Select Board seat, Wahconah project go to Becket voters on Saturday

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BECKET — Voters are tasked with narrowing the field for an open Select Board seat and weighing in on a $71.87 million school building project this weekend.

Nicole Ledoux stepped down early from the board earlier this year, leaving an open seat. Her term was due to end in June.

Voters will get a first vote on the seat, as well as several other uncontested ones, during the Annual Town Caucus on Saturday. Voting will take place at the Becket Town Hall from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A special election surrounding the proposed new Wahconah Regional High School building will take place simultaneously at Town Hall. Voters are asked to consider a measure that would allow the Central Berkshire Regional School District to appropriate $71.87 million for a new school building at 150 Old Windsor Road in Dalton. That number reflects the total project cost of $72,721,107, minus the $850,000 feasibility study approved in 2017. Of that full cost, the state would reimburse $31,382,935. The cost to the district would be $41,338,172. The building is projected to last 50 years.

Three candidates — Laurel Burgwardt, Chris Swindlehurst and Maria Wallington — are vying for the open seat on the Becket Select Board. The top two vote-getters automatically advance, while the one eliminated may still gather 50 signatures and move forward.

Voters will get a final say on candidates during the May 18 town election. The open Select Board seat is the only contested race, but others on the ballot include: a seat on the town's Board of Health, two on the Finance Committee, one on the Planning Board and another on the Cemetery Commission.

Select Board candidates

Burgwardt, 58, has lived in Becket for about 32 years. She worked in direct care for Hillcrest Educational Centers for 30 years, she said, as well as for local agencies like Berkshire County Arc. She also worked as a waitress and owned a bar in Tennessee for a time.

"I just love Becket and there was an empty seat, and I'm hoping to make a difference," she said.

Burgwardt has served on the town's Conservation Commission, and has served on the Board of Health for the past nine years.

On the Select Board, she aims to rein in spending and encourage initiatives to support the town's youth.

"Sometimes I think that we spend money that we don't really need to be spending," she said.

That said, she said money spent toward supporting young people — like the Wahconah school project — is money well spent.

"We have to invest in our youth," she said.

She said she'd also like to drum up interest in youth recreation, and support organizations like the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

"I just think we need to get back to that, give our kids more things to do," she said.

Swindlehurst, 55, said he's lived in Becket full-time for about 43 years.

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His Select Board run represents his first foray into town government, though he serves as a volunteer member of the Becket Fire Department.

Swindlehurst has worked 30 years as a plumbing and heating contractor, and previously owned Cesco Plumbing and Heating and Brown Oil.

The town has heating and cooling issues, he said — citing work needed at Town Hall — and he can provide technical, financial and managerial guidance. He said he felt previous bids for the work have come in high.

"I think I can help the town make sound financial decisions," he said.

He's open-minded, he said, and he wants to help people draw conclusions that are good for the town.

"I'm very interested in alternative energy and so I'd like to help the town move as much in that direction as possible," he said. "But in a fiscally responsible way."

He said he'd like to see senior housing in the town, so that longtime residents who are aging wouldn't have to move to Lee or Pittsfield to find housing that caters to their needs.

He said he has good people skills, is a strong communicator and problem-solver.

"As we get older, we have a little more time," he said. "And you start thinking about giving back to your community and helping out."

Wallington, 73, has lived in Becket for 9 years. She said she fell for Becket after spending most of her adult life in Anchorage, Alaska.

She worked for 25 years as a pediatric cardiologist, and also worked as a medical ethicist.

She moved to Becket after retiring to be closer to family in a place that was more rural and cooler in temperature.

She has served on Becket's Finance Committee, and is a trustee for the Becket Athenaeum. She has also served on a number of nonprofit boards in the past, she said.

"I was freed up from any commitment and realized it was going to be open," she said. "I could do the job and I'm willing to do the job."

She said it's a good thing to have competition in the race for Select Board.

She said she's a hard worker, a good listener and she asks good questions. There are no particular issues that drove her to run, she said, but rather a desire to hear from the public and decide on the best path forward.

"I expect to evaluate everything and make the best decision for the town," she said. "I'll listen and then I'll do the best I can."

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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