Getting Up to Speed

What’s happening in Orleans these days? 


In this full-to-the-brim issue of EXIT 89, you'll find in-depth updates on: the fire station, the "town campus" idea, Town Hall hires, housing, the proposed new library, and the wastewater saga. We follow up on cyanobacteria blooms in Pilgrim and Crystal Lakes, rental registration, parking enforcement, the new roundabout, a proposed shared pathway to Nauset Beach, and the opening of our first marijuana dispensary.

That’s just for starters. 

Annual Town Meeting is right around the corner on May 13th. You’ll be getting our usual preview of Town Meeting in a few weeks. Now's the time to get up to speed on all things Orleans!

Two Pricey Problems, One Possible Solution?

Problem One: The Fire Station

By now, you’ve probably heard we need a new fire station. The current station — built in 1987 — is too small, especially with 8 new full-time positions being added. It’s poorly situated, has only one means of exit/entry, lacks modern technology, and has unsafe working conditions. There’s also poor air circulation and venting, structural issues, layout and design flaws, outdated electrical systems, hazardous materials, and no internal fire suppression system. And that’s just a partial list.

You’ll find detailed explanations and photos of its problems in the 2021 Fire Station Feasibility Study, which determined that the cost of renovating the current building would be roughly the same as building a brand-new station — around $35 million in 2021 — and concluded that a new station would be the more desirable outcome for the investment.

In 2022, a different consulting firm, Kaestle Boos, conducted a next-phase feasibility study, which evaluated alternate locations for a new station, identified an optimal one, and generated a conceptual design. This study determined that the Orleans Elementary School property, the station’s current location, remains the best place for a new fire station. It proposed that the new station be constructed next to the current site to avoid the money and time it would take to build a temporary facility for use during construction. When the report’s plan for a new station failed to incorporate the Orleans School Committee’s input to the committee’s satisfaction, talks were put on hold. Little progress has been made since. 

Problem Two:  The Elementary School Building

More gloomy news was on the way.  A report by Habeeb and Associates (available in the August 2, 2023 Select Board Meeting packet, pages 19-43) described how much our beloved — and regionally and nationally lauded — elementary school is showing its age: cracking concrete, accessibility issues, obsolete technology, bathrooms from 1956. The list goes on.

Backstory: In 2022, officials realized that completing some major repairs (replacing the HVAC system, roof, and windows) would trigger a state-mandated accessibility review that was certain to require much more extensive — and expensive — work. So the Town decided to fix the antique HVAC system and postpone the new windows and roof while it waited for Habeeb and Associates to conduct the study, which weighed the cost of renovating the school vs. building a new one. 

The verdict? Neither option would be cheap. Bringing the current building up to 21st century standards or building an entirely new school could cost Orleans upwards of $50 million — a major investment, especially considering the school’s declining enrollment. 

Possible Solution: A “Town Campus”?

If you haven’t heard the term “town campus” yet, you’re likely to soon. 

The idea is to use the substantial acreage at the center of Town — much of which is the 23 acres owned by the Town but currently controlled by the Orleans School Committee — for a new, modern, optimally located fire station, a new or renovated elementary school, and possibly other community facilities such as an auditorium, a swimming pool, a new playground, picnic tables and benches overlooking Boland Pond, and walking and biking paths connecting to Main Street and Route 6A. 

How about a fitness circuit? A sculpture garden? 

Anything’s possible. It all depends on whether Orleans residents like the idea and are willing to pay for it. One major benefit of the town campus concept is the money that could be saved by consolidating the design, planning, borrowing, and building of several projects as part of one overall project. The cost of a campus project would likely be less than the sum of separate fire station-plus-new-school projects.  

To gauge residents’ openness to the idea, an article on May’s Annual Town Meeting Warrant is expected to request $150,000 for a Town Campus Feasibility Study, drawing on information from all the various relevant existing studies and reports — the Elementary School assessment, the Fire Station studies 1 and 2, the Recreation Department study, the Community Center feasibility study, and the forthcoming Playing Fields Master Plan that was completed in November. (Recreation Advisory Committee Chair Tracy Murphy, a member of the Master Plan group, says she expects to present the Playing Fields findings to the Select Board in the next few weeks.) 

The idea has brought the stakeholders back to the table. The Orleans Select Board and the Orleans School Committee are embarking on an extended public conversation to explore the campus possibility. Gail Briere, Chair of the School Committee, said at a recent meeting that her top priority is to continue to have and maintain an outstanding elementary school in Orleans. She reminded attendees that the School Committee is responsible for the “care, custody and management” of the Orleans Elementary School property — a responsibility that none of the committee members take lightly. (Changing the use of any OES property would require approval from the School Committee and a two-thirds Town Meeting vote.)

