Deerfield seeks funding support for $40M in long-term projects

  • The South County Senior Center on North Main Street in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Tilton Library on North Main Street in South Deerfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Deerfield has set its sights on rehabilitating both the South County Senior Center and the South Deerfield Congregational Church. Once renovated, the town is planning on moving Town Hall to the Senior Center, while the seniors will be housed in the church as a temporary location while a new senior center is built. Staff Photo/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Monday, December 20, 2021

DEERFIELD — The town is gearing up for one of its biggest pushes for capital improvements in recent memory as the Select Board prepares to take advantage of incoming funding windfalls.

With American Rescue Plan Act and federal infrastructure money in the distance, the town has put forward several large projects that will be pursued over the next half-decade or longer as the Select Board looks to revitalize South Deerfield.

“Everybody has something they brought forward,” said board member Carolyn Shores Ness. “We want to pull everyone together and see the big picture. … These are all long-term, 50-plus-year projects.”

The town is seeking to breathe new life into South Deerfield with the renovation and expansion of Tilton Library; rehabilitation and additions to the current South County Senior Center, which will become the Town Hall; a teardown of the current Town Hall to make room for a new Community Center; new senior housing; and development of the Leary Lot to accompany town common improvements. The town is also looking to develop the proposed North Main Street Park — for which it already has money appropriated — and is on the hook for $19 million for the wastewater treatment plant’s upgrades.

Overall, Deerfield is looking at an estimated $40 million in projects if it is able to secure funding to undertake everything on the list. Shores Ness said she and other town officials are going to bring this comprehensive list to Boston in January and sell the pitch to various state development agencies for funding. If the town is able to leverage itself well enough, she estimated Deerfield would cover up to $5 million toward the total of $40 million, while a combination of ARPA, state and federal money would cover the rest.

“This is our opportunity to talk to the state people face-to-face,” Shores Ness said of the January Boston visit. “We’re working really hard to have our story together.”

Select Board member Trevor McDaniel said many of these projects have “been in the works for a long time” and the incoming money provides a chance to fund them.

“There is a ton going on,” McDaniel said. “We all felt like we should put this out in front of all the taxpayers.”

Economic planner, grant writer likely

To help the town juggle all of these projects, which will require some combination of town money and grants, Deerfield is looking to create an economic planner and grant writer position to take the load off of other staff members.

“These projects are very large and complex,” McDaniel said. “We need somebody to help.”

Warren said state grant programs have strict reporting requirements that take too much time for other town staffers to take on when they already have too many responsibilities in day-to-day operations.

“A lot of these federal and state grants are very complex in their reporting requirements,” Warren said, adding that the grant application process is often taking longer from start the finish. “Coordinating to get from conception to discussion to (the Connected Community Initiative) to other groups to shovel-ready … it takes time and resources.”

During a meeting last week, the Select Board and Warren discussed the strains grant applications and reporting put on the town, and that having another staff member could go a long way toward bringing in more state and federal funding.

“You cannot operate a town without being able to get grants,” Shores Ness said at the meeting. “We know money is coming — more than normal — and we have to leverage more than normal. Let’s get out there and do this.”

McDaniel noted other, smaller towns in Franklin County have town planners or economic development positions — neighboring Whately’s community development administrator began last month — and it’s due time Deerfield brings one in.

Deerfield is looking at Whately’s community development administrator job description to develop its own.

Select Board Chairman David Wolfram said it’s “essential we get this going” as federal money approaches. Shores Ness agreed, saying the town only has one chance to secure all this funding.

“I know I keep harping on this,” she said, “but this is truly a generational opportunity.”