Barbara Van Reed
Constance O'Grady did not want this column to be about her.
Mrs. O'Grady called The Patriot recently to tell us about the poor condition of the sidewalks near where she lives, at Slater Estates, a 71-unit housing complex for the elderly at the intersection of Slater Street and North Main in Webster.
Mrs. O'Grady is 85 and said that she and her neighbors like to walk down Slater Street to go to the drugstore, or down North Main to do some banking. “But the sidewalks have so many holes and ruts in them that it's difficult for older people to maneuver, especially in spring when you can't see the holes because they're filled with water and ice. The doctors tell us old people to walk, but where can we walk to?”
Mrs. O'Grady said she and her neighbors talk about this problem, but they've never brought it up with the town's highway department. “What good would it do?” she asked. “They wouldn't listen.”
“I don't want to be the one that started all this trouble,” she said. “Some people would think it's terrible to cause trouble. But somebody has to say something.” And so she did.
We toured the sidewalks together, with Mrs. O'Grady on her electric mobility scooter. She avoids the sidewalks and rides on the road. “People driving by in their cars give me dirty looks, like I shouldn't be on the road, but the sidewalks are too rough.”
There are sections of the sidewalks where a scooter or wheelchair can't maneuver because there are no curb cuts. In one section the sidewalk is blocked by bushes.
So, we called Ken Pizzetti, Webster's highway superintendent. He hadn't received any complaints about the sidewalks on Slater Street and North Main, but said he would check out the brush blocking the sidewalk. “We fill any holes and address any serious problems right away when we hear about them,” he said. The sidewalks along North Main Street predate ADA regulations, he acknowledged, and might be hard for handicapped people to navigate.
Mr. Pizzetti voiced what we all know. Town budgets have been hard hit the last few years, and with state cutbacks, it's impossible to redo all the roads and sidewalks that need work. The town, he explained, follows a procedure for pavement management which emphasizes maintenance of the better roads first.
The highway department employs new, modern, cost effective techniques for road resurfacing, such as “hot-in-place resurfacing,” which actually regrinds existing asphalt in place. However, when they do this, the sidewalks are not included in the maintenance.
Later we talked with DPW Director J. T. Gaucher, who also said that sidewalks are budgeted for
temporary fixes only. But, he also said that he'd just attended a meeting in Boston on State grants. He said the town does have plans “down the road” to apply for funds to reconstruct North Main Street, sidewalks and all. To obtain state grants, the town would have to commit to paying for the engineering design, which could cost $40,000 to $80,000. And then it could take years to get approval. But it's definitely on his radar.
We also checked if Mrs. O'Grady and her scooter-bound friends are allowed to use the roadway. Yes, said Police Chief Bent's office. They should be sure to stay to the right, he said.
Now, back to Mrs. O'Grady. A Webster girl, Constance met and married Walter Gale. “Everybody knew him,” she said. Walter worked at Cranston Print Works all his life. “I was upset when I saw the demolition going on there...if he ever knew it was gone...to think of all the people that lost their jobs there. It's sad,” she said.
She herself worked at the CPW Sample Company for nine years, cutting material and filling out orders.
When Walter died, in 1988, after 42 years of marriage, she retired.
Mrs. Gale subsequently met Ronald O'Grady from Thompson, married, and with him traveled the country: California, Michigan, Florida, Nevada. “We went all over,” she said, and they settled in Omaha. She describes Mr. O'Grady as a happy, engaging man. “He was a mechanic and all the wives would take their cars to him.”
“But he got sick, and we lost him.” So last year she moved back to Webster to be near her children. She has sons in Webster and Auburn, a daughter in Rhode Island, and another son in Reno.
“I've had an interesting life, and now I'm happy to be by my children,” she concluded.
Mrs. O'Grady will continue to ride her scooter on the road to run errands. Drivers, instead of giving her a dirty look when you see her, why not wave to her instead?
- Wednesday, 06 June 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Letter From the Editor