Other School News: More Regional Collaboration?

Orleans has joined with Brewster, Eastham, Wellfleet and Nauset Regional School District Superintendent Brooke Clenchy in applying for a state grant to look at opportunities across the Nauset Regional School District for “regionalization and efficiency” in the elementary schools and the middle school. If the grant comes through, a consultant will be hired to examine potential areas for regional collaboration. Our Select Board will be tasked with helping to determine the study’s scope. You can find the Cape Cod Chronicle’s coverage here.

The idea of regionalization — which could mean many different things — is causing alarm among some residents: Could Orleans lose its elementary school? OES isn’t just celebrated for academic excellence, it also provides a strong sense of community to families with young children — something not much else in town does. At a Nauset Regional School Committee meeting in January, Town Manager Kim Newman acknowledged that the prospect is causing concern. She insists there are no foregone conclusions, and that gathering data — which the grant money would be used to support — will be essential to making smart decisions about the future of our schools. 

The campus idea and the regionalization and efficiency grant will be discussed at a joint meeting with the School Committee and Select Board on Monday, March 18 at 3:30pm in the Nauset Meeting Room in Town Hall. If you have questions, concerns or thoughts on either subject, we encourage you to attend. (For a Zoom link to attend remotely, go to this page of the Town website.)

New Faces at Town Hall 

The arrival of Kim Newman, the first new Town Manager in 26 years — has ushered in changes at Town Hall. They began last fall with the departures of two significant department heads — Tom Daley (DPW Director) and Cathy Doane (Finance Director) — and a hiring bonanza to fill those vacancies and many others for positions approved at the Special Town Meeting in October.

The result: Lots of new faces, a bit of shuffling, and more positions to fill.  

In a meeting with EXIT 89, Newman spoke passionately about her focus on assembling a team, looking for ways to attract and nurture talent — and the reality of limited options, given the Cape’s remote location and expensive housing market. “I have been actively and constantly recruiting talent since the day I arrived, and even before I got here. When I go to a meeting and I am impressed by somebody in their job or what they're doing, I am thinking in my head, what could they do for us?” she said, adding that sometimes finding a person with the talent to do a job is as good as finding someone with the official qualifications. 

Case in point: Jen Mince has stepped into an expanded role as Interim Town Accountant/Finance Director. Our new Building Commissioner, Davis Walters, an Orleans Building Department alum, has recently come back to us from a similar role in Brewster. And our new DPW Director, Rich Waldo, who arrived in Orleans earlier this month, was Public Works Director in Provincetown and most recently served as Wellfleet’s Town Administrator for 18 months. (For more on that, read here.) 

“Orleans has long been considered a community that invests in their assets such as buildings, roadways, utilities, and staffing,” Waldo told the Cape Cod Chronicle when his new role was announced. “I look forward to joining a strong team of public servants and a supporting community.”

Newman brought in former colleague Mark Reil as her Assistant Town Manager. Our new Recreation Director Tom DeSiervo started in November. (Listen to this episode of the podcast, “Orleans Behind the Scenes,” produced by the Town’s Media Program Coordinator Mia Baumgarten and Assistant Town Planner Mike Solitro, to hear DeSiervo discuss his new role.) He’s been joined by Ivan Popov, the new Recreation Program Director. Solitro, who began as Assistant Town Planner last April, has added economic development to his duties — for now, anyway. Newman hopes to add three full-time positions to planning soon; an Assistant Planner for Community Development/Housing, a Program Manager for Permitting and Building, and a Program Manager for Water & Sewer, who will help residents with the wastewater hookup process. (Our update on Wastewater has more about this.)    

In October, eight new full-time positions for firefighter/EMTs were approved. Four have been hired so far. Employment opportunities on the town website show the remaining firefighter positions, as well as a disposal operator, police officer, and senior water service technician. You’ll also find lots of cool seasonal positions, many of them open to younger people: Parking Attendants (15 years and up), Gate Officers (16 and up), Lifeguards (17 years and up), an Assistant Beach Director (18 years and up), and a Beach Ranger, Retail/Sales Clerk, Endangered Species Monitor, and Shorebird Monitor. 

