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Bellingham Town Common is a Dynamic Asset

Jul 23, 2018 06:00AM ● By Kenneth Hamwey

Story by Ken Hamwey, Bulletin Staff Writer

Bellingham’s Town Common has been called “a treasure” and has often been labeled as “the focal point of Bellingham.”

Now 21 years old, its use is wide-ranging—it’s played host to weddings and birthdays and a variety of town events that include the Memorial Day ceremony, concerts on the common, the pumpkin stroll, an Easter egg hunt, Harvestfest, a Christmas lights ceremony and the Library’s story-time for children (Wednesdays during the summer).

The 21/2-plus acres include a gazebo, walkways, two playgrounds (one for tots and the other for elementary-age children), a Veterans Memorial, a Civil War Memorial, and a water trough.

Joanne Arcand, who’s been a trustee all 21 years of the common’s existence and has been chairman of the five-member board for the last three years, agrees that the area is indeed a place to be admired. 

“When I was appointed as a trustee, I was asked why I wanted to be on the board,” she recalled. “My answer was that I want to beautify and preserve the common. It’s a focal point for the community and there’s a sense of pride in maintaining the property.”

Besides Arcand, the board of trustees includes Vice Chairman Barbara Eltzroth, Treasurer Leo Dalpe, Function Coordinator Ernest Pelletier and Secretary Larry Sposato. Members serve a three-year term and meet monthly. 

Their primary functions are to oversee the maintenance of the property and manage their budget. The trustees’ budget is self-sustaining. All funds come from the rental of the ATM machine on site, user fees and the sale of bricks that surround the gazebo. User fees of $75 are charged only to people from out of town.

Those who plant flowers and shrubs and groom the property include four to eight senior citizens on the tax-workoff program and one part-time employee (Louis Leblanc). The Parks Department also plays a major role by mowing the grass and edging it, changing the banners on lamp post four to six times a year, decorating and installing the lights for Christmas and setting up flags and bleachers for Memorial Day.

“During its first five years, the Common was maintained by 14 women volunteers and myself,” Arcand noted. “We bought flowers and shrubs and worked from 7 to 11 am, five days a week. Our tax-workoff staff does a great job now and Louis Leblanc is our Energizer battery. He never stops.”

Arcand encourages the tax-workoff staff, when carrying out their duties, “to talk with visitors to create a friendly atmosphere.” There’s no doubt that the atmosphere at the common is family- friendly. “There are no vendors, no dogs and no smoking,” she said. “Yet, it’s business-friendly because parents can cross the street, visit restaurants and get what they need.”

Residents can secure a date for a function by contacting the function coordinator, who also maintains the message board at the entrance. The Town Common Trustees have no jurisdiction on the maintenance of the common at Crooks Corner.

The 73-year-old Arcand, who has lived in Bellingham all but two of her years, says she often hears residents and out-of-towners praising the downtown common. 

“I got a call at 6:30 one morning and a woman wanted to tell me how the common eliminated her stress and put her in a pleasant mood to go to work,” Arcand noted. “The lights were still on for Christmas and this woman said she viewed the setting surrounded by peace. What’s amazing about the property is the respect everyone has for it. If there’s paper on the ground, it gets picked up. Visitors treat it like it’s their own.”

Securing the land and building the common wasn’t a project that had 100 percent backing. The property belonged to Almacs, a grocery chain that moved the downtown store to Hartford Avenue and occupied the building that now houses Market Basket. There was a move by the town to purchase the land and to build a common.

“Guy Fleuette was a Selectman and he was on the Town Common Committee that led the offensive to buy the land,” Arcand recalled. “Talk focused on either building a Common or to construct a new town hall on the land. Some even wanted to have both on the property. The issue went to Town Meeting and voters gave the Common the okay. Construction began about 1995 and the common was dedicated in 1997. There was an anniversary celebration in 2007 and 2017 for the 10th and 20th years."

Arcand and her husband, Roland, who is the Parks Superintendent, have three children and six grandchildren. They’ve been fixtures in Bellingham for years. “It’s funny,” Joanne said. “I don’t do much gardening at home but I love being at the Common. It’s a great atmosphere.”

That’s particularly true on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The Christmas lighting ceremony takes place and a designated tree-lighter does the honors and gives a brief message. Bellingham’s Town Common has become a symbol- It’s a part of the community that fosters family fun, entertainment, and serenity.

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