Berkshire County UCP Holds Final Telethon
A frolicking performance at the 52nd and final UCP 'Starfest' Telethon on Sunday afternoon at the Crowne Plaza.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A 52-year-old tradition ended Sunday night.
United Cerebral Palsy of Berkshire County held its final telethon fundraiser Sunday afternoon. The event started in General Electric union halls in 1963 and grew to be an annual event held at the Crowne Plaza.
"The phones don't ring as much as they used to," Executive Director Christine Singer said. "In the early days, the telethon was the event. Nothing was done ahead of time because we didn't have the technology."
But now it is much easier to reach people and show what the organization does, which is to help both children and adults with disabilities. The telethon was both a way to raise money but also to show off the work that it does.
"We know families are struggling. They are struggling with their families educationally, socially, and they are struggling to get as much adaptive socialization and recreation outside of school as possible. We really try to cover those gaps in their lives to make sure they have the best lives possible," Singer said.
With a new generation heading the marketing team, the organization finally opted to develop new ways to do what the telethon had done for years.
"I think the hardest thing is that we don't know what next year's event is going to look like. So it is hard to say we like it better because we don't know what it is yet," Singer said. "How do you let go of something that has such a strong following? But, we believe the community support is so solid that they'll be behind us with whatever we do."
The event showed off local performers, organizations and politicians who helped generate funds. The goal for this final one was $35,000, which is about how much it has raised at telethons in the last few years.
This year's main hosts were state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli and Sheriff Thomas Bowler. Also appearing were former Adams Town Clerk Paul Hutchinson, former state Rep. Daniel Bosley, WUPE's Cheryl Adams and WSBS' Dave Winchester. The fishbowl hosts were Dan Proskin and Jessica Peck.
Being the last, the event featured clips spanning from over the last 30 years and guest appearances from those who participated in previous ones.
"It is a legacy of sharing and caring," Singer said.
Singer herself announced that she will be leaving the organization after 18 years. Sunday was her 19th telethon; there has only been three executive directors in the organization's history. As Singer said, it is time to "let the next generation have their hand."
Even though there will no longer be a telethon, the organization will still continue with its 19 programs aimed to help those who need it. Every three years, the organization goes through a needs assessment and aligns programming accordingly, Singer said.
"We really thank the community for being behind us every step of the way," Singer said.
North Adams Airport Panel Delays Project Vote; Talks Derelict Plane
The Airport Commission delayed a vote on the next phase of the apron project until it could confirm the city's contribution.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. – The Airport Commission tabled the approval of Phase 2 apron plans until the full board could meet.
Gale Associates, the commission's engineers, provided alternatives on Thursday for the next step in the project.
The commission, however, was hesitant to vote because it did not have a full board and had not yet heard if the city can cover the 5 percent local share needed for the project to be funded.
"I'd rather table this and call a special meeting next week when I know all of the members will be available and when the mayor may have an answer," Chairman Jeffrey Naughton.
Representatives from Gale recommended alternative 2, which includes full reconstructing the apron and the fixed-base operator building. Because there is no extension to the apron, which is included in alternative 1, the city would not have to pay for fixed-rate surveys and additional soil work. Many other aspects of the project can be changed to reduce local contribution but these cannot.
If proper funding could not be found the project would only be delayed.
The third option called for reconstruction of the apron and partial construction of the fixed-base operator building.
Gale representatives said the taxiway may have to be shut down during construction to avoid construction vehicles driving over the newly placed apron, but Airport Manager William Greenwald said this would not be an issue.
Alternative 2 would also decrease the amount of tie-down spaces by 30 percent. This would bring the 24 spots down to 15.
Greenwald said it should not be an issue, but he would be worried about transient planes that need to tie down temporarily.
"You look at the airport at any time, the number varies form eight or nine maybe 10," Greenwald said. "It fluctuates depending on the season. What I do worry about, we do get a lot of transient flights that come in that would want to tie down."
The commission discussed possibly adding two more spots near an apron exit and taxi planes out differently.
Greenwald also reported that he would like to remove a derelict plane form the airport. He said the owner never signed a contract, but has been paying dues on the tie down.
He said he has been having a hard time contacting the owner.
"So what they are doing right now, it is very clear, is playing us," he said. "They don't believe that we will have enough spine to pursue this so they are letting this piece of junk sit there, and it is a danger to the airport."
Greenwald said the airport's regulations allows the commission to remove derelict planes if need be. He said there are two sources willing to remove the plane and use it as collateral. If the owner does not pay for the removal, he or she would lose the plane.
One of the interested movers wants to purchase the plane and restore it.
Commissioner James Neville asked if they could move the plane somewhere else on the airport grounds and charge the owner for daily storage, much like what happens when a car is towed.
Greenwald said he would be afraid of any liability if the plane was damaged during the moving process.
The regulations have been reviewed by the city solicitor, however, Naughton suggested running the commission's plans by him again to make sure they are acting correctly.
"The last thing we want to do is get the city in a legal battle," he said. "I want to make sure we are on firm ground here."
Greenwald also told the commission that although the Department of Public Works is plowing the airport in a very timely manner, it is doing it in a way that damages lights.
The plows are being adjacent to the edges of the runway and that is breaking lights.
He said he felt uncomfortable asking them to change how they do it because they are so busy.
"The city is short staffed, and they have a gun to their head trying to get anything done," he said. "Do we sit here and be frankly grateful it is being done in a timely manner or … try to improve the quality of the job?"
Naughton suggested the Greenwald continue to show gratitude but he should just inform the DPW of the lights because it is a cost to the city.
Falchuk Looking To Grow Independent Party, Reject Olympics
Former independent gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuk held a meet and greet at Starbase Technologies Saturday night.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — When Gov. Deval Patrick announced in July that state taxpayers would spend $1 billion to expand the Boston Convention Center, it became Evan Falchuk's favorite example of how the state's priorities were out of whack.
He was running for governor at the time and forming the new United Independent Party. He didn't win the state's top executive office but the party did reel in enough votes to become recognized by the state.
Official parties can raise up to $15,000 from individuals while unofficial parties can only raise $1,500.
"You always hear Democrats and Republicans talking about money in politics. They know how to keep it out, but they just keep it out for the people who want to compete with them," Falchuk said.
"As an official party you get to play by a little bit better rules in terms of access to the ballot and fund raising."
Despite the lack of fundraising, being excluded from debates and being unknown, the new party was able to get that designation. But keeping it is another challenge.
"There are a lot of rules in place that prevent people from doing what we did," Falchuk said.
On Saturday, he returned to Starbase Technologies on Peck's Road, where he gained a lot of support during a campaign stop. Falchuk is pushing the party's next initiatives as it attempts to grow.
Those steps are to enroll voters as United Independent members, grow grass-roots support, field candidates in local races, and prevent taxpayer money from going to the Olympics, Falchuk's latest example of wrong priorities.
Falchuk needs to get 1 percent of voters — around 50,000 — to declare party membership in order to keep it official recognition or get 3 percent to vote United Independent in the next statewide election. But the next election in 2016 will be presidential and the fledgling party won't have statewide offices to run in or to vote in the presidential primaries.
In Massachusetts, unenrolled voters can vote in primaries for any party; others can only vote in primaries for the parties in which the are enrolled. Since United Independent is currently too young to have a presidential candidate, declared United Independent voters will be excluded from those primaries.
Falchuk is asking voters to give up that primary to register in United Independent and keep that 1 percent registration margin all the way to 2018, when it will have statewide candidates on the ballot. He reminded voters that they can switch over to unenrolled if they want to vote in the primaries when that comes, but to come back to his side when they are done.
While the party won't have a candidate on the presidential ballot, it will be focusing on issues. The party's first major initiative after becoming official is its newest example of how the state's priorities are out of whack: the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Boston was recently selected by the U.S. Olympics Committee to represent the United States in bidding in September for the Summer Games. The International Olympics Committee is not expected to make a decision until 2017.
Following a campaign for governor, Falchuk is back on the road campaigning against the Olympics and to grow his party.
