Editor’s Note: For this week’s column, we sat down with Town Meeting Member Robert J. Long and asked him what makes Precinct 9 so special and what he sees as the top issues in the Saugus neighborhoods he represents. Long, 85, is a town native and 1956 graduate of Saugus High School. Long received a bachelor of science degree from Northeastern University and his Master’s in Business Administration from Suffolk University.
He was honored at the 2017 Founder’s Day as a recipient of the “Person of the Year Award,” which cited his longtime involvement in Saugus local government. Long served as Town Moderator for 18 years (1995 to 2013), on the Board of Selectmen (1987 to 1991), as chairman of the Planning Board (1982 to 1987), on the Town Meeting Site Plan Review Committee and the Route 1 Task Forces #1 and #2, on the Town Meeting Master Plan Committee, on the School Building Needs Committee, on the West Side Fire Safety Committee, on the School Building Committee (before the current one), on the Board of Directors of the Janet Leuci Residence (current) and on the Board of Directors of the Greater Lynn Senior Services (current). He has served an aggregate of 36 years as a Town Meeting member during three different stints (1979-87, 1993-2017 and 2019-present). Long can’t run for reelection as a Precinct 9 Town Meeting member this fall because a realignment of the town voting boundaries has him now living in Precinct 4. But he recently pulled nomination papers to run for a Town Meeting seat in Precinct 4 and also for a seat on the nine-member Charter Commission.
He worked for 35 years for MIT, retiring as a senior accounting officer. He worked on government grants and contracts, making overseas trips to Cairo University, as well as working as facilities management in financial controls and budgets. Long and his wife, Carol Russo Long (1960 graduate of Saugus High), celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary earlier this year. They have a daughter, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild. Some highlights of that interview follow:
Q: What makes Precinct 9 special? Tell me a little bit about the landmarks and unique features and famous buildings.
A: What makes it different is – like North Saugus – the lot sizes are bigger. They are required to be bigger, 20,000 square feet instead of 10,000 square feet, on the east side of Route 1. So, the population density is less than what you would find on the east side of Route 1. In some ways, it’s like being in two different communities. But, on the other hand, people like myself and my wife, we come from East Saugus. When we moved up here, this place where we are right now, there was a horse corral out here. They had horse shows on Sunday afternoon. None of this was here. On the street going toward Wakefield, there was another horse corral there.
As far as historical places go, we have the Scotch-Boardman House on Howard Street. That’s an old house that goes back more than 300 years. Another interesting thing about the precinct – up on Golden Hills, you have three ponds there that were used for recreation: swimming and boating and activities like that; not so much now, though, because of the algae.
Q: When people talk about Precinct 9, what comes to mind right away?
A: What comes to my mind is the space between the homes. Not mine [Bennett Avenue], by the way. I live in an old neighborhood and the houses have only 60 feet of frontage. Most of the houses in 9 require 100 feet now, so there is greater distance between the homes.
What’s also happened, too, is Golden Hills has been developed more than when we first moved up here. When we moved from East Saugus, we had a state rep named Beldon Bly. And when he went up to Golden Hills, I would go door-to-door with him and help him deliver his pamphlets. Up there, you had a couple of other horse corals. And, we didn’t have a leash law, so you would have dogs running around up there, much more than now. Up there, you’d have these very expensive homes.
Q: What historic characters or important markers are in the precinct?
A: So much of the precinct was farmland at one time. My street is Bennett Ave. And over there, there’s a house that looks like a plantation type of house on the top of my street. That used to be all farmland; out here, by the Fellsway, was farmland. This was some years ago. Another important feature – the entrance to Breakheart [Reservation] is in Precinct 9. The Oaklandvale School is in Precinct 9, and we have the hockey rink [Kasabuski Memorial Skating Rink], which is located on Forest Street, down the road from the Breakheart entrance. And Breakheart gets a lot of foot traffic – not just from Precinct 9 – we get a lot more from neighboring towns.
Here’s something interesting. Do you know, at one time we had a Nike base in Saugus?
