If anyone doubts the breathtaking range of projects being funded by stimulus, they should have come with me on my recent visit to Lakeville. This picturesque, once rural South Coast town is struggling, like so many cities and towns across the state, to make it through the recession and stimulus has been an essential part of its survival.
My first stop was to the Assawampsett Elementary School to see the impact stimulus funds have had on the town’s special needs programs. Ann St. Pierre, the school system’s special education department head, met me there and told me that her program took a huge hit with the recession. She was able to use the stimulus grants she received — $156K over two years – to retain staff, buy supplies and materials and hire a teacher for a new initiative that keeps kids with significant emotional and behavioral challenges in the district.
“ARRA keeps my department afloat,” she told me. I got a chance to visit this new initiative and seeing these kids thriving in their own community – not to mention saving the district the costs of transportation – was tremendous.
My next stop was to a new water storage tank being built with the help of stimulus funds. The 500,000 gallon water tank will do more than provide the town with water: It will open up this industrial park where its being built to economic development. “We couldn’t get businesses to come to the town without water,” Rita Garbitt, Lakeville’s town administrator, told me. “There are a few lots left in the park and now we can get tenants because we have the water.”
I never full appreciated the very obvious connection between the need for water and business growth until now. The fact that stimulus can help provide the town with an economic base for the future is pretty gratifying.
Stimulus is also providing the town with the protection it needs – and deserves. I stopped by the town’s police station to hear how its stimulus award kept the police force intact. Police chief Frank Alvihera told me that the recession and budget cuts forced him to lay off five members of his 17-person force. A stimulus award of $187K enabled him to hire back three officers. I met one of those officers, Ryan Maltais, who had been laid off for six months before he was rehired. Ryan is married and has a daughter
“I don’t know where we’d be without those funds,” Chief Alvihera told me. “We’re very thankful.”
I am too. I’m thankful Ryan has a job and that Lakeville can build a water storage tank and attract more businesses to the area and that kids with special needs can stay in their community to go to school. Above all, I’m thankful stimulus is there to help.