Worcester Trivia, Day One

A few weeks ago, I plunked down a couple of bucks in a local thrift store for this box of Worcester Trivia cards:

As far as I can tell, the Worcester Trivia game was published by the Worcester Historical Museum around 1987; it was sponsored by Guaranty Bank.

The box is small, and roughly the size you’d expect of an expansion set for Trivial Pursuit.  There are 200 cards (plus a number of blank cards for those who want to include their own questions) with six questions on each card.

Indeed, the questions are in six colored categories (like Trivial Pursuit), so you could probably play the game with a Trivial Pursuit board and game pieces.

The city website includes some questions that were likely from the Worcester Trivia game.

But I thought you might like to see them all.

So, in the coming months, I hope you’ll enjoy these questions.

I’ll post the front of the card; if you click on the image, it’ll bring you to the answers.

If you have a preference for different formatting (typing questions out in addition to the image, putting in the answers after a break), let me know.

Library District Task Force meeting – rescheduled to Monday at 7pm

The library district task force meeting has been rescheduled to Monday at 7pm in the Saxe Room (the room on the right if you enter from the parking lot entrance).

(It remains to be seen whether the weather will reschedule the meeting.)

Update, 10/26 – The WBDC will not be at the meeting.  But you should go and tell the task force what you think.

Worcester Common Skating Outlet news

To follow up on last night’s 508 — a few notes about pricing for the skating rink on the Common.

It has a website that details the pricing:

The rink will be open for public skating weekends throughout the months of December, January and February.

Winter Vacation, December 26 – 31st

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 21st

February Vacation, February 18 – 25th

Additional weekday programming to be posted in the coming weeks.

Admission will be $2, with children under 10 skating free. Skate rentals will be $3.

I’m a little unclear why the cutoff is age 10 (versus 12 or 13).  It would have been nice to know that young kids are free when this was originally announced.

Library District Task Force meeting – this Friday at 8am

The Library District Task Force will have their next meeting — which will include the WBDC — at 8am this Friday, October 26 in the third floor ellipse (where the periodicals/biographies are).

As frequent readers of this blog might have noticed, the previous two meetings have occured at 4pm, and the upcoming meeting will happen at 8am.

I’m not sure if there’s an intentional effort to keep the public completely out of these discussions, or whether that’s just a convenient by-product of the meeting schedule.

We’ve had a private entity making proposals on public land, and the meetings that have been conducted have not been well-publicized and — even if they had been — have not been at times conducive to public discussion.

If you find the scheduling of these meetings to be as unacceptable as I do, I suggest that you contact the Library District task force.  (And if you can come, please do!)

Members of the task force:

Other folks you might like to copy on an email:

  • Kevin Dowd, chair of the library board (he does not serve on the task force)
  • Wei Jeng-Chu, acting head librarian

I have heard that there might be a public input session on Monday at 7PM at the library.  The WBDC would not be at that session.

(You’ll note that the Friday meeting — and, if it happens, the Monday meeting — would happen outside of library hours.  I have no idea which door to enter in these cases.  Also note that opening the library off-hours would require a minimum 4 hours overtime be paid to any staff member who has to come and open early or stay later.)

Worcester Common Project: Bigger on the Inside

If it seems as if the Common has been under construction forever, that’s because it has.

The city began talking about renovating the Common in 1990, a mere 23 years after it had previously been redone.  There have been a lot of fits and starts in the renovations, and reading nearly 20 years’ worth of newspaper articles about the discussions (and, later, the renovations) causes more questions than answers.

This post is an attempt to outline what’s happened on the Common for the past twenty or so years.

The phases (and the numbering of phases) change frequently, so I’ve put together a list of The Phases of Phases.

The estimated and actual costs of the project change even more frequently, and I’ve noted that in How much has the Common renovation cost?

If you get nothing else out of this long post, get this:

In 2005, the city received $5.6 million in federal transportation funds for the skating rink, pavilion, and bicycle pathways.

By that point (2005), the project had already cost $4 million to date.  We’d been told it was paid for with state and federal money, but previous newspaper articles indicated that the city paid $2 million (half) of the total cost.

I have no idea whether any of that $5.6 million was used to cover the previous $4 million.

But any way you cut it, this project has cost the city, the state, and the federal government a lot of money.  (And — remember — we only put in the skating rink.  We never did the pavilion or the bicycle pathways.)

The City Manager was on Jordan Levy this afternoon, and he said the $2 skating fee would go to the Worcester Public Library Foundation to fund Libby and other programming.

