Pittsfield Tourism Grapples With Downtown Challenges
Work continues on Persip Park next to the Intermodal Center on North Street.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — While most major attractions in the city are reporting solid seasons, ubiquitous downtown construction and other issues have presented some obstacles to pedestrian flow and visibility, particularly for it's struggling Visitors Center.
Traffic has been sparse over the summer to the small, volunteer-staffed center, currently located in the Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation the past two years, following a decade that saw it bounced around multiple downtown sites.
"I feel like the Visitors Center has been lost in that shuffle," said Jennifer Glockner at a meeting of the city's Tourism Commission last week. Glockner, who transitioned from tourism coordinator to director of the Office of Cultural Development a few months ago, attributed some of the lack of vibrancy in the center to the staffing transitions in that department.
"Everyone thinks that the construction is making people not turn that corner and come in," added Deborah Sadowy, director of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program that staffs the center Monday through Friday from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.
Persip Park, which abuts the transportation station at the corner of North and Columbus Streets, has been fenced off while undergoing complete renovation starting in early July, and local tourism officials hope that upon its completion the redesigned plaza will enhance appeal of the adjacent center.
Connecting the two entities thematically will be a new "state of the art" electronic kiosk in Persip that will offer a virtual version of information about local venues and upcoming events, and it is thought that this device will complement the more traditional maps, pamphlets and similar marketing materials and the "human contact" factor provided by the Visitors Center.
Completion of Persip, also known as Liberty Plaza, is anticipated later this year, with an official ribbon cutting expected next spring. Somewhat farther down North Street, simultaneous construction for the next phase of Streetscape development has also rendered a significant section of the northern end of the street's sidewalk dismantled and untraversable.
Meanwhile, Sottile Park, diagonally across North Street from Persip, was also to begin renovation at the same time, according to a press release from City Hall earlier this summer, but no work has yet begun on this smaller pedestrian plaza.
Concerns continue, too, about the continuance of certain kinds of inappropriate usage of these plazas that might reflect less than attractively on downtown, among them perpetual litter issues and cigarette smoking, which was just prohibited in these spaces along with all other city park sites.
"Will the individuals who hung out there before, will there be something to prevent that?" asked Sadowy.
"I don't know the answer to that," said Glockner.
Kristine Hurley, newly hired executive director for the Downtown Pittsfield Inc. merchants association, said that a change from traditional benches to a long concrete wall seating style in the new design may change the profile of its usage.
"I think that may cut down on some of the long-term sitting," said Hurley.
"It's been a challenge there for a very long time," said City Councilor John Krol. "We want to strike a balance between the compassionate, sensitive community that we are, and also recognizing that we have to have a certain image in our downtown as well."
The Tourism Commission plans to schedule a meeting of its Visitors Center subcommittee following the close of its season in October to look more closely at this year's performance.
SU-71 OKs Superintendent Search; Lanesborough Officials Seek to 'Study' Union
School Union 71 agreed to a salary of $145,000 to $160,000 for a new superintendent to be shared with Mount Greylock.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The two-school Superintendency Union 71 on Friday morning approved the framework of the search for its next superintendent, even as town officials in Lanesborough prepare to study whether SU-71 should continue.
Four of the six SU-71 committee members attended Friday's meeting at Williamstown Elementary School, where the committee endorsed, among other things, the salary range of $145,000 to $160,000 previously OK'd by the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee.
SU-71, which consists of Williamstown and Lanesborough elementary schools, shares a superintendent with the junior-senior high school in an arrangement referred to as the Tri-District. Superintendent Rose Ellis, who previously announced she would not seek a renewal of her contract that expires June 30, 2015, told the school committees last month that she will retire effective Dec. 31.
Since last winter, the Tri-District and SU-71 arrangements have been questioned by a member of the Lanesborough Elementary School Committee. Then Chairman Robert Barton in January received $1,000 from the Lanesborough Board of Selectmen to conduct a survey of town residents on the issue.
And this month, the Lanesborough Selectmen issued a call for volunteers to serve on an ad hoc research committee to look at "Regional School Options."
Among the options the committee is charged with studying are: 1. maintaining the status quo; 2. remaining in the Mount Greylock Regional School District but withdrawing from SU-71; 3. expanding the Mount Greylock Regional School District to include the two elementary schools under one elected school committee; 4. "shift out of Mt. Greylock region" and SU-71 ... "go into Central Berkshire (possibly bringing Williamstown and Mount Greylock along)."