"They want to spent about $5 billion — $4.7 billion — that they are going to raise from sponsors. They say there are about $5 billion in transportation improvements that the taxpayers will pay for. We supposedly already decided to do those transportation improvements but that's not actually true," Falchuk said.
"The history of the Olympic Games is that they cost 200 times more than people estimate."
Falchuk claimed that, on average, the cost will be closer to $15 billion to $20 billion, with the excess being picked up by the taxpayers. As the party's first initiative, he's pushing for a ballot question to be placed on the statewide ballot in 2016 to prevent taxpayer money from being used on hosting the Olympics.
"Our highest priorities should be that our schools are funded; that there are job training programs for veterans and seniors where there are shortfalls. That's what you think our government should be doing," Falchuk said.
The Olympics is headed by a group of construction company heads and lobbyists, he said, while both sides of the political aisle support it.
"They don't want you involved in the process. The mayor of Boston has been very supportive of this. The governor of Massachusetts, a Republican, has been happy about it. The Republicans in Legislature aren't complaining about this. The silence across both parties is pretty startling," he said, accusing party officials of caring more about helping their friends who will make money on the contracts than the taxpayers.
With the dual focus, the party has a lot of work ahead of them. United Independent, now with six full-time employees, has goals to change not only change politics in Massachusetts but to eventually change the entire two-party system nationwide.
Four Sworn Into Berkshire Commission on the Status of Women
Luci Leonard, Kristen Ginhoven, Susan Olshuff and Donna Todd Rivers was sworn in by state Sen. Benjamin Downing.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Four women were sworn into their roles on the Berkshire County Commission on the Status of Women on Friday.
Kristen Ginhoven, Luci Leonard, Susan Olshuff and Donna Todd Rivers took the oath for their terms in a ceremony presided over by state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing. The commission is a state group formed to advocate on behalf of women in the county.
"We're all special state employees. We are uncompensated volunteers but we do get special state employee status," said Chairwoman Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant said. "We have the power to convene a group of people on behalf of the women of Berkshire County."
The four join Mary Berle, Margo Bradley Davis, Roberta McCulloch Dews, and VanSant.
Next month, on Feb. 27, they are hosting a legislative breakfast at Shakespeare & Company with the region's state delegation. The group hopes women from the county will attend and share their concerns.
"Our job is to really lift those voices and carry them back to the State House to influence any type of legislation that affects women, girls and families," VanSant said.
Previously, the organization focused on teen pregnancy and that advocacy ultimately led to local organizations starting support programs. Meanwhile, they continue to review pieces of legislation for issues that could affect women and girls.
"We recently wrote letter on welfare reform and minimum wage. Those were the two things we took action on as a commission," VanSant said. "We advocate and get in our delegate's ear about issues that affect women."
Human trafficking legislation is expect to be debated in the State House and the commission expects to weigh in on that soon, too. It is mostly focusing on poverty, domestic violence and sexual violence.
It is also holding a drive to collect feminine hygiene products and toilet paper to help supply women with needs that food pantries don't provide.
The group meets monthly to hold open forums for women from all parts of the county to talk about issues.
"We want to keep it as an open forum," VanSant said.
They meet the second Monday of every month at the Berkshire Bank Community Room at 99 North St. Also, on March 25, the commission is holding a meet-and-greet at The Mount in Lenox at 5:30 p.m. as part of the Berkshire Festival of women writers.
Williamstown Native Hosting New HGTV Design Show
Williamstown native Jay Montepare is hosting 'Ellen's Design Challenge' beginning this Monday at 9 p.m. on HGTV.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Reality competition stars demonstrate their skills to become "top" in their fields.
But Jay Montepare's "dream job" is helping to nudge the latest reality group through the trials and tribulations of furniture design.
The Mount Greylock Regional High School graduate is the host of "Ellen's Design Challenge" that debuts Monday, Jan. 26, at 9 p.m. on HGTV.
"This job is kind of a dream job," he said, speaking last week from Los Angeles. "It incorporates a lot of my passions. It was just really lot of fun and I got to work with amazing creative designers ... and this afforded me the opportunity to work with some of the biggest household-name designers in the industry."
It also brought him into the orbit of comedian and talk show host Ellen Degeneres, who is producing the series through her A Very Good Production company and with A. Smith & Co., producers of such fare as "Hell's Kitchen" and "American Ninja Warrior."
"I was really excited because Ellen Degeneres was behind this and she is one of the most powerful, and one of the kindest and most interesting persons to work with," he said.
"Also, she's hilarious."
The six-week series will feature six furniture designers who, with the help of some well-known HGTV carpenters, will create unique pieces within 24 to 48 hours for judging. The last one standing will win $100,000 from Wayfair.com and have their work featured in HGTV Magazine. Montepare described the furniture as functional art and "show-stopping pieces."
The six competitors are Carley Eisenberg of Boone, N.C.; Gaspar de Jesus and Leslie Shapiro Joyal, both of Los Angeles; Tim McClellan, Durango, Colo.; Mark Moskovitz, Cleveland; and Katie Stout, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Montepare's main focus has been standup comedy — he's performed in the Berkshires — but he's branched out into acting and television hosting. He also has a background in design and carpentry, partly through his own properties and partly through working with his father, James Montepare, who owns the antiques part of Berkshire Emporium & Antiques on Main Street in North Adams.
"So it was kind of kismet, it was kind of perfect being a host, being a comic and also having an interest in design and carpentry — all those worlds kind of collided," he said.
In fact, he was home in Williamstown last year when the call came that the production company was interested in making him an offer.
"It was just kind of perfect because I had immersed myself in that world anyway," he said.
Montepare said he learned a lot from the six designers, and from Dwell Editor in Chief Amanda Dameron and Wayfair Executive Creative Director Christiane Lemieux, the two main judges during the series. He also was able to spend time with the leadership team at HGTV and the two production companies, as well as some Warner Bros. executives.
"It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life," he said.
Montepare shared some his experiences on the show and in his career with us.
How did you get involved in a furniture competition show?
I've been doing hosting stuff for awhile ... [including some pilots that didn't get picked up, like "Dick Clark's Bloopers"]
They were looking for somebody who knew about [design] work, knew about construction. My dad owns Berkshire Emporium & Antiques ... so I've been helping him a lot whenever I've been home. ... I've been refinishing a lot of furniture myself here and I had designed three apartments on my property by doing some pretty interesting things.
What is your role on the show?
What my role was essentially was to facilitate the show. ... I greet the contestants, I tell them about the challenges, give them the guidelines of each challenge and then my job was basically to help facilitate telling the story about the build. ... I go around to each designer, find out what material they're using, what they're plan is, I would see any problems I thought might arise and ask them about that, if they had thought about that and how they would remedy that.
Ellen Degeneres' love for well-crafted furniture inspired her new series.
Do you give them a "make it work" moment?
The hammer it out moment, I guess. (He laughs.)
... As the show progressed you would learn what the judges' likes and dislikes were, and I would help the contestants address those needs [by reminding them of past responses] ... I was also in charge of the clock ... I would be there to throw a spin on the challenge halfway through the competition. Then I became the facilitator for the judging.
How much interaction did you have with Ellen?
This is Ellen's show. She is a major part of every episode. It was an unbelievable honor to work with one of the greatest comic hosts in the world.
This show was a big production, there was a lot of people behind it, a lot of money into this. This is the biggest production value show on HGTV right now. It's going to be the most exciting show on HGTV.
Let's start from the beginning. How did you get into comedy?
I use watch to "Bill Cosby: Himself" and "Louie Anderson Live at the Guthrie."
[On a trip with his grandparents and brother to Cape Cod] I remember I did Bill Cosby's dentist routine from the back seat. I was doing an impression of him and I had his routine down word for word. My grandparents were laughing so hard they started crying. My grandfather had to pull over because he couldn't see the road anymore. They were just dying.
[Watching Cosby and Anderson] I was so amazed that one person could kind of control an entire audience of thousands of people, [have them] waiting on their every word.... I thought of these people as superhuman. I couldn't believe someone could do this. After making my grandparents laugh so hard, I thought maybe I can do something like this.