A lot of folks have had concerns about that $2 fee, and — despite what the City Manager says — it really doesn’t matter whether it’s going to a great cause or back into the general fund.

We have spent millions upon millions of dollars on the Common.

The federal funds were supposed to be used, in part, for a pavilion with bathroom facilities.  Instead, when I took my children to the Movies on the Common this summer, we had to use a port-a-potty.

Taxpayers have spent $39,000 for beautiful tables and chairs.  One Friday afternoon this summer, I attempted to have lunch with my son on the Common.  I say “attempted” because the chairs were locked to the tables in such a way that I couldn’t sit down.  $39,000 for chairs we can’t sit on.

We have spent $2.5 million to $3 million (my best guess from the newspaper accounts) on a rink and freezing equipment.  But skaters are still going to have to pony up $2 to get on the ice.

The City Manager also said there should be a fee for ice skating because there “has to be a perception of value.”

When people complain about a $2 fee to ice skate, it’s not about the Spag’s mentality.

It’s because they have already spent years waiting for the Common renovations to begin, and then waiting for them to complete, and because the government has already spent millions of dollars to get us to this point.

They’ve already perceived the value, and a bargain this ain’t.

The Phases of Phases:

1997 Phases: Phase 1, renovations to the surface of the plaza behind City Hall and the parking garage beneath; Phase 2, completing landscape improvements on the Common edges that skirt Front and Franklin Streets; Phase 3, redoing the reflecting pool; and Phase 4, installing new lighting, walks and making other cosmetic improvements throughout the area.

2001 Phases: Phase 1 remains renovations to the surface of the plaza and parking garage; Phase 2 seems to be redesigning the reflecting pool.

2004 Phases: “Phase one of the project includes demolition of the reflecting pool, major infrastructure improvements, erection of period fencing and furnishings, landscaping and the construction of two entrances that feature granite pillars.”

“Phase two of the project primarily involves work on the rink and a complementary storage facility, which would abut Front Street. The storage structure would also contain public restrooms.”

2005 Phases: Phase One: replacement of reflecting pool with a grass area; the construction of concrete pillars at the entranceways; new walking paths; and the installation of new lighting and benches.

Phase Two: work to the front area of City Hall and construction of a collapsible skating rink, a snack shop and maintenance facility, and the terminus for the Blackstone River Bikeway.

2007 Phases: Phase Three: work at City Hall planting trees, installing new bus shelters and jack-hammering the bland concrete to produce a brick-and-granite plaza

2010 Phases: According to Moylan, “Phase I, Phase IIB and Phase IIIA of the project have been completed, and his department has aggressively focused on the final design and construction of the remaining three phases.”  I have no idea what phases those might be.

How much has the Common renovation cost?
October 1990 – renovations were estimated at $5.4 million
October 1996 – the project plan was scaled back to $3 million from $7 million
March 1997 – the project plan was “scaled back” to $3.5 million from $7 million
May 2001 – the garage/plaza renovation phase was budgeted at $2.4 million
July 2001 – now we’re told it was “originally estimated to cost $2.55 million, but is now expected to come in at $2.38 million”; we’re also told that the second phase (walkways, filling in the reflecting pool, etc.) would cost $2 million (the city would invest $1 million and seek $1 million in state grants). I assume this puts the total project cost at about $4.4 million.
July 2002 – now we’re up to $5 million, with $1 million coming from federal allocations and $1 million from city appropriations
July 2002 – The estimate for how to fund the $5 million project is now $2 million from the feds, $2 million from the city, and $1 million in private donations
April 2005 – For “phase 1” (demolition of the reflecting pool and other activities; note that this is a different “phase 1” than the phase 1 that was completed in 2001), there’s $2 million in federal funds and $2 million in city funds
July 2005 – We receive $5.6 million in federal transportation funds for the skating rink, pavilion, and bicycle pathways
September 2005 – we’re told that this has cost $4 million to date and has been paid for with state and federal money. Not sure if the state reimbursed the city for the $2 million it put up.
May 2006 – The second phase (I assume this is work on the front area of City Hall, construction of a collapsible skating rink, a snack shop and maintenance facility, and the terminus for the Blackstone River Bikeway) will cost $4.4 million
December 2007 – The third phase (I assume this is work at City Hall planting trees, installing new bus shelters and breaking up the concrete to make way for a brick-and-granite plaza) will cost $5.8 million
March 2008 – The second phase (rink pad, I think) will cost $1.8 million
July 2008 – The current phase (rink pad, I think) will cost $1.7 million. When the pavilion and skating rink’s ice maker are completed, the whole price tag will be $4.2 million to $4.7 million. We also receive $543,000 from the state for landscaping and paving.