Neither Barton nor fellow committee member James Moriarty, who also both serve on the SU-71 Committee, attended Friday's meeting. The meeting had a quorum of its six members by virtue of having all three of the Williamstown School Committee representatives and Regina DiLego, the current chairman of both the SU-71 and LES committees.
Among the issues on the agenda Friday morning was SU-71's stand on whether to seek a permanent Tri-District superintendent or hire an interim superintendent to fill out the remainder of Ellis' term.
Williamstown Committee member Dan Caplinger asked DiLego if she had a sense of where her colleagues on the Lanesborough Committee stood on that question.
She said she was not sure of Moriarity's position but more certain of Barton's.
"Obviously, Bob doesn't support it," DiLego said. "He wants time to investigate whatever he wants to investigate and change whatever it is he wants to change."
Proponents of maintaining the current arrangement argue that sharing a central administration between the elementaries and their junior-senior high school allows for coordinating curricula and a smooth transition for students from both elementaries to Mount Greylock.
They also can point to a June letter from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's director of regional governance. In it, she cites a passage from the Department of Revenue's March 2007 "City and Town" publication:
"An existing superintendency union may be dissolved by the vote of the local school committees representing a majority of the participating districts and by a two-thirds vote of the joint union school committee. The chairperson of the union school committee must then submit to the Commissioner of Education a written request for approval of the proposed dissolution by the state Board of Education. The commissioner and the Board of Education will consider the dissolution request following a review of each district’s proposed educational plan. This review ensures that the proposed dissolution will not impair the educational opportunities provided by each district, and that all contractual rights and responsibilities of the school system with regard to its employees have been met."
In the same email, DESE's Christine Lynch points out that SU-71 was blessed by the state in 2008 as part of a long-term strategy to "further align the elementary districts with the Mount Greylock Regional District."
The two-town Mount Greylock district has been in existence since 1960.
Adams Cemetery Commission Recommends Fee Hikes
The Cemetery Commission is recommending a raise in fees to bring them in line with other towns and ensure the cemetery can be properly maintained.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Cemetery Commission is proposing increases to cemetery fees.
The Cemetery Commission met Thursday afternoon to discuss needed hikes in fees that would keep the town equal with other municipalities and help replenish the investment account.
The commission last changed fees in 2006; commissioners had developed a plan last month until they realized the were working off incorrect numbers.
Commissioner Lawrence Clairmont said there is nearly $1 million in future projects. These include paving, repairs and upgrades to the grounds.
"Last year, we spent $35,000 for paving and $1,500 on wall repairs," Clairmont said. "If we are only making between $5,000 and $8,000 a year on the sale of lots, we are eating away at what we have in the investment account, and if we keep doing that, in six years we will be broke."
Only the sale of lots goes into the investment account so the commission recommended larger increases.
The commission proposed a $100 per grave increase to each lot selection.
They proposed raising a single lot from $350 to $450 and a double lot from $700 to $900. They agreed to increase a four-grave lot from $1,400 to $1,800. They recommended $50 increase for a half lot/cremation lot $250.
The commission decided to eliminate the sale of eight-grave lots.
In addition to the new burial fees, the commission made slight increases to interment fees.
Clairmont said the interment fees go into the town's general fund. With other increases in town fees, he sees no reason to dramatically raise them.
The commission decided to raise adult weekday burials by $25. This would bring the current $350 to $375.
Commissioner Robert Ciempa said he would prefer to increase the weekend and holiday interment fees a little more because the town loses money with the current prices.
"I was concerned about Saturday and the loss of money with time and a half," Ciempa said. "If anything I would rather see the weekend and holiday increase more than the weekday."
Ciempa recommended adding $50 to the current weekend price $575. This would bring the new weekend fee to $625, and the holiday fee from $600 to $650.
The commission applied the same philosophy toward cremation burials.
"It doesn't cost much to dig for a cremation, but it does on Saturday or Sunday, where we pay someone time and a half to be there for sometimes three hours," Clairmont said.
The commission proposed a $25 increase to weekday cremation burials. This brings the fee from $200 to $225.