Q: In Precinct 9?
A: Yes. As you go up Main Street toward Wakefield, just beyond where the Public Works Building is … well, back in the 50s we drove on Main Street and there was a Nike base with barracks, guards, a mess hall. So back in the 50’s, that part of Saugus was rural and it had a Nike base.
Q: Did you have any famous people who lived in Precinct 9?
A: We had Gus Gannon, who was a Town Meeting member and an attorney. And they named him as a judge back in the late 1980s or early 1990s. I actually wound up getting called to jury duty in Salem. I went in there and they asked all kinds of questions. I’m sitting there, sitting there, sitting there, and finally Judge Gannon says, “Oh, Mr. Long, you are excused. You’re my neighbor.” Actually, he’s the one who got me interested in Town Meeting.
Q: What’s the most famous landmark in the precinct?
A: Well, if you’re looking for something historical, it’s the Scotch-Boardman House. If you are looking for everyday use, it’s Kasabuski Rink, Breakheart and Hockey Town. You can see I’m a hockey enthusiast. All my grand-kids played through High School.
Q: What do you consider the top issue facing Precinct 9?
A: I think changes in our precinct boundaries are going to be a hot issue. We’ll have a lot of people showing up to vote in Precinct 9, only to discover they are now in Precinct 4. That is something that affects me and my neighbors on Bennett Avenue.
Q: So, do you plan to run for another term on Town Meeting, this time as a resident of Precinct 4?
A: I’m leaning that way. But my family members aren’t too enthused about it. And I’ve also been asked to run for the Charter Commission.
Q: What do you think about the interest in changing the Charter?
A: To me, it’s not the form of government that matters. It’s the people in it. It boils down to having good people run for public office.
Q: What do you consider the top issue facing residents in Precinct 9?
A: I think it’s finally getting a West Side Fire Station. But that’s really a West Side issue. And you have Precincts 9, 4 and 7 on the west side of Route 1. In 1965, Ed Collins, who was the town manager, was so convinced that the west side of Saugus needed a fire station. There was $500,000 – on a motion made by Mike Serino – that was set aside for a West Side Fire Station. When Town Meeting approved a $20 million capital improvement plan, it was part of a bond issue. We had a site and money for the fire station. But the manpower wasn’t approved.
Today, I believe we do have the manpower to staff a third fire station. But we need to focus on a site. This project has been talked about so often. It only gets done if the people want it to get done. The population wants it to get done. But somehow, the people in office don’t want it to get done. Meanwhile, we’re continuing to see the cost of the fire station increase. But I’m told that we have the manpower to staff it.
Q: Okay, the Oaklandvale School is one of several vacant school houses that the School Committee voted to turn over to the town for future use. Do you have any preference for the future use of that building and property?
A: Since we no longer have a neighborhood school – the Oaklandvale School – I’d have to say I like the idea of a neighborhood school. And we do have a playground there. I want to see it under the control of the town if it’s possible for reusing the building. I know some people would like to see it torn down and housing put up there. Well, tearing it down is going to be very expensive. I’d rather see it used if it’s possible. There’s a lot of classroom space there. It could be used for different things. It would be nice if you could lease to a business. I don’t want to see the building just deteriorate. And I don’t want to see it sold.
Precinct 9 is primarily a residential neighborhood. The only business is in the strip mall [where the Iron Town Diner is located at 325 Main St.].
Q: Do you have any other concerns that you would like to share?
A: To me, a pressing issue in the future is how to develop and what will happen to Square One Properties. It’s not in Precinct 9. The mall is in Precinct 4, but it will affect Precinct 9. And it’s something we should be thinking about.
Q: Do you think we will have a good turnout at the library on Sept. 11, with a lot of residents from Precinct 9 interested in meeting their Town Meeting members and talking to them?
A: I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I hope so. I know – like in most precincts – people want to keep it intact as functioning neighborhoods so they can enjoy the streets they live on and houses they live in, and maintain good services on the roads and sidewalks. People came to live in Saugus because they work in other places and we’re still affordable and we have a good quality of life.