That time he almost became a ball player
We won the gold medal in the Baystate Games in my junior year ... We beat Drury my sophomore year at Greylock, which was one of the most exciting moments of my life at the time. So baseball kind of took over my life. ... I had invitational tryouts for the White Sox and the Kansas City Royals at one point, and I played in the Clark Griffith League in college (then a leading wooden bat league).
[During a game] I was cracking up everybody on the team. My coach got so pissed off at me, he turned to me and said, "Montepare you want to be a f--- clown go be a f--- clown."
So I decided to go be a f--- clown.
That time he was into medieval literature
When college ended, I was a English major with a medieval literature focus. I started getting into creative of writing and moved to Boston, which seemed to be the mecca of standup comedy. I took creative writing at Emerson and did standup. [Author and instructor Scott Campbell wrote him a recommendation for graduate writing programs.] But I just couldn't get in. Basically he said I was a wild card when it came to being an actual writer, but what he did know was that my presence in the room was always amazing ... I definitely had a gift for spoken word and storytelling — but not on the page.
[Montepare began doing a weekly half-hour comedy sketch with a friend then decided to move to Los Angeles, where he took acting and hosting classes. He's done about 30 national commercial campaigns, some small TV roles and performed for the troops in Japan.]
My career has kind of being throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what stuck. For some reason, I always knew that hosting was going to be the thing that propelled my career. And it did.
I see you were in a movie ("Walk of Shame") last year with Elizabeth Banks of Pittsfield. The movie didn't do well but did you get to reminisce about the Berkshires?
No, but something did happen that I guess was kind of funny. [Montepare and his wife, actress and writer Elizabeth Chomko, both got called to audition for the film.]
That day on the audition, we ended up meeting at the casting agency at the same time. They put us together not knowing we were married. We're sitting there in the waiting room, talking and goofing around and they call her in first. They said to her, "Wow, you seem to be really getting along with Jay." She said, "well yeah, he's my husband." They had no idea. So they had us audition the scene together ... It turned out they booked us to be in the same scene together.
It was a very small part, but we ended up shooting our very first major movie together. Which is like literally one in a million million chance of happening. [They played Female Blooper Anchor #5 and Male Blooper Anchor #3]
[Banks] seems really cool and I wish we had done it but no, it wasn't with her. But our little bit introduces her character and we speak to her via satellite ... but we never talked to her.
I like competition shows that actually show the creating, not the fake drama. What is this show like?
The designers on this show are unbelievable. ... But unless you're one of the big, big names you're kind of unknown. That's one of the reasons why Ellen did this show. She recognizes the skill and the talent and the hard work that all these people put in. ... Ellen wanted to give these fantastically, incredibly talented, creative designers the opportunity for the world to see just how great they were. ...
Like a lot of shows on HGTV, just watching this show will help you realize that there are a lot of things you can do that aren't traditional that really will allow you to have a wow piece of furniture in your house. And the great thing about this, we're following these guys from inception of design all the way through the creative process.
You're not just learning about furniture, you're learning a lot about how furniture is made, all the thought that goes into a piece of furniture.
Ward Councilors Holding Public Session on Taconic High Project
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Citizens in Wards 1 and 2 are encouraged to attend a public session on the proposed Taconic Vocational-Technical High School project on Monday, Jan. 26, at 7 p.m. at the Union Hall, 789 Tyler St.
The meeting is being hosted by Ward 1 City Councilor Lisa Tully and Ward 2 City Councilor Kevin Morandi for their constituents. State Rep. Paul Mark will join the councilors.
The City Council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the project and bond to pay for the new school on April 14. Tully and Morandi will welcome input and feedback on this project.
The new 247,770 square foot structure is proposed to be built next to the current building; the older one will be demolished. The project is currently in the design phase and is estimated to cost about $115 million. The Massachusetts School Building Authority is expected to reimburse about 80 percent of eligible costs, or about 60 percent of the entire project.
The School Building Needs Commission is expected to have a budget to approve on Feb. 9 and to MSBA for approval on March 25. If the MSBA agrees, the city will be required to bond for the entire amount, with state reimbursements made as the school is constructed. More information on the timeline can be found here.
For more information, contact Lisa Tully at 413-329-0074 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Kevin Morandi at 413-499-0108 or email@example.com.
Adams Historical Commission Talks Susan B. Anthony Signage
The Historical Commission is hoping to raise Susan B. Anthony's profile with better signage.
ADAMS, Mass. — Susan B. Anthony may be getting more visibility in the town of her birth.
The Historical Commission met Wednesday afternoon with commission liaison Selectman Joseph Nowak to discuss signage that would make tourists more aware of the civil rights activist.
"I just think Susan B. Anthony being so prominent in our history, there should be a little more focus put on her in this community," Nowak said.
Anthony was born at the family home on East Road in 1820; her family later moved but the house was converted into a museum about her a number of years ago.
Nowak said there has been additions to the "Welcome to Adams" signs that notify people driving through that Adams is the birthplace of Anthony, but Nowak advocated for something with more information on it that is "historic looking in nature."
"I'd like to see some really classy signs when you come into Adams saying 'This is The Birthplace of Susan B. Anthony,' " Nowak said. "It would be nice to have a plaque with a picture of her that tells a little bit of history because it is certainly a drawing card."
Commissioner Eugene Michalenko said the birthplace museum has been pushing for more signage and he attributed much of the neglect of Anthony to conflict between the town and past managers of the museum.
Nowak said he thinks a lot of the conflict came from the strong pro-life stance the museum's organizers felt was representative of Anthony, a newspaper editor and women's suffrage advocate.
Chairman Ryan Biros said this perspective has diminished with new management.
"They are trying to, not bury it, but get a little bit away from it," he said.
The commission agreed with a new town administrator they may be able to rekindle the conversation.
Nowak also asked the commission if they would be opposed to installing a lightning rod on the 1782 Quaker Meeting House (which Anthony attended) in the Maple Street Cemetery to prevent any damage to the building.
"It would just be a shame if it ever got hit by lightning, and … it's out there in the open," Nowak said. "I don't think it would be anything too intrusive that would diminish the character of the house."
The commissioners agreed it was a good idea and said they would look into it.
Williamstown Adds Electric Car Charging Station
Williams College has installed a charging station on Spring Street for electric cars.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — David Richardson may never use the new electric car charging station at the bottom of Spring Street.
But he could not be happier that it is there.
"I live about 10 miles from campus, and my car, under ideal circumstances, gets a 40-mile range on a charge," Richardson, a chemistry professor at Williams College, said this week. "Unless I run errands, that fits most of the time in my charge boundaries.
"I applaud the town for being this forward looking to install this device, but I’d almost never use it. … But for colleagues or other folks coming into Williamstown with significantly larger driving distances, that’s exactly what they should be doing."
This week, a new Chargepoint electric car station debuted in the town parking lot. The facility, which was acquired by Williams College, is part of a network of more than 20,000 such Chargepoint stations throughout the United States and Canada.
The college wanted to put the first such station in town in a public location, explained Williams Vice President for Finance and Administration Fred Puddester.
"It's a convenience for people coming through," he said. "It's not just for college folks. It's not meant to be buried in a parking lot and had to find. We thought we'd make it visible, convenient for everyone."
The station, which can serve two cars simultaneously, is located near the entrance to the town lot. The two spaces beside the charging station will be marked "For Electric Vehicles Only," according to Town Manager Peter Fohlin.
The Williamstown site joins existing Chargepoint stations at the Fiegenbaum Center for Science and Innovation at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, Johnson Nissan in Pittsfield and the Big Y in Lee.
Like his colleague Richardson, Williamstown resident and biology professor Hank Art said he is much more likely to use the South County location than the Spring Street spot. But Art likewise is excited that electric car owners will be able to visit the Village Beautiful and find a place to recharge.
"The college has a lot of faculty and staff in the Connecticut River Valley," Art said. "Many have hybrid cars, but it seems to me electric cars are the way we’re heading. I’d like to see some of colleagues have the opportunity to drive their electric car from Northampton, Amherst or Greenfield and charge it here.