Weekend interment fees were increased $50, bringing them from $225 to $275. Holiday fees were raised to $375.
The commissioners agreed to charge $150 for ground-thaw burials during the colder months only when the ground is frozen. They said the town was losing money because the thawing machine needs to be transported and fueled.
All perpetual care fees will remain the same.
"We have gone up very little because there is a lot of money in that account," Clairmont said. "If we are worried about the people here in Adams coming up with money to pay for everything, this is one thing we can leave alone and give them a break on."
The commission also decided to change the name of "infant burials" to "child burials" and defined child as ages 12 and under.
"I really didn't want to get into breaking down infant and child," Ciempa said. "I am more on the grieving part, and I think it wouldn't matter if the kid was 13 or 18. It's just tragic."
The commission agreed to add $35 across the board for all child interment fees.
They increased weekday burials from $90 to $125, weekends from $115 to $150, and holiday burials from $140 to $175.
The commissioners will forward their recommendations to the Board of Selectmen. If approved, the fees will go into place Jan. 1, 2015.
Clarksburg Postpones Gravel Crusher Application
The board on Wednesday tabled a stone-crusher permit until November after it was learned the gravel pit's license may have lapsed.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Town officials delayed action on a controversial stone crusher when it was learned a local gravel pit may no longer be permitted.
Michael Milazzo had approached the Board of Selectmen about allowing the crusher to operate at his gravel pit at the top of Wheeler Avenue and Easy Street.
He had planned to surround the crusher with berms to reduce noise and limit its operations; he'd also asked to open the gravel pit an hour earlier.
The board became aware that Milazzo had not renewed his two-year permit in 2012 after several citizens searched the 2012 minutes.
"There's going to be much discussion into this," said Selectman William Schrade Jr. on Wednesday. "What I'm seeing on paper is your permit has lapsed. This is a gray area here. It needs to be clarified on our end."
Residents in the general area of the gravel pit, including just over the border in North Adams, had indicated opposition to the crusher. About half-dozen attended Wednesday's meeting.
The board tabled the permit application at Milazzo's request until his attorney could review the situation.
"This has been a gravel pit since the 1960s, before your zoning was in place," said Milazzo.
While the matter was tabled to Nov. 12, the board was still planning to go on a site visit Thursday morning to a gravel operation in Dalton to get a idea of the noise levels.
The board also heard noise complaints about motorcycles taking off from the former Cross Road Variety Store on Cross Road. The building was sold to Arthur and Lisa Thibert in March after a plans to reopen the store fell through.
Thibert is a member of the Reservoir Dogs motorcycle club that had wanted to lease the Homestead bar in North Adams as a clubhouse, but the building was sold.
Robert Bona said neighbors are tired of the late-night noise of revving motorcycles but are afraid to say anything.
"It's not just a building but people who are just breaking the law," he said.
Chairman Jeffrey Levanos, who owns a Harley-Davidson, pointed out that motorcycles make noise — especially a lot of them leaving at once.
"I know it's happened. How would you stop that? Stop every motorcycle?" he said, adding that there had only been a couple complaints.
Town Administrator Carl McKinney said the town was aware of the issue and working toward a resolution.
In other business, the board:
• Appointed McKinney as the town's representative to the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority.
• Entered into executive session to discuss the acquisition of land. The town has been looking into purchasing land to build a new Gates Avenue bridge.
Adams Receives Bids on Planned Train Station
ADAMS, Mass. — The town received three bids for part of the $552,000 Adams Station and Park project on Hoosac Street.
The former car wash will be transformed to welcome visitors from the Berkshire Scenic Railway's Hoosac Valley Service that will eventually have a terminus there.
The project involves demolition and removal of pavement, installation of underground and electrical utilities for street lights, construction of a metal shade structure, a chain link fence, benches and tables, and landscaping. The exterior will be renovated to look like a train depot.
The structure will host exhibits and information on the town and the railway; a 300-foot-long boarding platform will eventually be built.
The lowest bid came in from Burke Construction Co. at $233,233.
The highest was J.H. Maxymillian Inc. at $385,850; Caracas Construction Corp. bid $286,000.
The town received a $386,820 Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant that covers about 70 percent of the project’s costs. The town will balance that with $165,000 from free cash, which was approved during town meeting in March.
