by these enhancements, the time commitment for many families can also be hard to accommodate. For these reasons, the town will be providing free childcare for the entirety of the Town Meeting. 

Attendees will be able to drop off children upon arrival, who will then be safely escorted to the auxiliary gymnasium where crafts, games, and other activities will be provided. Childcare services are organized by Recreation Director Michelle Collett while activity supervisors will be a mix of recreation staff and WA student volunteers. 

Another issue that arises is incorporating mealtimes. Without the convenience to leave and come back to the same parking spot, in-building food becomes even more important. Members of WA’s German Exchange Program will be selling coffee and donuts as attendees arrive to WA, positioned at the entrance to the school.

“I think it’s important that WA groups are at the town meeting so the town sees them and what they [the clubs] offer. It’s a nail in the coffin, so to speak […],” junior exchange member Lana Koser said. “The clubs are an extension of the school, and give kids a chance to socialize in situations where they are not able to. It is what builds the sense of community at WA.”

In addition, there will be lunch options sold and provided through the town, all on top of the school’s vending machines. 

“We’ll be serving a pizza lunch in the cafeteria for people to purchase lunch or they can bring their own lunch,” Las said. “And [we] really want to make people feel as comfortable as possible coming to the town meeting on March 23rd.”

All of these services aim to increase the possibility of voting for a wider variety of residents and hope to show improvements made from previously encountered issues. 

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About the Contributor
Kate Kelly
Kate Kelly, Features Editor
Hi, my name is Kate Kelly and I’m a sophomore writing as a Features editor for the Ghostwriter. This is my second consecutive year on the staff and I'm excited for more to come! I also enjoy listening to music, playing soccer, and biking.

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