"To me, it would encourage electric vehicles in general and also serve the college."
Art drives both a hybrid, the Chevy Volt, which has a gasoline-powered electric turbine, and a Nissan Leaf, a true electric car that he can recharge in about four or five hours on a 240-volt line he installed in his garage.
He gets anywhere from 90 to 100 miles per charge on his Leaf battery -- less this time of year because of the impact of cold weather on battery life. He did the math when he acquired the car and found it cost about between 3 and 4 cents per mile to operate the electric vehicle.
"I would need to get 100 mpg [in a conventional car] to match what I was paying per mile," he said.
The charging station is the second in North Berkshire; MCLA installed one a couple years ago.
"With gas prices falling, people are probably not thinking as much as they were when it was hovering around $4 per gallon. … But $2.50 gas is not going to last very long. Enjoy it while it’s here, but five years from now, people won’t be enjoying that."
Besides the lower operating cost, electric car operators are motivated by a desire to lower their carbon footprints.
For Williams College, the Chargepoint station is part of a strategy that includes the recently built solar array on Simonds Road and a planned second co-generation plant to provide electricity on campus. Art recently installed solar photovoltaic panels at his home through the Solarize Williamstown program. Chemistry professor Jay Thoman, who drives a Chevy Volt hybrid, is installing solar panels at his house in the spring.
"For me, in my situation, it’s a fabulous vehicle," Thoman said.
"Recharging time hasn’t been an issue for me because I don’t drive very far to work. I plug in to 110 volt regular wall current, and charging overnight more than does the trick. I can go back and forth to work several times on one charge."
And on longer trips — like to take his daughter to college in Northampton — Thoman uses one of several Chargepoint stations in that neck of the woods.
"I may have to burn a little gasoline to get there — less than a gallon," Thoman said.
Thoman said "followed the lead" of Richardson in deciding to lease a Volt.
Richardson said early adopters can help encourage the use of the technology. So can improvements that make batteries less expensive and more efficient.
"I’m not at all shy about telling people about this technology," Richardson said. "I feel like part of how we ensure it will develop is by having people be enthusiastic about it who will help push it forward. I've certainly talked a lot to friends and several of my friends have decided to go this way. I don’t know if I'm all that convincing. I'm sort of a cheerleader for electric vehicles in general.
"In some ways, personal computers went from being ridiculously expensive to toys that you can buy at Kmart. The improvements in battery technology will make these cars available for mass use."
Lenox, Mount to Celebrate Edith Wharton's Birthday
The Mount isn't very busy when it's covered in snow, but this Saturday, Jan. 24, a daylong celebration of Edith Wharton's birthday and reading will start in the Lenox mansion.
LENOX, Mass. — Edith Wharton would have turned 153 years old this Saturday, Jan. 24. In a happy coincidence, Jan. 24 is also National Readathon Day. How could such a pairing not spark a creative mid-winter event?
The Mount, Edith Wharton's home in Lenox, is joining with Lenox businesses and organizations in hosting a day of literary appreciation on Jan. 24. The festivities will include dramatic readings, raffles and refreshments at three of Lenox's leading literary hubs: The Mount, the Lenox Library, and The Bookstore. Each location will celebrate the joy of reading and a love of books, two of Wharton's lifelong "ruling passions."
"January is a pretty quiet month for us," said Kelsey Mullen, The Mount's director of public programming and education, who added that they always try to mark Wharton's birthday somehow. "This was a really innovative way to acknowledge it this year."
The birthday events will begin at The Mount with bagels and a bookshare at 10 a.m. Guests are encouraged to bring their favorite books and join in conversation with other literary types as they dine on bagels from Bagels & Brew and pastries from Patisserie Lenox. At 10:30 a.m., professional actors will perform a dramatic reading of Dennis Krausnik's adaptation of Wharton's "Xingu," a story about literature's most pretentious book club. A toast to Edith will follow — complete with birthday cake, of course. Tickets for breakfast and the reading are $10.
Edith Wharton's birthday — and her love of reading — will be celebrated in Lenox this Saturday, Jan. 24.
Mullen said "Xingu" shows a different side of Wharton than people might expect.
"It shows how really funny her writing can be," she said.
Then, from 12:30 to 4 p.m., the Lenox Library on Main Street will be honoring Wharton's birthday by participating in the first-ever National Readathon, a joint initiative from the National Book Foundation, GoodReads, Mashable and Penguin Random House. The Lenox Readathon will kick off with an excerpt from "Flight Behavior" by Barbara Kingsolver, this year's Lenox Reads title. Afterward, readers can find a quiet corner to curl up with a book of their choice and a blanket borrowed from MacKimmie Co., to "read the day away," said Grace Leathrum, The Mount's Special Events coordinator, who spearheaded the event.
"People are just going to cozy up and read," Leathrum said.
The library will also hold a raffle of several of gift certificates donated by Lenox businesses in the afternoon. The proceeds from the raffle will go to The National Book Foundation to benefit early literacy programs.
The celebration's final stop will be The Bookstore on Housatonic Street, where visitors can enjoy a selection of poems starting at 4:30 p.m. While the selected poems were being kept under wraps, they all will have one thing in common, Mullen said.
"They're reading poetry — about reading," she said.
Wharton's love of reading inspired her to write more than 40 books in her lifetime.
"Reading aloud was a favorite activity at the friendly get-togethers Wharton held at The Mount," said Susan Wissler, The Mount's executive director. "We're thrilled to collaborate with our literary neighbors in Lenox to fete Wharton in the same way 100 years later."
Adams Town Administrator Settles In; Two Police Officers Promoted
New Town Administrator Anthony Mazzucco has been getting know the area and gave his first report on Wednesday.
ADAMS, Mass. — New Town Administrator Anthony Mazzucco said he has started reaching out to schools and departments.
Mazzucco gave his first administrator report to the Selectmen at Wednesday's meeting.
After thanking interim Town Administer Donna Cesan for "one of the easiest transitions he has seen," Mazzucco said he has been scheduling meetings with local education establishments including superintendents from McCann Technical School, Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School, and the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District.
"Even though we have public, private and charter schools in town, I think education is important and I think having a relationship is important," Mazzucco said. "I am going to be reaching out to them to make sure I can build those relationships."
Mazzucco said he has also attended meetings with the town's representatives and wants to eventually meet with all the business owners.
"I spent a lot of time in the last week and a half getting out there trying to meet as many people as I can and get to know the community," he said.
Mazzucco also said he has started holding budget meetings with staff and hopes to have the budget complete by mid-February.
He said he will be slightly changing the budget process by holding joint meetings with both the Finance Committee and the Selectmen. He said this will shorten the time of the process and increase communication.
He said the budget will now be provided online and in a paper copy for all interested residents.
In other business, board promoted Donna Malloy and Matthew Wright from patrolmen to sergeants in the Adams Police Department.
Police Chief Richard Tarsa said the department has faced staffing issues and there has been two open sergeant positions since a past officer retired and Tarsa himself became chief. He said a department of Adams' size has a slower turnover and there has not been a sergeant promotion since 1998.
Tarsa said Malloy has been a full-time officer on the force since 1997 and Wright has been full time since 2010. He said both officers passed the competitive exam and were clear choices for promotion.
"They are going to be a welcomed addition to the supervisory staff of the police department," Tarsa said. "There are several words I could use to describe both of them, all in a positive sense, but what they are going to bring to the table speaks volumes."
The Selectmen also denied BArT school and a local soccer program access to the Memorial School building because there are code issues to address before it meets regulation.
The building does not yet have complete working showers in the locker room, there are air circulation issues, and the bleachers must be inspected.
"I hate to do this ... but we have to make sure we are doing this legally," Chairman Arthur "Skip" Harrington said. "We will have it on our agenda for our next workshop."
The board also addressed the possibility of hiring an independent property evaluation service.
Last workshop meeting, the town assessor requested the town hire a firm to do the state-mandated evaluation to establish better numbers and take the burden off her department.
However, Mazzucco said the evaluation could cost anywhere between $100,000 and $180,000 and the town will not be able to afford it.
