Wecome to Rosefield

01Apr10

Two RosesLast year’s highly successful merger of the Wakefield and Melrose Health Departments has prompted officials in the two contiguous communities to explore other ways that they might cooperate for mutual public benefit. There has even been talk of consolidating the Wakefield and Melrose police and fire dispatch systems as another way to save both communities substantial money.Public Safety Building

Those discussions have led almost inevitably to a proposal that comes as no surprise to those who have been closely following regionalization trends across the commonwealth. If the state approves the proposal, Wakefield and Melrose will cease to exist as separate communities two years from now, merging to form the new city of “Rosefield” in the spring of 2012.

The proposed merger of the two communities was spurred by the 2009 combination of the Wakefield and Melrose Health Departments, which has succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectations and has been held up as a state-wide model of how communities can regionalize services in ways that save money and are beneficial to all. The down econonomy and drastic cuts in state aid are forcing communities to consider pooling resources in ways previously unimaginable.

At a recent meeting of the Wakefield Board of Selectmen, Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio praised improvements in the delivery of local health services since the merger with the Melrose Health Department. “I think about where we were a year ago and where we are now,” Maio said. “The people of Wakefield are getting great service.”

It wasn’t a huge leap for local leaders to see that merging the entire governments of Melrose and Wakefield could expand that “great service” to other municipal functions as well.

Officials in both communities know that the proposal won’t be an easy sell but dismissed the notion that citizen resistance could block the merger.

“Most people opposed national health care reform too,” observed one local official who asked not to be named, “but the federal government pushed that through. The people don’t always know what’s best for them.”

The proposed new name must still be approved by the Wakefield Board of Selectmen and the Melrose Board of Aldermen, but officials expressed confidence that “Rosefield” would ultimately be accepted.

“We extensively focus-grouped all the possibilities,” said April F. Ewell, an aide to Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan. “We are efforting to make this adjustment as easy as we can for all the future citizens of Rosefield.” Ewell said that other possible names included “Melfield” and “Wakerose,” but the focus groups preferred the sound of “Rosefield.”
Pink roses
The new name also suggests all sorts of future marketing possibilities, according to Ewell. “I can see fields of rose bushes all over the landscape,” she said. “We could become a real destination for rose lovers, sort of like Holland with its tulips.”

Cyrus WakefieldBut not everyone is on board with the merger and the name change. The Wakefield Historical Society has voted to oppose the name change based on the fact that Wakefield was named after a real historical figure, 19th century industrialist Cyrus Wakefield.

But others think that such opposition is overblown.
Old Town Hall
“If people really cared about Cyrus Wakefield they wouldn’t have torn down the Town Hall he gave to the town and his factory buildings on Water Street,” Ewell said. “Change is good,” she insisted, adding that Wakefield hasn’t changed its name since 1868. “Back then, some people wanted to keep the old name South Reading,” Ewell pointed out. “But eventually they got over it – or died.”

Some citizens in both communities have wondered what the proposed merger will mean for the historic rivalry between Melrose and Wakefield school athletic teams, particularly the traditional Thanksgiving Day football game.

But school administrators in both communities downplayed these concerns in a joint statement released today.
Wakefield High School
“As educators, we have always valued collaboration over competition,” the statement read. “Furthermore, this merger provides an opportunity to re-think team names like ‘Warriors’ and ‘Red Raiders,’ which glorify male aggression and are also offensive to Native Americans. We feel that the new team name, ‘Rosefield Blossoms’ more closely embodies the prevailing spirit of cooperation and teamwork.”

In Wakefield, a few officials have expressed reservations, fearing that what is being promoted as a merger is more like a hostile takeover, where Melrose city officials will end up calling most of the shots.

But Melrose City Hall called such concerns exaggerated. “This is for the good of both communities,” said Mayor Dolan’s aide, April F. Ewell. “No one is trying to fool anybody.”

[This column appeared in the April 1, 2010 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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