Beautifying Windham – One of Selectmen’s Goals
August 7, 2015
by Barbara O’Brien
One of the goals Windham Selectmen set for themselves earlier this year is to focus on additional efforts at beautifying this still growing southern New Hampshire community, now home to more than 15,000 people.
During the July 27 selectmen’s meeting, Town Administrator David Sullivan got the ball rolling by suggesting that the primary focus at this point be on the town complex, including the historic town common. Sullivan spoke of the need to cut back surrounding trees and brush that have encroached on the area over the years, as well as removing any dead or diseased trees.
Sullivan also suggested having the clapboard removed from the Community Development Building and replaced with vinyl siding; an idea that was not well received from everyone at the meeting. The lower portion of the building was the original fire station, built in 1946. The top floor was added much later and is not considered to be as historically significant. Sullivan also suggested creating a circular driveway in front of the old Town Hall, with a designated entrance and exit. The suggested project would include removing the existing asphalt in front of the old firehouse doors and making that a green space. Additional parking could be established behind the two buildings.
Sullivan said one of the reasons he chose the town complex area to put at the top of the beautification list is because Windham will be celebrating its 275th anniversary in 2017. As part of the beautification, Sullivan also suggested posting a “Welcome” sign at the intersection of Church Street and North Lowell Road, including a directory of buildings located in that area.
Selectmen’s Vice-Chairman Joel Desilets said he thought Sullivan’s proposal was “a great idea.” “It would reflect positively on the town center,” Desilets said, adding that he feels there needs to be a master plan created for any beautification projects. Desilets also suggested that areas in town be selected where sculptures could be put on public display.
Selectman Ross McLeod said he believes “it makes a lot of sense to trim the trees” in the area of the town complex, adding that overgrowth and the resulting shade contribute to moisture problems within the buildings. McLeod said he was not in favor, however, of removing the asphalt in front of the old firehouse, stating that the area is needed for overflow parking when certain events take place at Town Hall.
“We need to come up with a clear vision of what should be done,” Selectmen’s Chairman Al Letizio, Jr. stated. Letizio suggested that selectmen seek expert advice regarding site plan engineering. “We need to preserve the historical aspect of Windham,” he commented.
Resident Margaret Case, who also serves on Windham’s cable television committee, as well as in other capacities, encouraged selectmen to deal with the tree cutting right away. In addition to an infestation of bats in the attic of the Armstrong Building, there is also a problem with squirrels inhabiting the museum/cable TV studio. Case said that animal urine has been seen running down one of the walls in the studio. The issue with the bats is scheduled to be taken care of later this month when the bats are expected to migrate out of the area. Bats are a protected species and, as such, must not be exterminated as a result of their removal. After some discussion, selectmen decided to let Sullivan handle the removal of the animals as previously planned. Selectmen jokingly dubbed the situation a “landlord/tenant” issue.
Resident Margaret Crisler is a long-time member of the Windham Garden Club, as well as a master gardener. Crisler told town officials that the garden club currently maintains seven public gardens throughout Windham. “I am very supportive of Dave’s (Sullivan) plan to beautify the town complex,” she said, including the removal of the asphalt in front of the fire station. Crisler said that garden club members are very willing to help with the project. Crisler also suggested that the utility wires that run in front of town hall be buried, to make the area more attractive.
Former selectman Kathleen DiFruscia agreed that the town common area is a good place to begin beautifying Windham. “We need to look for funding to create a comprehensive plan,” she said. “We should start right here. It’s a win-win situation for the town and it’s long overdue,” DiFruscia said.
“The town center should be the first priority,” Carol Pynn, Historic District Commission member, said.
“It really does need a lot of attention,” said Peter Griffin, town moderator, as well as a member of the Windham Historic District Commission. “The town common should define the entire town.” “We need an arborist for long-range planning. It’s really an investment in the town’s future.”
Chairman Letizio said he had already met with members of the Windham Garden Club to discuss their participation in the proposed beautification. “This is an opportunity to define ourselves,” Letizio said of the proposal. However, it is not just the town complex area that Letizio wants to see at the top of the priority list. He also wants the appearance of a 1 1/2 mile median strip that runs down Route 111 (near Klemm’s Mobil and McDonald’s) to get an extensive makeover.
There was a lot of money spent by the State Department of Transportation when the median strip was installed a few years ago, Letizio said, but the shrubs planted there have failed to thrive for the most part. “In my opinion, it doesn’t look good,” Letizio said. “The shrubs have simply been overcome by weeds.” “What is needed is simple, enduring hardscaping,” Letizio said, describing a long row of shade trees, lighted from the ground, with river rock, rather than bark mulch, being used at the base of the trees. “Hardscaping” is defined as the placement of non-plant elements such as fences, walkways, paving and lighting in a planned outdoor area.
If the shrubbery and low growth were removed along the median strip and replaced intermittently with trees, according to Letizio, it would allow for better visibility at intersections. “And river rock looks good in all weather conditions,” he said, noting that the rock wouldn’t need to be replaced annually like mulch often does.
DiFruscia suggested interspersing raised planters between the shade trees. “We should be creating something of lasting beauty,” she said.
Selectman Bruce Breton said the original cost of the State DOT landscaping was about $385,000 and that the town has been spending about $20,000 annually maintaining it. “It’s the town’s sin that it wasn’t maintained properly,” Breton said. “It’s not the state’s fault.” “It’s now become a nightmare.”
“Shade trees are an excellent idea,” Crisler commented. “They are a symbol of a rural oasis.” “Rural Oasis” is the title of one of the history books pertaining to the Town of Windham. Crisler made it clear, however, that members of the garden club are not interested in landscaping the median strip along Route 111. “We value our lives too much,” she said, referring to the high speed traffic that cruises along that section of Windham.
“Whatever we do needs to be low maintenance,” Selectman Roger Hohenberger said. “No more throwing good money after bad.” Hohenberger said he views beautifying the town complex and landscaping the median strip on Route 111 as two separate projects.
“Maintenance is the key,” Selectman Ross McLeod said. “We need to create a welcoming message. This is a matter of civic pride.”
In order to move these concepts forward, selectmen decided to solicit volunteers to serve on a town beautification committee. Anyone who is interested in serving in this capacity is asked to contact the selectmen’s office at 432-7732. In the meantime, Community Development Director Laura Scott will be contacting DOT officials to see what is allowable along that stretch of Route 111.