The board agreed to issue a request for proposals anyways because Mazzucco said there may be other options. He said some of the work may be able to be done by a firm and the rest can be done in-house and the price may be able to be split between three years.
He said as long as the town is moving toward a solution the state will allow it time.
• The board agreed to increase the waste-water treatment plant superintendent position from a step 10 job to 11. Mazzucco said the increase will make the position more attractive because at the moment a new superintended can come from within the department or outside and make less money than lower positions in the department.
• Mazzucco was appointed as the chief procurement officer, right to know coordinator, and hazardous waste coordinator.
• Building Commissioner Don Fitzgerald was appointed as the American with Disabilities Act coordinator.
• Town Clerk Haley Meczywor said the annual town census is under way. Census forms will come in the mail and can be mailed back or dropped off at Town Hall. Residents can also call the town clerk to report information.
• Meczywor also said nomination papers for the May 4 town election will be available in the clerk's office Jan. 26 and position up for election will be on the town website.
• Dog license fees have been set at $20 and will start being available in March. They will be due April 1.
Letter: North Berkshire Deserves Full-Service Hospital
To the Editor,
Congratulations to Fairview Hospital and BHS for the national award it received in December. It was wonderful to read that "Fairview Hospital is part of a strong network of health care that provides a level of high quality medical care unusual to find in a rural community," President Eugene Dellea was quoted as saying, "the Leapfrog Top Rural Hospital Award is a direct reflection of the staff at Fairview Hospital and Berkshire Health Systems who are committed to providing care that meets the needs of our neighborhoods and is second to none ... ."
The approximate 37,000 residents of Northern Berkshire County neighborhoods need that same commitment from Berkshire Health Systems. The neighborhoods of North Berkshire require a full-service hospital just as Central and Southern Berkshire neighborhoods each have their own hospital.
The 35,000 residents of Southern Berkshire County have an award-winning, 25-bed, full-service hospital. The 37,000 residents of North County want the same. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states "everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services ... ."
Medical care is a human right. It should not be treated as a commodity, which is purchased and sold, which some can afford and others can not. The residents of Northern Berkshire want justice and equal access to medical care that the residents of Central and Southern Berkshire enjoy.
We are in the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday season. He lived his life fighting for equal access and justice for all. He stated that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"; "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly"; and "The time is always right to do what is right."
The residents of North Berkshire neighborhoods have a dream for a full-service hospital. They are directly affected by the loss of their hospital, which in turn indirectly affects all those who use services at surrounding hospitals. The time is right for Berkshire Health Systems to do what is right. Open a hospital equal to Fairview in North Berkshire, the 37,000 residents of North Berkshire require one.
Richard T Dassatti
Adams Community Bank Accepting Donations for Sonsini Shelter
ADAMS, Mass. — Adams Community Bank will once again partner with the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter to support its efforts in helping homeless animals this winter.
The Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter is a municipal shelter located in Pittsfield. It is dedicated to reuniting stray animals with their owners, providing veterinary care for animals in need, and finding loving homes for adoptable, homeless animals.
The bank invites residents to join it in helping the shelter with needed supplies such as dry dog food, canned and dry cat food, liquid hand soap and non-scoopable cat litter.
Donations are being accepted at each of the bank's seven convenient branch locations in Adams, Cheshire, Lanesborough, Lee, North Adams and Williamstown. A full list of needs is available in each of the branch lobbies or on the bank's Facebook page.
Adams Community Bank is an independent, community savings bank located in the Berkshires. Incorporated in 1869, it the institution has approximately $400 million in assets.
Human Rights Commission Dismisses Case Against Bianchi
The Human Rights Commission dismissed the case on Thursday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Human Rights Commission dismissed the accusations that Mayor Daniel Bianchi engaged in racist actions against a Medford woman looking to open a business in the city.
The commission opened an investigation into claims from Doreen Wade that Bianchi was hostile and racist toward her last year. The complaints date back to 2013.
But the investigation ran out of steam and Wade became uncommunicative with the commission.
That lack of communication and inaction from the investigating subcommittee led the state to order the release of some 200 pages of evidence to iBerkshires.
"I don't agree with what the state said in terms of coming to this determination. But, I understand it," said member Pamela Malumphy.
That determination and iBerkshires' two-part story laying out all of the evidence for the public led Malumphy to feel that the ad-hoc committee was "futile" in moving forward.
The investigating committee failed multiple times to reach Wade in Medford and it was just a few weeks ago when they found out she had moved to Framingham. Human Rights Commission Chairwoman Cecilia Rock said Wade stopped responding to emails and hadn't asked about or attended any of the hearings.
"This has been tough in the last month and a half between not hearing from the complainant and this letter hanging out there from the state," Malumphy said.
The ad-hoc committee cited the state's determination that there is not an ongoing investigation as grounds to dismiss the case. Member Churchill Cotton, however, said he wouldn't dismiss it unless the commission itself found grounds to do so. Wade's lack of communication was the tipping point for Cotton.
"If we decide to dismiss the case, that is one thing. But for us to dismiss it based on what an outside agency says, I have a problem with that," Cotton said.
The full commission accepted the committee's report but ultimately dismissed the case based on Wade's lack of communication as well as the secretary of state's determination.
Member Robert Sykes said he was disappointed that they were unable to follow the case through to the end.
"I think it would have been a good trial balloon for who we are and what we stand for. But it vaporized," he said. "I was hoping we would have had to deal with it and benefit from it even if the growth was painful."
Sykes wasn't upset with iBerkshires' reporting and public records request, saying, "the media did us a great service with their reasonable explanation of what took place," but rather that the case fell flat.
He said the committee will certainly be acting more efficiently with the next complaint.
Documents Detail Conclusion of Bianchi Complaint
PITTSFIELD - 01-06-2015 - "I do not believe he is going to be able to handle the affirmative action part but I will give him the benefit of the...
Documents Detail Complaint Against Mayor Bianchi
PITTSFIELD - 01-05-2015 - "This was the most strange conversation with anyone in a little over a year that I've met." — Mayor Daniel...
State Orders Pittsfield To Release Contested Documents
PITTSFIELD - 01-05-2015 - "It is my finding that the City has failed to satisfy its burden in responding to this records request." —...
'American Sniper': Bull's-Eye
by Michael S. Goldberger
Bradley Cooper inhabits the life of 'American Sniper' Chris Kyle, epitomizing the professionalism, patriotism and horror of war.
If you've been around for the last few wars, you'll recognize the eerie clip-clip-drone of helicopters that declares U.S. military ubiquity in "American Sniper," an absorbing foray into the tragic dilemma that comes of trying to make the world safe for democracy. Based on the memoir, "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History," by Chris Kyle, and adapted for the screen by Jason Hall, Bradley Cooper compellingly personalizes the iconic warrior. Confident in his destiny, he will save his country, single-handedly if necessary.
We cheer him and bemoan, remembering from our childhood that old veteran holding court from his seat on a soda crate outside the candy store who resolutely declared: "There always was war; there will always be war." We have them in all varieties: Good wars, bad wars, world wars and forgotten wars. We win some, we lose some ... some we're not quite so sure about and wonder why we sent Johnny marching in the first place. The philosophers among us see the perennial conflicts as sad proof that we've evolved very little from our primeval ancestors.
out of 4
But not Chris. No time for wishy-washy, hifalutin' ponderings here. When the U.S. embassies in Southeast Africa are bombed in 1998, the former rodeo cowboy, already 30 years old, joins the Navy SEALs. He is a man of action, taught early on by his dad that there are three types of people: wolves, the sheep they prey on, and the sheepdogs who protect the flock. Be a sheepdog, ingrains dad. Although recently married to Taya Renae, emotively played by Siena Miller, it is clear as day to the sharpshooter. Into the breach, and that's all there is to it.
The depiction of the Iraqi War is attended by neither hawks nor doves, but rather with a large splash of reality. We are long past the flag waving that marked our Iliad years, from the American Revolution (1775-1783) until the conclusion of World War II (1945). Our domain is now established and as such, because it is the business of empires to do both wonderful and terrible things, we protect its interests, both real and perceived.
