HOPKINTON — The U.S. Postal Service is proposing to cut by half the hours of post offices in Hopkinton and Rockville.
The post offices are two of 13 in Rhode Island being considered for reduced hours as part of a realignment plan that began in 2012.
Residents were invited to two successive afternoon meetings at the Town Hall on Wednesday, the first to discuss the Rockville post office and the second to hear proposals for the Hopkinton branch.
“I’d like to know what’s required to maintain the status quo, and secondly, how to avoid much reduction,” said longtime resident Diane Asermelly. “I’ve resided here for 37 years and had the same post office box. My three sons have grown up with the rite of passage of going to get the mail.”
Under the realignment, the Hopkinton post office would be open for four hours in the morning and the Rockville post office would be open for four hours in the afternoon. Saturday hours would remain the same, from 8 to 11 a.m. The two other post offices in the area, in Ashaway and Hope Valley, would continue to operate eight hours a day.
Christine Dugas, Postal Service communications program specialist, explained that more than 450 surveys had been sent to residents asking which options they preferred, including home delivery.
“We’re going to try to re-examine where delivery is possible, and I know it may sound confusing to some customers, but some places, like if you live at the end of a dirt road that doesn’t get plowed, then obviously, we’re not going to be able to go down there in winter,” she said.
A handful of residents, joined by Town Council member Barbara Capalbo and Town Manager William McGarry, attended the meeting to discuss the future of the Rockville branch. An operations manager for Rhode Island and Massachusetts, Steven Lachapelle, said that there were no plans to close the post office altogether, and that the customers’ suggestions would be taken seriously. “The information that’s taken here, we put it back into a package, we send it back to headquarters, and again, it’s looked at, no final decision has been made,” he said.
Attendance for the next meeting about the Hopkinton post office was considerably higher. At least 40 residents voiced their dismay that the oldest post office in town on Main Street in the historic village district might lose its central place in the community.
Capalbo told postal officials that the Hopkinton post office was a piece of history that meant more than a financial bottom line. “You have more value than numbers. You have more value than what your revenue is. Your value is in what you do with community, and this Hopkinton post office represents what you do — in the best sense,” she said.
Hopkinton Historical Association President Richard Prescott said: “It’s not just our history. It’s the history of the Postal Service. We can trace our postal history through the buildings here that have at one time or another housed the post office, going all the way back to the early 1800s,” he said. The Hopkinton post office rents space at the Thayer House, which is owned by the town. Town Council President Frank Landolfi reiterated an offer to reduce the $1,070 monthly rent if that would entice the service to reconsider its plan to shorten the hours of operation.
“That’s why I wanted to be here today, to make sure they knew that the council discussed it and we came to a consensus that if, in fact, the revenue is an issue and it makes a difference, we would be looking to reduce the rent to make it stay open at least six hours,” he said.
Many people had come to the meeting for another reason: to show their support for Hopkinton Postmaster Gail Whittaker, who might lose her job if the business hours are cut in half. “If it goes down to four hours, I would retire,” she said. “I would like to come back and do the four hours, but I would have to apply.”
Jinette Crowther said all she wanted was for Whittaker to keep her job. “That’s why I’m here,” she said. “I couldn’t care less about two hours less. What’s that to me? But to miss her and her charming personality, it’s a pleasure to go to the post office. There are other post offices where you go because you have to go because you have business to do, but with her, you look forward to going.”
Lachapelle said he understood the historic significance of the Hopkinton post office and would make sure residents’ comments were heard and considered. “We’re listening to what customers are saying, and we’re doing the best we can,” he said. “Hopkinton is unique from other communities that we have. I understand the historic aspect of it. Everything that is stated to me will be annotated and it will be part of the record that will be sent to our district level as part of the information packet to determine the final result of what we’ll do.”
A final decision on changes at both post offices will be made no later than January 2015.