Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Bringing a little Dorchester" to Hingham

"We're bringing a little Dorchester with us."

That's what Donnie Wahlberg said last night at the grand opening/premiere/party thing that opened up the new Wahlburgers restaurant about 2 miles from where I live, minister, and worship.

I find the statement so ironic. It's what I often wish would happen in Hingham.

Now the Wahlberg boys aren't stupid. Chef Paul (brother to the famous Donnie of NKOTB and even more famous Mark) chose the Hingham Shipyard as the location for his two (soon to be three) restaurants and not their actual hometown of Dorchester. Dorchester would have been a horrible business decision. The first restaurant is reportedly doing very well, and the second - scheduled to open to the public today - will likely as well. If the likes of the people who showed up to the private yet well-publicized premiere opening last night have anything to do with it, it will be just fine. David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Danny Paille, and Rob Gronkowski were all there, completing the four major Boston sports teams. Alas, the minister from the closest house of worship was not invited. :-) And I'm not sure if the poor were there either. But I could be wrong.

Anyway, it's them (the poor) that made me write today.

At the very same time that these were celebrating the new establishment, much of the rest of Hingham was focused on establishing the financial foundation for a new middle school to the tune of $60.9 million. After much debate, the article at Hingham Town Meeting passed just fine by 82 votes (it now goes to general election this Saturday). I couldn't make it to the special Town Meeting as I had an Overseers meeting for the church, but I'm not sure how I would have voted had I been there. If and when I do go, I like to listen to the heart of democracy work (the New England town meeting is a thing of beauty and wonder) and then decide.

But I'm not really in the business of deciding the need for a new school. I think education is important, but I'm not overly worried about the quality of education in Hingham. I tend to think that the space is much less important than the people (teachers) and the medium (curriculum, etc.). But you do need a place to make these things happen. As it stands I "kind of" have three children in Hingham Schools: my oldest is in first grade and my twin girls go to the Integrated Preschool that we can't afford for about 10 hours a week. So I recognize and affirm the need for education and the much more subservient need for a place to do it.

...I'm just not sure why it takes $60.9 million.

Some of the scare tactics used to lobby for the school were laughable: "Crack forms in ceiling. Need new school." I guess I grew up in a different way: if the car needed a new radiator, we didn't buy a new car, we got a new radiator. I don't want to downplay the importance of fixing things for safety's sake. I do want to downplay the desire for fresh paint and an auditorium in a middle school. The middle school I went to (in a fairly wealthy town) had no auditorium. That was for the likes of a high school. And "not adequate space" for the music room? Wait...you mean there's a music room!? And did you see all those instruments!? Anyway, I'm way too into details at this point.

What is my point?

It's in moments like these that I wish we could really do what Donnie Wahlberg suggests: bring a little Dorchester to Hingham. When I read the local paper and see people go on and on with the passion and zeal of Dr. King himself about where to put stoplights and whether or not the lines downtown should be yellow like everyone else's or red, white, and blue for the 4th of July, it makes me want to rent some coach buses and take my fellow Hinghamites a few miles down the road to Dorchester. Just to get out, ya know?

I want to give the town of Hingham some credit. If there's a need, the community is going to take care of it. The school system is pretty good, the roads are well-paved, and the stoplights are pretty (although the way we handle trash and recyclables needs to go!). The average home selling price is above $700,000 for good reason. Despite the "horrible" economy of the past several years, the housing market in Hingham hardly took a hit. There are houses on my street in which I could run from one side to the other in less than a second (=small...and I've got bad knees) that have sold multiple times in the last couple of years for over half a million dollars. Even the tiny house that I live in which is need of some repair and a decent paint job (again!) is assessed near $500,000 (five years ago).***

Further, there are really smart, thoughtful, and resourceful people here who know how to find money and exercise the various grants, funds, etc. available from nonprofits and levels of government outside the town. Example: did you know that there are grants that you can apply for to purchase a boat pump out stationSomeone in Hingham did. Props to them! And this $60.9 million middle school will actually "only" cost the taxpayers of Hingham $35.6 million because the state is kicking in some $25 million.

...If I lived in Dorchester, I'd kind of wonder why Hingham is getting $25 million dollars to build a new school. I mean...really? Hingham needs help building a school?

I'm not offering answers here, just throwing out these thoughts as a way of thinking more deeply than a scare-tactic YouTube video (Single-pane windows!? The horror! Can't we get new windows?). Education isn't about facility. Facilities are servants to more important things.

In six years, if I'm still in Hingham, my oldest son will go to the new middle school. I'm sure it will be great. And I understand about the opportune time in regard to the state funds.

I just struggle with the amount of money.

***Disclosure: By the way, I should really point out that I am hardly a Hingham taxpayer. I am a resident of almost six years, but the only taxes I've paid are from my vehicle and I believe, a small entertainment/food tax from the restaurants. The church owns the house we live in, and being a nonprofit, pays no real estate taxes. I'm conflicted by this when I consider town issues. So I don't even really have reason to complain as the tax increases won't affect me. I'll never be able to afford to buy in Hingham.

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