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Concord Parking School Buses in Acton Not a Done Deal

Officials in Concord continue to work toward the purchase of about 6.5 acres of land on Knox Trail in Acton, the majority of which would be used as an in-district transportation depot for Concord’s public schools.

Concord Parking School Buses in Acton Not a Done Deal

It’s been a month since Concord's Town Meeting backed the purchase of a parcel of land in Acton to house an in-district transportation depot. 

However, a deal has yet to be reached for the purchase of the property—a roughly 6.5-acre parcel on Knox Trail, near the Acton-Concord town line—and officials say a few hurdles remain to be cleared before anything can be finalized.

Viewed as the last best hope for keeping transportation services in-district for Concord’s public schools, the property at 55 and 55R Knox Trail in Acton was pitched as the possible home for the district’s bus fleet, as well as a transportation depot and, potentially, fueling and maintenance operations.  Concord voters authorized the purchase by a more than two-thirds majority vote at a special Town Meeting held Dec. 4, 2013.

As it was before the potential purchase was approved last month, financial complications around the seller, KMLB Trust, remain an issue.

A trustee involved in the property’s current ownership is going through bankruptcy proceedings, and the seller won’t move until that situation is finalized, Concord Town Manager Chris Whelan explained last week.

Permitting could be another possible wrinkle in the proceedings. 

That is, Concord will be looking for the ability to back out of an agreement to buy the land if it can’t get the permitting required to do what it wants on the property, according to Whelan.

So, with those potential hurdles in mind, is Concord's Town Manager feeling worse about the deal than before the purchase was approved in December?

“I wouldn’t say so,” Whelan said by phone on Friday. “I’d say my level of confidence is about the same as at Town Meeting.”

School transportation, and the possibility of outsourcing bus service, has been an issue in Concord the past few years now as the Concord-Carlisle High School building project displaced the Transportation Department from its former home on the high school grounds. 

Earlier this year,  annual Town Meeting voted against a plan to put a bus depot on the former landfill site by Walden Woods – though voters did support a non-binding petitioner’s resolution to keep the transportation department on CCHS grounds. Currently, the schools rent a maintenance facility in Billerica and a parking lot in Acton for the fleet. 

Given that current situation,  Concord’s school committees have been pursuing a “dual track process” for resolving the issue of student transportation. One track is utilizing the Knox Trail property for in-district transportation; the other is to outsource the service.

According to a memorandum of understanding between the Concord’s school committees and Board of Selectmen, if issues around the Knox Trail property are not finalized by April 1, then the school committees will move to outsource the bus operation. This move would likely lead the Board of Selectmen to reconsider the purchase of the property, officials said last month.

Last month, Concord’s school committees voted to authorize consultants to prepare bids for outside transportation services and selling the bus fleet. Going out to bid won’t obligate the district to award a contract, but it will provide a backup plan if the Knox Trail land deal isn’t reached.

Meanwhile,  officials and residents in Acton have voiced concerns about Concord’s plan for the property, and the potential impact on the town’s public water supply. Concord officials supporting the plan, however, counter with their consultant’s opinion that a bus depot would pose “negligible risk” to Acton’s nearby wells.

Regarding permitting concerns, vehicle parking/storage is allowed as a principle use on the property with site-plan approval under Acton’s zoning, and an office would be permitted as an accessory use. But Concord would have to invoke  the so-called Dover Amendment to incorporate fueling and vehicle repair under an educational exemption to local zoning. Whatever is done will require site plan approval. 

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