Below the break, I’ve put in a timeline of Telegram articles you can refer to.  If you don’t have a Telegram subscription, you can access the archives with your library card.

Continue reading

A few more thoughts on the skating rink

To add to last night’s thoughts:

I should note that — though this seems like an anti-skating blog — I do, in fact, ice skate on occasion, and I even enjoy ice skating.

I do not enjoy a lack of public dialogue.

There was a master plan for the Worcester Common “restoration” quite a few years ago; an ice rink was first anticipated as early as winter 2003.

Yes, that’s right — this restoration has been going on so long that Tom Hoover (remember him?) said in January 2002 that “[b]y winter next year, I will be making a fool of myself on skates along with Congressman McGovern.”  [Telegram and Gazette, “$5M makeover of Common ; Restoration work slated to begin this spring”, 9 January 2002]

Note that — at least as part of the 2002 plan — there were supposed to be gardens near the Civil War soldiers memorial.  I haven’t heard about these plans recently.

In 2005, we were told that there was going to be a bicycle pavilion.  [Telegram and Gazette, “Redesigned retreat ; Refurbished Common is uncommonly inviting”, 23 September 2005]

In 2008, that pavilion was supposed to be used for bicyclists in the summer and skaters in the winter. [Telegram and Gazette, “Ice idea?: Construction bumps summer events”, 7 July 2008]

Why am I referencing the Telegram so much?  Because I can’t seem to find the master plan for the Common on an obvious place on the city website.

I have no idea if the intention for a pavilion was only to house the chiller equipment, which is no longer needed because “there is no longer a need to construct a new building to house the chiller equipment for the skating rink, or for separate utilities to service the facility, thus significantly reducing its operating costs.”  [Telegram and Gazette, “Ice rink is a maybe this winter: City works to raise $125K from private sources, 15 October 2012]

So — in short –a pavilion seems to no longer be part of the plan.  And the average person who’s been paying a bit of attention over the past decade might have thought that the pavilion was supposed to be for people, in both summer and winter, but now we’re being told that it was for equipment.

I also have no idea if the plan was always to solicit private funds to pay for the skating rink, or if that’s the only way we could finally make this work.   Because, of course, I can’t find the master plan in any of the obvious places.

I am tired of being told I should feel “grateful to those in the community who continue to recognize the potential of our great City and step up time and time again to make things happen.”

We have relied on private donors for Wheels to Water, we have relied on private donors for the library being open on Sundays, and we will rely on private donors for this ice rink.  And we never talk about what will happen when those private donors fall on hard times, or decide their money should go somewhere else.

I didn’t blog about a short discussion that happened at the last library district task force meeting, but it’s worth mentioning.

Someone at the meeting asked what would happen to PILOT money for the library if the colleges want the parking lot for the hockey arena complex, and we don’t let them have it.

Which just about summed up everything that is wrong with PILOT and with these kinds of donation schemes in general.  It’s not just “free money” — it might not last forever, and it makes the relationship with the donor more complicated.

It’s lovely that private organizations have stepped up and paid for the ice rink.   But city and federal taxpayers have paid millions of dollars already for the Common renovations.

If a private employer who sponsors the rink this year, or a college that helps fund the rink, asks for so many free tickets for their employees or students, would they receive them? (I’m not saying that’s happening — but it could.)  Why would they be more entitled to that than someone who’s paid their property tax for 10+ years, while this project has dragged on?

Would we be less inclined to question the donor in another situation, or let them have their way in a dispute, lest we lose PILOT money, or funding for the ice rink, or whatever else we decide needs to be funded by private means?

This is a conversation worth having.

Some people (on the Telegram website and elsewhere) have raised concerns about there being a cost at all for the skating rink.  I have no problem paying, but I do have a problem with there being no community discussion about the pricing.  Perhaps residents would rather have had a higher price for adults and no charge for those under 12 or 13, as the Boston Frog Pond does.

And I cannot be the only resident who wonders which bathroom facilities my kids could use.

Don’t get me wrong — I like the idea of skating on the Common, and I hope it’s a great success.

But the questions about whether we should be budgeting for the ice rink (versus relying on grant funds), where the Common master plan as a whole stands, and what a good pricing structure would look like, all remain unanswered and undiscussed.

It’s not about being negative or positive about the ice rink.  It’s about why there’s no good public discussion, about framing conversations beyond the usual snark and tackling some very real questions people want answered.