This requires sending endless waves of young soldiers to war zones throughout the world, many of them not quite as certain of their purpose as Chris Kyle is. He will deploy to Iraq four times, and soon, due to his phenomenal marksmanship, be dubbed The Legend. He outwardly shuns any glorification. To his wife's chagrin, Chris takes the overall mission personally. It's as if the war cannot be waged without him, which is perhaps the mix of messianic and egocentric elements it takes to make someone so undoubtedly brave.
Director Clint Eastwood, proving that he hasn't lost a step in the evocation of tension, action and good old esprit de corps, builds a scenario fraught with gosh knows what dangers hiding amidst the crumbled devastation. We are inevitably at seat's edge. But where the filmmaker ultimately adds a notch to his legacy is in the duality of this stunning anti-war/war movie. It is a thesis on the innate, unintentional hypocrisy of a species that calls itself human yet continues to settle its disputes by killing each other. Think about it. Composers wrote marches for it.
Indeed, we lament the entrenched hatred it takes for a 5-year-old to pick up a grenade and go charging headlong into a group of GIs. What more proof do we need that there's something rotten in Denmark? Yet, when Chris assassinates a high-muck-a-muck, a symbol of those responsible for perpetuating such aberrant enmity, it is difficult to deny the visceral thrill of revenge and justification.
Although "American Sniper" has its own tone and temper, we channel memories of "Coming Home" (1978), "The Deer Hunter" (1978), "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946) and any other movie that details the scars of war and the anguish of adjusting to peace. Cooper does a splendid job of epitomizing this mournful conundrum. Chris doesn't want to talk about it, and that's OK with most folks, who'd just as well sidestep the terrible truth. Fact is, only skilled professionals and those who have experienced such Hell on Earth can really commiserate.
The icky thing is, there are those who will relish this simply as a rootin' tootin' war flick. There's no denying that the little kid in me who shot Nazis and Indians on Dewey Street in Newark, N.J., on a daily basis enjoyed the bravado. But there is an inherent, vicarious catharsis here, a heartfelt reminder that we can be better than we are. Adding to our pie in the sky wish list for humankind's ideal future, which of course includes stomping out cancer, ignorance and poverty, "American Sniper" unsubtly enjoins us to keep our sights set on a world without war.
"American Sniper," rated R, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller and Kyle Gallner. Running time: 132 minutes
Williamstown CPC Recommends Requests to Town Meeting
Pages from the 1753 Proprietors' Meeting Book that the Williamstown Historical Museum hopes to conserve with funds from the Community Preservation Act.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Community Preservation Committee on Tuesday approved three funding requests that will go to annual town meeting in May.
After the withdrawal of an application from the town's Conservation Commission, the committee faced just three applications totaling $45,542 for funds generated by the Community Preservation Act property tax surcharge adopted by town meeting in 2002.
The largest request is from the Sand Springs Recreation Center, which is seeking $18,923 to install a heater and pool cover at the historic Sand Springs Pool. The Trustees of Reservations are seeking $15,400 for restoration of furniture and woodwork at the Bloedel house at Field Farm. The Williamstown Historical Museum is asking for $11,219 for the preservation and exhibition of the town's 1753 "Proprietors' Meeting Book."
A fourth request, for funding to restore bridges on hiking trails, was withdrawn by the Conservation Commission.
Of the three remaining requests, only the museum's was approved unanimously to recommend to town meeting, although the objections stemmed not so much from the merits of the proposals as a desire to conserve CPA funds for potentially larger projects down the road.
After the committee agreed unanimously that each of the projects on the table is worthy, committee member Chris Winters reminded his colleagues that any request must be weighed not only on its merits but also against the "opportunity cost" of saving for another year.
Winters mentioned projects like the acquisition of development rights on large tracts of land or the construction of future affordable housing projects as the kinds of things that would require large reserves.
Jeffrey Thomas agreed.
"It's my observation of how this committee operates that it's easier to fund projects than not to fund them," Thomas said.
During the subsequent discussion that preceded a second round of voting on the whether to recommend the projects to town meeting, committee members voiced similar concerns but said this year's applicants had compelling cases.
"I'm increasingly inclined to take seriously the concern Chris expressed," Mark Reinhardt said in a meeting telecast on the town's community access television station, WilliNet. "[The museum request] is an area where it makes sense to spend a small amount of money now.
"I do agree we need to take the opportunity to set money aside. This is a case where it would be pennywise but pound foolish."
Later, during the discussion of the evening's third and final request, Town Manager Peter Fohlin, a voting member of the committee, indicated that he did not think any of the applications this year were good candidates for belt-tightening.
"I'm looking for a project I can vote 'No' on and stay true to my principles," Fohlin said. "I'm 0-for-2 so far tonight."
Fohlin made the remark while discussing the Sand Springs proposal, which was approved by the committee on a 5-2-1 vote (committee member and Selectwoman Jane Patton is interim executive director at Sand Springs and recused herself from the vote).
The recreation center is asking the town to fund the bulk of a $21,000 project to heat the pool in order to bring it in line with American Red Cross recommendations for pool temperatures during morning swim lessons and to install a lift to help users with disabilities access the pool.
Janette Kessler Dudley of the Sand Springs Board of Directors said the center was lowering its request by about $8,300 since submitting the initial request because the board concluded it could do without one of the planned heaters.
To address specific concerns raised by a committee member at a prior meeting, Kessler Dudley turned to consultant Bill Greenwald of Greenwald Pragmatics.
Greenwald said he could not guarantee Sand Springs would be able to maintain a water temperature of 84 degrees throughout its season while keeping within a self-imposed budget of $5,000 for fuel because there are too many variables. However, he expressed reasonable confidence that it would come close.
"I think it will be very close if not exceed the 84-degree number, considering we're going to concentrate the heating during the swim-lesson hours, which is only during the morning," Kessler Dudley said. "If we run out of money, we'll stop the swim lessons.
"We plan to operate the swim program for eight weeks. We can operate for those weeks at 84 degrees."
And if that means going over the $5,000 budget, the recreation center does have a reserve fund, Kessler Dudley said, in answer to a question from Chairman Philip McKnight.
A more principled concern was raised by Reinhardt.
"For roughly a century, there's been no heat in the pool," he said. "Now, when everyone is worried about fossil fuels and global warming, we're going to heat it? Is that something we should be concerned about?"
Kessler Dudley said the Sand Springs board considered that question itself. Its acquisition of a pool cover as part of the project is intended to reduce heat loss, and it is exploring a partnership in a proposed community solar farm in order to reduce the center's carbon footprint.
The Trustees of Reservations' Mark Wilson was back before the committee on Tuesday to report that the Bloedel House furnishings had been certified as historically significant by the town's Historical Commission, as the committee had previously requested.
Wilson faced new questions from Fohlin about whether the Trustees had sought other sources to finance the restoration.
"This is an example of an application where I feel as though the CPC is the funding source of first resort rather than the funding source of last resort," Fohlin said. "I'd like to not be everyone's first choice of funding."
Wilson told the committee the Trustees previously had solicited private donations and regularly conducts statewide fundraising campaigns. He also said the Beverly-based non-profit has worked with CPA funds in other communities throughout the commonwealth, notably in Stockbridge and Great Barrington.
Fohlin joined a 6-1-1 majority in approving the request.
North Adams Cemetery Commission Squares Away New Signage
The Cemetery Commission is working on new signage for the city's two cemeteries.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Cemetery Commission made progress toward finalizing the approval of new signage for both Southview and Hillside cemeteries.
Commissioner Roger Eurbin provided some sample renderings Tuesday afternoon during the panel's monthly meeting.
He proposed a wooden sign for Hillside similar to the one at Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink. Eurbin said he wanted a sign that would reflect the age of the cemetery.
"Hillside was established in 1798 which is pretty old…so I wanted to see something more rustic or colonial," Eurbin said.
He said the sign will be made out of wood. The cross bars will be nearly 2 inches thick and the letters will be routered into the wood and painted white. He said he anticipated that the wood will be stained a dark brown.