Construction underway on West Road

The Housing Update

The housing crisis in Orleans has been a major focus in recent years. EXIT 89 did a deep dive on the shortage in 2021. Since then, the situation has only intensified. (Read consulting firm JM Goldson’s recent report about Orleans’ current housing needs, and plans to address them, here.)

Some good news: Development of more than 150 new housing units is now underway or in the immediate pipeline in Orleans:

West Road: Demo and site work are underway at the former Cape Cod Five Operations Center where Pennrose is creating 62 mixed-income multi-family housing units. All units will be income-restricted — nine will be restricted to families earning up to 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI), 43 to those earning up to 60% AMI, and 10 to those earning up to 120% AMI. The project is expected to be completed in 2025. You can find details on the project here.

 At 107 Main Street, Housing Assistance Cape Cod is expecting to close financing this month and move onto the building permit phase for a new development at the site of the former Mason’s Lodge. All 14 units there will be designated as Affordable Housing.

Orleans received two proposals from developers for the 5.5-acre site at 67 and 76 Route 6A (aka the former Governor Prence Motel properties). They’ve been reviewed by a committee of nine that included Planning Department Director George Meservey and Orleans Affordable Housing Coordinator Marsha Allgeier. The committee’s report is currently being reviewed by Town Manager Newman, who will make her recommendation to the Select Board. (According to Meservey, there will likely be 70-80 housing units on the site.) 

Several privately funded housing projects are also underway:

At the former “Underground Mall,” Maple Hurst Builders is pursuing plans to build 29 housing units — a mix of condominiums and rentals — and 88 underground parking spaces on the 3.5 acres. Three of the rental units will be deed-restricted as Affordable (10% of the total number of units, as required by the State). The Zoning Board issued a special permit for the project on February 21, and developer Chris DeSisto told the Cape Cod Chronicle they’re drawing up construction plans and securing financing.

At 57 Locust Road, nine market-rate condominiums are at the building-permit application stage.

On Route 6A, next to the Olde Tavern Motel, Cape Associates (one of the largest employers on Cape Cod) is planning five new housing units where the builder’s employees will get first dibs.

Zoning Changes?

Seven proposed housing-related zoning by-law changes were discussed at a public hearing on March 12. If confirmed by the Planning Board, they’ll go to the Select Board, which will decide which changes will appear on May’s Annual Town Meeting Warrant. The changes are all intended to encourage the creation of more attainable housing in Orleans. They include extending the minimum required rental period for apartments, relaxing restrictions on new Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s), requiring 90-day minimum leases for new ADU’s, and removing the minimum lot size for one- and two-family dwellings in the business district and ADU’s across town. You can read more about the proposed changes here. To watch the public hearing on the proposed changes, click here.

Interested in learning more about ADU’s? Check out Housing Assistance on Cape Cod’s website, where they explain ADU Basics and their “My Home Plus One” program, which helps homeowners create ADU’s on their property.

Snow Library Public forum in January

New Library Grant Application

The roof leaks. Finding a parking spot can be difficult. Shelf space is maxed out. At the end of May, after nearly a decade of board meetings, brainstorming, strategic planning, and a $180,000 feasibility study, the Snow Library Board of Trustees and the Snow Library Feasibility Task Force will be submitting an application for a grant from the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program (MPLCP) to help Orleans replace its aging library on Main Street. 

Oudens Ello Architecture, the Boston-based architectural team that designed the award-winning Eastham Library — built for $11 million with an MPLCP grant and reopened in 2017 — has created sketches or “concepts'' for a larger, modern Snow Library with more programming space, meeting areas, views of Village Green, and much more parking. Two public forums about the project were held in November and January and drew overflow crowds. Concepts were presented and questions were addressed. Some attendees were surprised by a proposed alternate site for the library in East Orleans, across from Town Hall. Does that location really make sense? Answer: per the rules of grant application, two options for a site are required.

Next steps: A more detailed study and cost estimate for the project will be presented on Wednesday, April 10 at 4 pm, at the Orleans Select Board meeting in the Nauset Room of Town Hall. To attend remotely, you’ll find a Zoom link on the Select Board page before the meeting starts. An article on the Warrant for Town Meeting in May will ask for an additional $150,000 in funds, also required by the grant process, to demonstrate the Town’s support for a new library. 

What would the grant mean for us? To build a library of the proposed size — 24,000 square feet — MPLCP usually provides between 30-40 percent of the design and construction costs, which are projected to be $25 million. We should hear back from MPLCP by November 2024. 