Legislative Q&A: State Rep. Paul Mark
State Rep. Paul Mark, seen at the Fitch-Hoose House celebration in Dalton earlier this summer, said the higher education budget was a highlight for this session.
DALTON, Mass. — In this last legislative session, state Rep. Paul Mark was appointed his first chairmanship — one to lead a subcommittee in investigating student debt.
The joint subcommittee launched the investigation which took them to colleges across the state and ultimately filing a report outline the leading factors to growing debt. That, Mark says, help in advocating for the budget and next session he hopes to file a large piece of legislation based on those recommendations.
Meanwhile, from bond bills to election regulation, Mark says the Legislature was able to accomplish a lot in the last two years. iBerkshires recently sat down with Mark to talk about what has been done and what is to come.
Q: What were the highlights of this session?
PM: One of the highlights for me was the higher education budget. So, in last year's budget we got a complete tuition and fee freeze at all public colleges and universities throughout the state. In the current budget, we did really well. We got the freeze at 100 percent at UMass and at some of the community colleges. The state universities came up a little bit short but they are in a much better position that they were even just a couple of years ago. I would like to think the work we did in the student debt subcommittee had a lot to do with that. It provided some good ammunition of why this would be beneficial and what are the consequences of not taking any action.
Also with the budget, for the area I represent regional school transportation came in at 90 percent. I think this is the first time it has ever been that high. When this happened about 15 years ago, the promise was 100 percent. It has never been 100 percent. For me, this was a big win in the current budget. It is a good win going forward because it sets a new benchmark. Next year, if the proposal is 80 percent, I get to say that's a 10 percent cut and we can't accept that. We can fight for 90 percent or higher — that's what we build on from now on.
Q: Besides regional school transportation, what other aspects were you fighting for and how did they fare?
PM: Chapter 70, which is regular school money, is at the highest level in history. It is obviously an increase over last year — kind of modest — but it shows the commitment we have to ensure the students have the resources they need to succeed. I think it is paying off because we are consistently No. 1 in the nation in our school systems.
For me, something I personally filed, an amendment to create in Franklin County an opioid task force was accepted and to create an anti-crime task force, which was modeled after the one that exists in Berkshire County. They've been dealing with some of the same opioid issues that we've been dealing with over here for a while — and I am sure they always had the same problem but they are starting to come to terms with it. They formed a task force with their district attorney, with the register of probate and the sheriff. It was a really good program and I was glad to get that money in the budget for them.
There was broader substance abuse language in the budget that tries to get more resources to mental health and treatment.
Q: How are the state's finances looking overall?
PM: The finances in the state are in a really good position. We have a AA-plus bond rating. That is the highest in the history of the state and when the United States itself was downgraded, we were upgraded to AA-plus. They were downgraded to AA-plus from AAA.
I think that is a result of how we managed the rainy day fund, while we continued to have bond bills we kept them at a reasonable level to reduce debt. With the improved bond rating, that means our interest rates are lower. That is saving people money.
When we talk about the rainy day fund, we have the fourth strongest rainy day fund in the nation. We are the only one with more than $1 billion that isn't dependent on oil. That's a big deal.
Q: Bill-wise, which particular pieces of legislation did you either file or were a supporter of that passed?
PM: I'll start with some of the bond bills to keep with the financial part. We passed an environmental bond bill. I was a member of the environmental committee and I was pretty active on that as it worked through the process. It was $2.2 billion. There was $1 million for the turf field at BCC in Pittsfield. I was able to get $1 million for a brownsfield redevelopment in Greenfield; $2.5 million for a sewer system in the town of Colrain, which has gone through some tough times. And there was $255 million for DCR, which right over the line in Hawley, they've been having trouble with the Dubuque State Forest and trying to get loans to connect both ends of the towns. I'm hoping this extra money will help with that.
We have a IT bond bill — information technology bond bill — and that contains $50 million to finish the job for last-mile broadband. That's going to be money for the unserved communities like Peru, where I live, but also some of the underserved communities like Northfield, Shelbourne, that are 70 percent served but 30 percent without any high speed service. We want to make sure no one is left behind. Hinsdale would be in that same category.
I'm excited to see now as the MBI, Wire West and any other groups that get involved, how they are going to tackle it and how soon they get started. I'm the only legislator in the state with no high-speed Internet, no cable TV, no cell phone service at my house.
