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Growing pains a sign of the times in the town of Auburn

By Rod Lee

Auburn is used to getting good news from Town Manager Julie A. Jacobson and that was the case again at a “Town Talk” breakfast meeting at J. Anthony’s Italian Grill on Southbridge St. on November 20th.

The event was hosted by the Auburn Chamber of Commerce and officiated by Chamber President Steve Londregan of Chuck’s Steak House, with registration of attendees provided by the Chamber’s Virginia Parent.

In running down a list of economic-development projects that are already in motion, or proposed, Ms. Jacobson again reinforced her frequently enunciated message that the town of Auburn is an ideal location for businesses to set down roots.

Her remarks, which came after dire warnings about the condition of their respective facilities expressed by Fire Chief Steve Coleman and Auburn PD Lt. Todd Lemon, turned the frowns of those in attendance to smiles (actually, the more upbeat mood was already established when Mr. Londregan pointed out, wryly, in introducing Ms. Jacobson, that she “got through Holy Cross by sitting directly behind me and to the right”—in class).

All of the following projects are in the works, Ms. Jacobson told her audience:

Central One Federal Credit Union Call Center

At 20-30 Elmwood St., construction of a two-story, 6721-square-foot building that will result in one hundred jobs.

Phase 3 Diamond Auto Group

Adjustment of street layout of 51 Faith Ave. to change frontage and parking for the entire campus, facing Washington St.

Domino’s Pizza

New food-service business at 711 Southbridge St.

Lundgren Honda

Construction underway at 117 Washington St. for a new auto-collision center.

The Reserve at Ashworth Hill Residential Subdivision

Involving four lots, 18 Blaker St.

The Reserve at Ashworth Hill Residential Apartments

Resulting in three hundred twenty housing units.

Patrick Mazda

Relocating from Worcester to 189 Washington St.

Patrick Volvo

Expanding existing dealership at 519 Washington St.

This flurry of activity is complemented, Ms. Jacobson said, by such proposed initiatives as Webster Five Cent Savings Bank’s relocation of its headquarters from Webster to 35 Millbury St. in Auburn (in a building previously occupied by Reliant Medical Group); Eversource’s plans for a new training and fleet maintenance center at 8, 10 and 12 Westec Drive; Solar Wolf Energy’s purchase of the former Cabot House Furniture location at 771 Southbridge St., which will result in forty jobs; acquisition of the Dartmouth Property by Eastland Partners at auction for development of more than fifty-five acres; redevelopment of the Mary D. Stone School and Julia Bancroft School into affordable and market-rate senior rental housing; and the blueprint for the Eaton Ave./Hampton St. subdivision, which is before the Planning Board.

If only Fire Chief Coleman and Lt. Lemon were able to paint as rosy a picture!

In pointing out that the results of a study of Auburn’s public safety facilities will come to Town Meeting in May “with a request for the next phase,” Chief Coleman said the police station, although only nineteen years old, is “too small” and that both the main fire station on Auburn St. and the West St. station are woefully inadequate.

The Auburn St. fire station opened in 1964 as a six-bay, one-story facility. There were no fulltime fire department personnel housed there then. A second floor was added in 1995. Even so, the building has not kept pace with the demands placed on it. “There were 308 calls in 1964. We will have responded to 3800-plus this year, when done,” the chief said.

The West St. station presents similar issues, he said.

As for the Auburn PD’s Southbridge St. site, “we made it work, it was a great location at the time,” Lt. Lemon said. Twenty years later and with “all roads leading to Auburn” and the department averaging 22,000 calls a year, the address doesn’t measure up.

“We face challenges other bedroom communities do not,” Lt. Lemon said. “We log 600 bookings a year. Our record storage is bursting at the seams. We can’t even back an ambulance into the sally port and close the door.”

Asked after the meeting if she is aware of what will happen with the Sears store at the Auburn Mall when the once-mighty retailer closes its doors in Auburn, as has been reported, Ms. Jacobson said “I don’t know but I hope a Reliant Medical-type business goes in there, or the movie theaters we are looking for. I think [the mall owners] have a Plan B.”

Meanwhile, Auburn Fire and Auburn Police are working on a Plan A: either a single public safety facility housing both operations; or separate facilities that are better suited to the task at hand.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.