●      For the engineering report on the old library, click here

●      To learn more about plans for a new Snow Library, click here

●      To sign up for emails about the new library project, click here 

●      To contact the task force for the project and get involved, click here

Other Snow Library news: 

Last month, the Trustees voted to stop charging overdue fees for library loans, a growing trend across the country. Library Director Tavi Prugno told the Cape Cod Times that 32 of the 38 libraries in the CLAMS network have already done so, and that 85 percent of public libraries across Massachusetts are already “fine free.”

Wastewater Surprises + Detours   

There have been setbacks and surprises in the Orleans Wastewater Saga — and good news too. For starters, our new treatment plant began operating one year ago and the 61 downtown properties that have tied in to the new municipal sewers are “rocking, rolling, and doing fabulously well,” says Select Board member Kevin Galligan.   

But what about the other 241 property owners in downtown who were given one year to complete the complicated process of hooking up? Ninety-eight have communicated with Town Hall and begun the process. The remaining one-third of downtown properties — 133 of them — have not responded to the Town in any way. 

Oh dear. 

Aside from complaints about road detours created by the big dig in East Orleans, this has been the biggest surprise for those who have worked so hard to bring Orleans into compliance with the State for clean water and begin reversing the damage — like dead ponds and cyanobacteria blooms — caused by decades of excessive nitrogen contamination. 

Alex Fitch, the Orleans Health Agent, cites three essential problems: affordability, scarcity of engineers and installers, and lack of personal outreach to property owners.

Recognizing these factors, the Board of Health and the Board of Water & Sewer Commissioners decided at a joint meeting last month to give downtown property owners an additional year — until March 2025 — to comply. (To watch that meeting, click here.) Town Manager Newman is advocating for the creation of a position for a full-time coordinator — a Program Manager for Water & Sewer — to help residents find engineers, bank loans, and navigate the complicated process of hooking up to the municipal sewer. “We’re asking residents to do this complicated and expensive thing, and just leaving them on their own,” she told EXIT 89. “We need to take away that burden.“

●      For Frequently Asked Questions about sewering, click here

●      Learn about the 18 steps of sewer connection here

●      A helpful Cape Cod Chronicle editorial can be found here

Phase Two Timeline + Advice

Health Agent Fitch believes that lessons learned from Phase One should help make the roll-out for Phase Twoa bit smoother, even though the Meetinghouse Pond Area is populated by single-family homes and potentially more seniors on fixed incomes, rather than business owners and landlords with commercial properties that comprised the bulk of the first phase. She has reached out for advice from the health departments in Chatham and Harwich, where some residents were slow to connect to new municipal sewers. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel,” Fitch said to EXIT 89, “even though Orleans likes to do that.”

Regarding the unexpected outcry over road closings and detours caused by the Meetinghouse Pond dig, Kevin Galligan said that the construction company will be working longer hours in hopes of making more progress before halting work on main roads for the season on May 17. He urges residents who find themselves at a closed road or work site to roll down their car window and talk to the police detail on duty. “They can direct cars to the best route to wherever they’re going, and even allow you to drive through the construction zone,” Galligan says. “They are there to help, and want to help.”

●      For a 2-3 week look ahead at road closings and detours, click here

●      For cool videos and images of the new wastewater facility, click here

A timeline for Phase Two can be found here. The road work for that will be done in 2025, says Galligan, “with connections completed by March 2026, if not sooner.”

Your Vote Makes Things Happen 

Ever wondered what happens after an article passes at Town Meeting? Here are some updates on projects and initiatives that readers have asked about: 

1)    The Orleans Rental registration program is up and running. (EXIT 89’s deep dive on Short-Term Rentals can be found here.)  All landlords renting a residential property for any length of time are now required to register with the town. There’s no fee. According to Town Assessor Brad Hinote, the first registrations were received January 22nd, and 184 registrations had been submitted as of March 4 — 45 for long-term rentals and the remainder for short-term. You can find information on the program, including a link to the registration form, here

2)    Two weeks ago, Pilgrim Lake was treated with alum in areas five meters or deeper to help prevent further blooms of toxic cyanobacteria. Crystal Lake, which was closed last fall due to a cyanobacteria bloom, is now going through the permitting and bidding process in advance of May’s Annual Town Meeting, when a Warrant article will ask residents to approve funding for an alum treatment. The treatment must be completed before the water gets too warm, so if the article passes, the treatment could happen as soon as the next day. 