We have the capital bond bill. It was $1.25 billion and I was able to get $2.5 million for the sheriff (Thomas Bowler) to do a pre-released center on campus instead of having to do it on Second Street in Pittsfield. Also in the capital bond bill, we re-authorized $250,000 for accessibility improvements at the Dalton town hall.
The transportation bond bill has the money for rail service from New York City to Pittsfield and it contains money for rail service in the Pioneer Valley, which is expected to begin on Dec. 29. Then there will be a supplement of $30 million the delegation over there put in to establish commuter rail service between Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield.
Q: What about the pure legislation?
PM: We passed a super PAC disclosure bill, which is really a big deal to me. It is going to require these independent expenditure committees and super PACS to report what they are doing and where the money is coming from. Then if they put a commercial on TV, they have to list their top five contributors publicly. They have to report four times a year. I have to report three times a year and now these shadowy groups are going to have to start reporting four times a year.
Since the Citizens United [U.S. Supreme Court] decision came down a few years ago, we are already starting to see the effects. This is going to be the first statewide race year — with the governor and all the other candidates on the ballot — this will be the first time we see how Citizens United will affect that. We are already starting to see it. A lot of my colleagues are starting to complain about these anonymous mailings that are going around about them. A couple of candidates for governor were fighting over whether they should take a people's pledge or not. Unfortunately, we are powerless as it stands to stop Citizens United. But at the least, we can make sure people know where the money is coming from and where it is going. Hopefully, they can use the information to make the best decision. You'll know if a mailing shows up on the door and it has a fancy name like Massachusetts Citizens for Truth, you can look up to see 'oh, this is actually Coca-Cola' or whoever it may end up being.
On that same theme, we passed an election laws bill. When the elections every two years — not the primaries just the general elections — there will be early voting for 11 days prior to election day. You will be able to go to city hall or town hall and vote early if you can't get there on the actual election day itself. As a concession, because I represent so many small towns where they are not open for all of those 11 business days, they are only required to offer the early voting when they are open for business anyway If Peru is only open on Mondays, then that's it. You just have to have a spot where people can vote.
You don't have to be there seven days a week. And there will also be an online voter registration system set up in the near future. You can register your car and renew your license online so where you have online service, it is going to be a good thing. The more people able to vote, the better.
Q: Which committees were you on and what were you able to accomplish?
PM: I was the vice chair of the higher education committee and a lot of our focus was budget related. When you talk about helping public higher education, a lot of it has to do with money.
As part of my duties on the higher education committee, I was appointed to be the chair of a subcommittee on student loans and debt. We have seven hearings across the state, one here in Berkshire County, with good turnout at all of them, lots of good testimony and lots of good ideas. We came up with a series of recommendations and a lot of the budget items have become implemented. But there is still a lot of work to do.
When we get back into formal session in January, I am already in the process of working with the committee to draft a bill to officially put into place the recommendations we made. I plan on filing that — or co-filing it — when we get back in January. The bad news is, most of it is still money.
Q: What provisions are going to be included in it?
PM: In addition to setting minimum levels of funding for the operations of the universities, we are trying to put more money in for the Mass Grant program for scholarships, no interest loans, to development more public-private partnerships — like what we did in Franklin County for advanced manufacturing training at the Franklin County Technical School — and more programs like the one I personally benefit from like the Verizon Next Step, where they sent me to college one day a week to learn more about telecommunications and get a degree in applied sciences.
To make colleges more affordable, we're going to improve financial literacy programs. One of the biggest things that came out of these hearings is that people are unprepared to plan and to implement a plan for financing their college education. We want to do more work at funding savings plans and creating an incentive to save like a tax match at the state income tax level or a match for lower income students. When you save money in something like the U-Plan maybe the state can match some dollars last year.
Q: What other committees were you on?
PM: I was on environment, agriculture and natural resources. One of the biggest things we did was the environmental bond bill. We passed favorably the GMO labeling bill with strong support on the committee and strong support in the Legislature. But, unfortunately, it did not pass the entire Legislature by Aug. 1, the end of formal session. While it is still alive, in informal sessions any one legislator can object and that will kill the bill. I think at least one person will object, so I don't think it will happen this year.