The name of the cemetery will be written in larger print on the top board, the second board will have the date the cemetery was founded, and the third board will indicate that the cemetery is a national historic landmark.
Eurbin said there will be two signs at Hillside, which is divided by Route 2.
Eurbin said rendering for the Southview sign is almost complete and after talking with the mayor, he thought it would be good to add Southview's date of establishment as well.
"Most people don't realize how old that cemetery is," he said. "It was founded in 1888."
He said the Southview sign will be double-sided and will be located at the main entrance. He said the proposed rendering has black lettering on a white background.
The commission has reached out to two possible vendors and will make final decisions once they have prices.
Although commissioners did not approve the final designs of the signs yet, it did OK their placement and the new signage for rules and regulations.
They agreed to place two signs in Hillside near both of the cemetery's entrances.
Southview will have a sign in a prominent place near every entrance.
The commission will make final decisions on signage during its next meeting.
Adams Approves Grant Strategy to Address Memorial Building Repairs
Community Development Director Donna Cesan laid out the town's CDBG strategy for the Selectmen's approval.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Selectmen endorsed a 2015 Community Development Block Grant Strategy that includes a new HVAC system for the Memorial School building.
Director of Community Development Donna Cesan met with Selectmen on Wednesday night with the final draft of the town's CDBG strategy.
Out of the three projects outlined in the strategy, the new heating and cooling system received the largest amount of attention. Out of the $900,000 maximum amount the town could receive, Cesan said $325,000 would go toward construction and $34,325 to program delivery.
The town recently used grant funds to replace the former middle school roof. Although the building has been lightly used throughout the summer and fall, a new HVAC system is crucial if the town wants to fully utilize the building.
Cesan stressed that the new system would be an energy-efficient heating and ventilation system that would provide operational savings for the town. She said she has been in conversation with Berkshire Gas and National Grid about the building's efficiency and said they may fund some of the installation.
Many supporters of the Youth Center, which has shown an interest in leasing the building, asked for the Selectmen's continued support of the project during the public hearing.
Youth Center board member Edmund St. John IV said that with continued support, the building could be both an asset for the town's youth and residents.
"This building could be used for many different uses, but especially as a true community center that would reach out to all members of our community and provide a safe and secure location for everybody to enjoy educational services as well as recreational services," St. John said.
He said it would be advantageous for the town to lease the center a part of the building because then the organization could focus on selling or putting to use to the old the old youth center.
Resident Cynthia Bird said she has a child who uses the Youth Center and the Memorial building would allow it to expand programming.
"They have been broadening the activities they do offer the children, but the space that they are using is not feasible," Bird said. "The kids are outgrowing it."
Selectman Joseph Nowak said the project continues to be a priority, but he wants to be sure the nonprofit Youth Center can afford it.
"You need to be able to prove ... that you have the capital to go ahead and maintain the building if it is given to you," Nowak said. "I'll do anything I can to help move that project along but there has to be financial viability within the group to be able to anchor that building."
Chairman Arthur "Skip" Harrington said that discussion will happen when the selectmen have to approve the lease agreement.
The only uncertainty toward the project came from town meeting member Jeffrey Lefebvre, who wanted to know "who was telling the truth" when it came to the actual condition of the building. He asked why the original assessment said the building was structurally in bad shape and the newer one said it was in surprisingly good shape.
Harrington said the original evaluation was done by the school district and not by the town. He added the building must meet different requirements to be used as a school. He explained that the second assessment focused on general assembly and dealt with different standards. He also said the school has limited funding sources and cannot tap into many of the state and federal funds that the town is using to renovate the building.
"That evaluation that was done then doesn't necessarily mean someone was lying. It means they were evaluating it for different things," Harrington said. "We were looking for different answers then they were looking for, and we had different resources to address the issues that were found."
Selectman John Duval agreed with Harrington and said the town could not afford to bring the middle school up to code.
"The amount of money for the town to bring that building up to code to meet state educational requirements was much more than it costs us at this point to pay for the renovation of the high school," Duval said.
The selectmen agreed that the project has been a priority since its inception, however, it takes a while to complete the project using grants so it does not affect taxes.
Cesan said, if funded, the project could go out to bid in late summer or early fall and would take 40 to 60 days to complete.
Cesan said the largest project in the strategy is the continued housing rehabilitation initiative. She said $354,000 would be used to rehabilitate a goal of 12 houses in the new target area, the entrance to town coming in from North Adams.
Some $85,675 will be set aside for program delivery.
The housing rehabilitation program prioritizes historical buildings, homes that contain hazardous materials such as lead, homes in the target area, and property owners ready to go through the process.
Low- to moderate-income homeowners can apply for the program.
The Adams Visitor Center parking lot is the last project in the program. Cesan said $65,000 will be used to hire an engineer to survey the area and create bid-ready plans.
"This facility needs to be reconstructed," Cesan said. "The pavement is cracking, it's heaving, the trees in the center island are way overgrown and the roots are starting to lift pavement, and there are also access and drainage issues."
She said the plans will put the town on track to receive funding for the parking lot construction in the next CDBG cycle.
Cesan said $36,000 will be used for general administration.
She concluded by saying the funding is competitive and Adams may only receive funding for some of the projects.
Lenox Town Manager Proposing $27.7M Budget for FY16
Town Manager Christopher Ketchen says the town has enough reserves and should be looking to invest more in long-term capital projects.
LENOX, Mass. — Town Manager Christopher Ketchen is crafting a $27.7 million fiscal 2016 budget, which he says provides "level service."
Ketchen presented the preliminary budget to the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday night. He says the plan is for a 1.23 percent increase in total spending.
"My instructions that went out in the fall were for a level-service budget, noting there are inflationary pressures in maintaining services," he said.
The largest expenditure is the school system, which Ketchen estimates will have a budget of $11.7 million. It should be done at the end of the month, Ketchen said. General government is budgeted at $3.6 million and enterprise funds are expected at $3.9 million.
Most of the revenue will come from real estate taxes of about $12.5 million. Other revenue includes $2.9 million in state aid, $2.8 million in other local revenue, and $3.9 million in enterprise accounts.
"It is a very conservative local revenue assessment," Ketchen said.
The local revenue includes items such as meals and hotel taxes, which the Selectmen say are "at risk" each year. Ketchen estimates low and any excess at the end of the year rolls into reserves for capital purchases.
"We think of that free cash as being relatively designated toward capital," Chairman Channing Gibson said, adding that the excess revenues aren't being used for operations and is being spent wisely.
Ketchen said the town has been building reserves for a number of years and can now focus even more on capital repairs. He said an "appropriate" reserve amount is between 7 and 13 percent of a budget. The town will surpass the 13 percent this year and should plan more infrastructure investments, he said.
"The town is no longer in a defensive posture in respect of reserves," Ketchen said. "The town's reserve situation is strong."
The town is boasting some $3.6 million in reserves. It is also one of the only towns in Berkshire County putting money aside long term for "other postemployment benefit liabilities" (health benefits expected to be paid out over the lifetime of employees). The OPEB is now part of the town's budget.
"I'm comfortable with us capping our reserve capacity and moving forward to focus our efforts in other areas," Ketchen said.
The town has been saving up for a new fire truck, which the annual May town meeting will be asked to purchase.
Overall, Ketchen expects minimal impact on the average tax bill. But that depends on how revenues play out in the next few months.
The lack of a tax increase is what Selectman David Roche says is the reward residents get for "giving up the town" during the summer. Tourism has been increasing and finding parking has become tough during the summer, he said, but for any inconvenience, the town's finances are in better shape than other towns.
"We put a burden on the local residents," Roche said. "The local residents should be rewarded for their patience and understanding of letting the tourists come in."
The tourism dollars aren't just luck, Gibson said, but part of an effort to market the town. Lenox spends money each year to support events and to advertise. The result is that about 40 percent of all hotels and motel stays in the Berkshires are in Lenox.
"It is an important budget item for us to stand behind," he said.
While this year's budget calls for a minimal increase and reserves are looking strong, Ketchen said there are long-term challenges for which the town needs to prepare. The most tangible is that the reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority for construction on the middle and high school will end in fiscal 2018. That results in a revenue hole of $300,000.