3)    Parking Enforcement: The increase in cars and trucks at Town landings in recent years has prompted an increase in areas where stickers are required, including neighborhoods where people were parking on residential streets to avoid beach parking fees. But early on, the tickets issued had no teeth: there was no follow-up when fines went unpaid. That changed in FY 2022, according to Police Chief Scott MacDonald, when a “parking agent” was hired to monitor landings and the Select Board moved the management of violations to Town Hall, where it is now overseen by Project & Procurement Director Mihaela Miteva. Tickets are $50 for most violations and $100 for illegal parking in handicapped spaces. Unpaid fines are now reported to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.  

4)    Beach Road pathway:  In 2021, Orleans adopted a “Complete Streets Policy” — with the potential of State funding to go with it — pledging to improve “the travel experience for all users of its streets — motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists.” The ultimate goal is a network of safe routes that people can use to navigate town. A concept design for a sidewalk from Route 28 to Barley Neck Road in East Orleans has already been developed and is meant to connect with the next proposed project: a shared, multi-use pathway running along Beach Road from Barley Neck Road to Nauset Beach to accommodate foot and bike traffic, baby strollers, skateboards, and everything else. Eager to hear the questions and concerns of property owners and community members who abut and use the road, the Orleans Transportation and Bikeways Advisory Committee held a public meeting on March 11 that you can watch by clicking here. An article on the May Warrant will ask for $85,000 for a feasibility study that will answer questions regarding potential impact to properties and present several concept designs to choose from. 

5)    Seaside Cannabis: In October 2020, at a pandemic-era Town Meeting in the Nauset Beach parking lot, the Orleans ban on marijuana shops was lifted by a two-thirds vote. Now, after years in the permitting and licensing pipeline, our first marijuana dispensary or “pot shop” has opened. Seaside Cannabis, located at 14 Lots Hollow Road, offers both recreational and therapeutic varieties of cannabis in the form of beverages, oils, gummies, and a “deli-style bud bar,” where Seaside’s website says customers can “see and smell the product first-hand, while learning about unique attributes of that strain.” Our second dispensary, Ember Gardens, will be opening next to Nauset Marine on Route 6A soon.

6)    New Roundabout at Intersection of Routes 28 and 39 – The $5.7 million Massachusetts Department of Transportation project was approved in 2019, broke ground in the summer of 2022, and is currently 72 percent complete. It will be dedicated to Dorofei “Dorie” Klimshuk, a local builder, craftsman and passionate advocate for roadway improvements who died last June at the age of 87. At the center of the roundabout will be a 13.5-foot tall metal sculpture resembling a sailboat that should be installed by late May. 

7)    Two Orleans leaders, Select Board Chair Michael Herman and Homeless Prevention Council CEO Hadley Luddy are both running to be the Democratic nominee for Sarah Peake’s seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Peake announced in January that she will not be running again. The district includes Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham, Orleans, Harwich, and Chatham. You can read The Provincetown Independent’s coverage here.

EXIT 89 would like to acknowledge (in alphabetical order) Housing Coordinator Marsha Allgeier, Executive Assistant Molly Bates, Health Agent Alex Fitch, Snow Library Board Chair Joan Francolini, Select Board member Kevin Galligan, Snow Library Task Force Chair Steven Gass, Town Assessor Brad Hinote, Police Chief Scott MacDonald, Town Manager Kim Newman, Town Planner George Meservey, Conservation Clerk Kristyna Smith, and Transportation & Bikeways Advisory Committee Chair Alice Van Oot for their help with this issue.

EXIT 89 is an independent publication. Our mission is to help Orleans voters make sense of town issues by providing a clear and impartial overview of the latest developments. We want to help fill the current information gap, reduce the "mystery" of Town Meeting, and promote vibrant civic engagement.

Our hyperlocal digest is researched and written by journalists Martha Sherrill and Emily Miller. Elaine Baird and Lynn Bruneau are the founding advisors. Editing, infographics and tech support are provided by Kazmira Nedeau of Sea Howl Bookshop. We are all residents of Orleans.

Our digest is 100% free — and we aim to keep it that way. With Lower Cape Television (LCTV) — a 503(c)(3) — as our fiscal sponsor, all contributions are now tax deductible. Donations by a check made out to "EXIT 89" will save us a processing fee. Please send these to EXIT 89, P.O. Box 1145, Orleans, MA 02653. To donate online, click here.

As always, we’d love to hear from you. Readers have enriched our understanding of Orleans — and sharpened our focus. Please share questions, comments, and ideas for future issues at hello@exit89.org. And if you are new to EXIT 89 take a moment to sign up for a free subscription.

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