We also passed a bill to ban fracking in Massachusetts. Fracking is already technically illegal but there are some loopholes people are afraid they might get around. So, this will make it illegal to frack in Massachusetts. There is some potential for some shale reserves in the Pioneer Valley. It will also make it illegal for us to accept the waste water from other states from fracking.
The third committee I am on is the tourism, arts and culture. They had two chairs, a new House chair and a new Senate chair, and they really undertook a robust agenda. They had hearings in every single tourism council in the state. We had a big hearing at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. We had another one in Franklin County. We had one in Hampshire County. We had one at the Basketball Hall of Fall. We were able to go an listen to local artists and owners of cultural attractions. We heard where the funding they receive helps them. And we were also able to showcase for Legislators, what the best aspects of each region are.
When I go to the State House and talk about how beautiful it is here in the Berkshires, it really helps if I've had 30 people out here to see for themselves.
Q: You mentioned the GMO bill wasn't passed. What other bills didn't pass?
PM: One of my signature bills that I filed two sessions and didn't get through — but it did pass through the labor and workforce development committee twice — is my employee stock ownership cooperative development bill.
There are two parts to it. There is language that makes it easier for workers to establish a co-operative or stock-ownership if the business is on the verge of failing. And then, even more important is in the budget, is trying to get the Massachusetts Office of Employment Involvement and Ownership funded again. It has been zero funded since the economic crisis began in 2008. I've filed amendments for $150,000, $250,000, just to get a couple people in there working.
These people are experts in the field to help businesses that are looking to change their model into an employee-owned business and able to help the employees get the management skills and financial skills that they need to make this thing a reality. If a business is thinking about closing down or maybe it has been a family business and they don't want to stay in business and are thinking of selling out, I think it would be so much better if the workers knew they had the right to buy it and the skills and expertise to keep it local, to keep the business thriving. If the employees own the business they are more invested in making sure it succeeded and that's a recipe for success. Ocean Spray is a worker co-operative. Cape Air is a worker co-operative. You have examples right here in the state. I was disappointed that didn't happen, again.
Single-payer health care is a thing that is important to me. When we talk about budgets and budgets being tight, one of the biggest drivers of increasing costs in our budget is health care. I am a co-sponsor of a bill to move to a single-payer model. But, I am also a co-sponsor of a bill to perform a study that will show every year the difference the state paid in health care costs versus what we would have paid if we had a single-payer system. If we did that for three or four years and it turns out we would have saved $500 million, that's pretty significant.
Two years ago, we did pass a health care reform bill that is expected to save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 10 years. But, I think you can map that our even further. Depending on who the next governor is, it might be a nice opportunity to at least make the study happen.
Coalition Brainstorms Topics for Monthly Forums
Justin Inhe, CEO of the Northern Berkshire YMCA, center, makes a point during the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition monthly forum Friday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Six months after North Adams Regional Hospital closed its doors, health care issues were still on the minds of the 100 people who joined together for the first Northern Berkshire Community Coalition monthly forum of the fall on Friday.
The meeting was the annual September Needs Assessment Forum, which is held to set the agenda for the monthly discussions for the year ahead. Many topics were thrown out by the group, most of whom work for a nonprofit or social services agency.
"No idea is wrong," Coalition Executive Director Al Bachevkin said in introducing the brainstorming session.
But health and wellness issues kept resurfacing as topics that need to be investigated.
"We have a serious issue in our community with obesity and pre-diabetes and diabetes," said Justin Inhe, CEO of the Northern Berkshire YMCA.
Inhe said the YMCA is starting some new initiatives, including a "Wellness Wednesday" series during which adults can use the YMCA free of charge on the third Wednesday of the month.
Jennifer Munoz, director of the Growing Healthy Garden Program, said she sees a need for an urgent care clinic in the region, something to fill a gap between when primary care services are available and when the newly reopened emergency department isn't necessary.
"[We can] teach people how to access services more appropriately," she said.
Robert Dean, who manages Navigation for Caregivers, also suggested that an update of what's happening at the former North Adams Regional Hospital could be helpful. (Representatives from Northern Berkshire Healthcare had frequently attended the monthly forums.) And representatives from agencies that work with senior citizens suggested focusing on cultivating a healthy aging community.
