Hopedale’s new town administrator ‘optimistic’ about town’s future

    Though the outbreak of COVID-19 has meant a shift for Schindler’s first-year priorities, the town’s ongoing
    financial woes remain a focus.

    HOPEDALE – Diana Schindler finished her first week as Hopedale’s newest town administrator on Friday,
    amid a state of emergency caused by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

    “What I wanted to focus on when I originally (applied for the job) is quite different than what I think we
    probably need to focus on now and moving forward,” she said in an interview Friday, of her year-one
    priorities.

    The former Deerfield town administrator accepted a three-year contract paying $105,000 her first year, and
    began work in Hopedale Monday.

    “I was really drawn to Hopedale. I think it’s reminiscent of western Mass.,” said Schindler, who has led a
    handful of communities in that section of the state. “It just has that village feel. I felt ... it had even a
    stronger sort of community identity.”

    Interim Town Administrator Robert Reed can stay on board until the end of April, according to a contract
    extension that selectmen approved, to smooth the transition.

    Though the outbreak of COVID-19 has meant a shift for Schindler’s first-year priorities, the town’s ongoing
    financial woes remain a focus. Hopedale approved a $430,000 tax override last year to cover basic
    operating expenses, and the Finance Committee warned it could be the first of several to come.

    “Obviously, there’s been some issues around economic development,” Schindler said. “It’s largely a
    bedroom community.”

    As Hopedale waits for local commercial investments to provide needed tax revenue, Schindler said she’s
    looking into grants and other state programs to balance expenses. Adopting the state’s Community
    Preservation Act, for example, would offer the town matching funds for expenditures it might have anyway.

    “I think that that’s a really excellent way for a community like Hopedale to leverage the money they’re
    already going to spend,” she said.

    She’ll also examine town services for cost-effective changes. Regionalization plays a major role in
    western Massachusetts, and could benefit Hopedale.

    “I come from a background of regionalization,” she said. “While I feel very strongly that Hopedale has an
    identity that we are not going to lose, we can work with other people.”

    Establishing the town’s master plan and working with the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning
    Council will be important, too. Part of that will look at the large, vacant Draper factory buildings downtown,
    and working with their owner, Philip Shwachman.

    “I understand the owner definitely wants to be included in discussions about reuse of the mill, which I
    think is completely legitimate,” she said. “It would be really wonderful if over the next 30 to 50 years we
    could bring back the vitality that is .... literally the center of the community.”

    Though revitalizing the empty buildings would be ideal, she said, there are also other properties worth
    developing in town.

    Keeping the public informed and getting resident feedback on ideas or proposed changes will be key,
    Schindler said.

    “What I want to be able to provide now is just as much information as possible,” she said. “I want to get a
    sense of what the community really wants.”

    She’s looking into what that will look like in the immediate future, as social distancing guidelines rule out
    traditional meetings.

    “I’m not going to have a chance like you typically would, to sit in the Town Hall and have people come in
    and see you,” Schindler said.

    Social media and technology like video-conferencing might come into play, she said.

    “I feel optimistic for the future of Hopedale,” Schindler said, “and I could be helpful in helping them move
    forward.”

    Milford Daily News - Alison Bosma can be reached at 508-634-7582 or [email protected]
    Find her on Twitter at @AlisonBosma.

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