Farther down the road, the waste-water treatment plan will need some significant capital repairs and upgrades, which needs to be carefully planned, Ketchen said.
Meanwhile, a number of the town's most knowledgeable staff will be up for retirement and Ketchen doesn't want to lose their institutional memory. The town is being proactive in succession strategies to pass on the knowledge that improves services, Ketchen said.
The Berkshire County population is dropping, which could pose threats to Lenox. Only 19 children were born to Lenox families in 2014 and, overall, the population is 17 percent less than what it was 30 years ago.
"The school population continues to decline," he said.
Ketchen is still waiting for Berkshire Health Group to finalize health insurance numbers, and will follow the state budget process, and work with the Community Preservation Committee and the School Committee on their budget requests.
"Our budget is not just a math problem, it is a way we prioritize services," he said.
Co-Workingspace Opens at 85 Main in North Adams
Mayor Richard Alcombright is ready to cut the ribbon at Cloud85. From left are Ann McCallum, Jeffrey Thomas, Keith Bona and David Carver.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A room on the second floor of the New Kimball Building is poised to facilitate some big ideas.
And maybe make some small ones come true.
Some 1,370 square foot of old office space on the second floor of the century-old building has been made over into a collaborative work zone for modern entrepreneurs.
So-called "co-working" spaces have become increasingly popular in high-priced metro areas as low-cost communal options for startups and small business. Lever, a nonprofit focused on business development and entrepreneurship, is the first to bring the concept to fruition in the Steeple City.
"We don't need office receptionists, we work differently now that we did 20 years ago," said Jeffrey Thomas, Lever's executive director, after Tuesday's ribbon cutting officially opening "Cloud85" at 85 Main. "We're really just beginning, but the initial response has been tremendous."
The space was designed by Ann McCallum of Burr & McCallum Architects of Williamstown; work was done by Bedini & St. Pierre Contracting and graphic designer Keith Bona contributed elements such as the blown-up images of old North Adams and a shuffleboard.
"We can renovate all day long but this cannot happen without tenants," said David Carver of Scarafoni Associates, the building's owner. "This has been very exciting for us, we've been waiting for a reason to start the renovation of this grand old building.
"But again, we need users."
Cloud85, and the adjacent space being developed for Lever, are also part of a collaborative effort.
"Cloud85 will create a center of activity for the kind of interaction that fosters the rise of new ideas and innovation," Duncan Brown, president of the Partnership for North Adams, said in a statement. "By empowering its membership and providing a collaborative workspace, Cloud85 is clearly aligned with the community and economic development goals of the North Adams Partnership."
McCallum integrated the building's classic design with modern elements and North Adams history.
"I think architecture has the potential to create a mood," she said. "And when we're talking about a place like this, the alternative for most of these people is working in their kitchen or living room.
"We're going to have to make a place they are going want to go to rather than sitting in their pajamas near the refrigerator. We had to make this a place where they want to be."
The result was a mix of open desks, carrels, deep-cushioned chairs and coffee table and two glass-doored offices with a plethora of ceiling cables for plugging in just about anywhere.
Of course, there's dedicated high-speed Internet, a printer and coffee — plus the shuffleboard for those needing a break. The goal was to keep it fun and funky as well as practical and high-tech.
Tenants can adjust the space (and the cost) to fit their needs from quiet work to sharing ideas to private meetings on a daily, monthly or yearly basis.
The first tenant to sign on is the North Adams Chamber of Commerce and a second one is expected to be announced. Thomas hopes more will follow now that the space is ready. "The business model is the same as a gym," he said. "And it's hard to sell memberships to a gym when you don't have the equipment."
Use is by membership, ranging from a dedicated desk and 24/7 access at $230 a month to a day-pass for $20.
"This is to help create a community of independent professionals who are regularly here, who are not only being productive but can get together to meet people doing similar or dissimilar things," Thomas said. "We hope that this will contribute to the economy here in some way. We feel that there's nothing like this currently and that, hopefully, through being able to offer this service at a low cost to professionals and also enabling them to synergize that we can help out with economic development in a small way."
Judith Grinnell, executive director of the Hoosic River Revival, was intrigued with the idea of moving some of the burgeoning project out of her living room and into a more professional space. It might be time to "grow up," she laughed.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said small business and light industry were the city's future.
"We can't get so hung up in our past that we forget what we want to become in our future," he said. "This place says that, it screams it ... it shows our past and really shows ... that we're becoming a creative spot.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the partnerships that have been forged here to make it happen."
McCallum and Alcombright pointed out some of the history, including the curled ceiling cords produced by Cordmaster in the Hardman Industrial Park, the North Adams print (two more will join it), and the oak desktops made out of pews and wood from the former Our Lady of Mercy Church. (Some of the overhead lighting came from McCallum's daughter's studio in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Carver is also renovating the church, and "he was very kind and let us rummage through what he had," said McCallum.
In fact, Carver has more renovations in mind for the New Kimball Building, part of a strategy of mixed use to restore residential traffic to the area. The upper floors, including what had once been the Masonic Lodge, are being prepared for future residential units — should there be a market for them.
"We hope it will lead to residential housing on the floors above," he said. "We're very grateful to have them. ... We're going to do whatever we can as a company to make this work."
Lever is also looking ahead to a different kind of shared workspace for artisans. A gathering last fall to gauge interest has the organization looking at developing shared studio space for printmakers and fiber artists to start.
But for now, Thomas is hoping Cloud85 will help support and energize small business.
"I hope people will say two things about this: It's where I go to get things done; the other is, let's meet up at Cloud85."
Cloud85 is located in Suite 224, 85 Main St. For more information, contact 413-346-4840
Concert, Beer Fest, Fireworks Lined Up For Pittsfield Common
Parks and Open Space Manager James McGrath outlined the kick-off event with the Eagles Band.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The newly renovated First Street Common is already in demand.
The Parks Commission approved a series of requests to use the park that has been under construction since 2011. The city used state funds for a multiphased $4.6 million reconstruction and now there is only a punch list of remaining work and some landscaping for spring.
"We are all looking forward to wrapping up this project," said Parks and Open Space Manager James McGrath, who said the city is now ready to re-focus on preparing for another project.
The park features a new playground, walking loops, sprayground, basketball court, gazebo, bathrooms and performance space. Officials in December celebrated the completion of the performance pavilions.
On May 23, the city will christen the new performance pavilion with the Eagles Band.
"We're hoping that will be the first public performance at the new pavilion at the Common," McGrath said. "This would be kind of an opening show and I think there would be a lot of interest in it."
The Eagles Band has been longtime concert band in the city and played the Common numerous times over its 79-year history.
The kickoff concert is scheduled for May 23 at noon. The Parks Commission also approved three concerts for the Eagles Band at Springside Park. Those are on June 23, July 21, and Aug. 11.
The Parks Commission also approved the use of the common for a craft beer festival and 5K road race in June.
Organizer Jim Brosnan says the festival will be a fundraiser for the Fenn Street Community Development Corp. It will feature an array of craft breweries providing samplings of their beer. Kent Lemme, of the Berkshire Running Center, is currently working on putting together the 5K road race to complement the fundraiser.
"This is 100 percent for charity and 100 percent for a charity that you can see from the Common," Brosnan said. "We do believe this will be a terrific thing for Pittsfield and will become an annual event."
With Tuesday's approval to use the Common, Brosnan says he will now find performers for live music and signing on the vendors. Lemme will handle the road race.
"It is not something where you are having big glasses of beer. You are sampling," Brosnan told the Parks Commission to ease their concerns about security.
Brosnan says underaged people will not be allow into the fenced-in area, servers will be TIPS trained, and a private security will be on hand. He added that the Police Department has already given preliminary approval.
Even before the kickoff event, the Common is being eyed to enhance the city's annual 10x10 arts festival. Shiobbean Lemme was approved the use of the Common on Feb. 21 for a 10-minute fireworks show. The fireworks will be shot over the Common and will be part of the city's 10x10 Festival.
The Parks Commission approved that request, too.