Forums focusing on services for the older population also dominated the discussion. Dean said that Berkshire County has one of the highest population rates of senior citizens in the state, and Bashevkin noted that the imminent retirements of the Baby Boomer generation would have an impact on many different aspects of life.
"It means something in terms of all the jobs we have," he said.
On the other end of the spectrum, opportunities for youths were suggested as an important topic, from anti-bullying to youth leadership opportunities in programs like 4H or Scouts to affordable and accessible child care services.
Other topics suggested included affordable housing, transportation challenges, preventing urban blight, energy prices and climate change, preventing violence in the community, neighborhood-building, suicide prevention and civic engagement.
Bashevkin said Coalition employees would whittle down all of the topics to about 20 and present them to the attendees of the forum via email for a vote on the top five to pursue. In the meantime, the October forum, set for 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 3, already has been set and will focus on "Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment."
As the Coalition kicks off its 29th year, Bashevkin said he was pleased to see such a large turnout of concerned community members with so many great ideas to better the region.
"We're definitely weird," he said. "When you look at the state, we do things differently."
Expanded Mount Greylock School District Questioned
The School Committee listened to David Langston's arguments against joining the Mount Greylock Regional School District.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Williamstown Elementary School Committee on Wednesday heard the case for not moving the school into an expanded Mount Greylock Regional School District.
David Langston spoke to the panel about concerns he has with the way education is funded by Mount Greylock's other member town, Lanesborough.
"I've become more and more convinced that regionalization is not a particularly good idea for Williamstown," Langston said. "Regionalization for Williamstown Elementary means taking a school that's excellent and has good leadership and a distinguished record and enjoys reasonably good funding ... and placing it in a context where funding is a continuing series of losses that I think are not worth it."
Langston is a member of the Mount Greylock School Committee whose term is expiring and who is not seeking re-election in November. He took pains on Wednesday to clarify that he was addressing the WES Committee as a private citizen and not as a member of the regional school committee.
But it was clear from his remarks that his opinion was informed by his experience dealing with Lanesborough in the context of Mount Greylock's budget.
"Several years ago, we asked for a certain amount of money, and [Lanesborough town officials] claimed they couldn't meet it," Langston said. "We had to reduce their allocation by $50,000 because they claimed they had no money to cover it.
"When we got to town meeting, they had half a million dollars in their stabilization fund that was going unspent, and they were paying for things from the operating budget that should have come out of the stabilization fund."
Mount Greylock's operating budget is approved each spring in separate votes at Lanesborough's and Williamstown's annual town meetings. The two towns split the cost of the middle-high school budget based on a rolling five-year average of enrollment from each of the towns.
Although Lanesborough Elementary and Williamstown Elementary share a superintendency union (which in turn shares a superintendent with Mount Greylock), the two elementary schools are single-school districts. The PreK-6 schools' budgets in each town are a separate line item at each town's annual town meeting.
Mount Greylock's School Committtee has been moving in fits and starts toward asking Lanesborough and Williamstown voters to add the elementary schools to Mount Greylock and create a PreK-12 region. The Mount Greylock district in 2012 sought (and received) a $50,000 state grant to study expanded regionalization.
A committee formed by the Mount Greylock committee looked at the regionalization question for six months in 2013, but the district ultimately decided to put the issue on the backburner when the school was invited to enter the eligibility phase of the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
After Mount Greylock won votes at each member town's annual town meeting this spring to pay for the MSBA-ordered feasibility study, Mount Greylock officials decided to revisit the regionalization question and move toward putting the question before the voters.
Advocates of regionalization note that there are savings that could accrue from a more streamlined administration than the current "Tri-District" arrangement allows. They also point to incentives offered by the commonwealth for K-12 districts, including more support for transportation and higher reimbursement for a potential renovation or new building at Mount Greylock.
Langston alluded to those potential cost savings on Wednesday but said the cost of linking the elementary school's budget to the Lanesborough budget process could outweigh the benefit.
He mentioned that there were many Lanesborough residents who are committed to providing a quality education for the town's children, but he repeatedly questioned the commitment of Lanesborough's town leadership.
"The town leadership in Lanesborough has not had public education as something they were willing to make sacrifices for," Langston said.
"Consistently, the town leadership has wanted to solve any budgetary problems by negotiating things so they stayed under the levy limit. They have never wanted to go to the question of an override vote."
Langston said when Massachusetts passed Proposition 2 1/2 in 1980, the debate at that time indicated that Prop 2 1/2 overrides would be common.
Langston, a Mount Greylock committee member who said he was speaking as a citizen, is concerned that Williamstown's students would be at the mercy of Lanesborough's budgetary woes if it regionalized.
"To avoid an override vote over a period of time runs counter to the spirit of Proposition 2 1/2," Langston said. "To impoverish the education system [without putting the question to the voters] is something I don't have very much patience with."
Langston said there may be the potential to rework the Mount Greylock Regional Agreement to create different funding mechanisms for an expanded districts. But without such modifications, he said he could not support adding Williamstown to the Mount Greylock district.
He said he planned to make the same case to the Board of Selectmen and town manager.
The three members of the School Committee — who heard similar thoughts from Langston at a recent joint meeting of the Williamstown and Mount Greylock committees — listened to his presentation without comment.
In other business on Wednesday, the School Committee heard a report from the Tri-District's Director of Pupil Personnel Services Kimberley Grady on the school's staffing special education students. She said the 22 current staff in special education are adequate to serve a slightly higher student population in those programs.
Superintendent Rose Ellis told the committee the elementary school's total population also is growing.
Last year on Oct. 1, the school had 439 pupils. As of Monday, it has 458, an increase of little more than 4 percent. The number is a little higher even than the 445 the school anticipated in the spring due to new families moving into the district.
The average class size is 17.6 with the largest classes (21.7 per classroom) in the sixth grade. The largest single grade remains the third grade, which has 69 pupils divided into four sections (17.3 pupils per classroom.
"You can see that the class sizes are comfortable," Ellis told the committee, referring to the school's enrollment data. "I can remember 26 or 27 [pupils] in the sixth grade a few years ago."
Residents Vexed Over Plan to Save North Adams Houses
Jeffrey Kemp addresses the City Council on Wednesday night about an attempt to save two houses he backed for demolition.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Residents in the lower Houghton Street area expressed their frustration Wednesday over plans to save a pair historic rowhouses.
"We've looked at those buildings long enough," Linda Snow, who has lived behind them since the 1960s, told the City Council. "They should have came down 30 years ago."
Snow was one of more than a dozen people who attended Wednesday's council meeting (held a day later than usual because of Tuesday's primary) to demand the city take care of the problem buildings.
The matter had been placed on the agenda by Councilor Keith Bona, a North Street resident who raised concerns at an earlier meeting about the demolition stay made by the Historical Commission at its August meeting.
Residents were upset over what they saw as backtracking after the commission approved in April the razing of the five buildings owned by Romeo estate along Houghton Street.
Jeffrey Kemp of North Street, a member of the North Adams Historical Society, had made a presentation to the commission at that meeting detailing his reasoning on why the buildings should come down and was dismayed that he hadn't been invited to the August meeting.
Historical Commission Chairwoman Justyna Carlson said the meeting in August, like that in April, had been publicly posted.
"There was no intention to hide the meeting or its intent," she said. "[The agenda] clearly says 'revisiting the demolition of the mill houses on Houghton.'"
She told the council that two critical events had brought about the delay: Finally getting in touch with a representative of the estate after more than a year of effort and the determinations by two experienced carpenters that two of the buildings were in good structural shape and could be saved.
The demolition approval wasn't revoked but postponed for one year, as allowed, to attempt to save the properties, Carlson said. "If a viable project is not found in a year, they will all be demolished."
Members of the commission and historical society plan to create a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization to acquire the property at a nominal fee and raise funds to restore two of the buildings to their original 1840-50 conditions.
The corner store at Liberty and Houghton is expected to be demolished in the next few months by the estate. The most northward building will be demolished and its salvageable parts stored in the third building, which will be torn down once the first two buildings are restored.
The commission says there will be no water, sewer or heat in the buildings; an electric security system would have be installed and possibly historically appropriate exterior gas lighting.
"I proposed the demolition order in the April meeting," said Commissioner Alan Horbal. "It bothered me about those houses because they were on the ... maps from the 1870s."
He asked the council and residents to imagine what they might look like once cleaned up and refurbished.
"We would have two nice buildings with brick sidewalks and maybe gas lighting," he said. "But it takes time and it takes patience and we can't go on the property."
Once the nonprofit is filed, he said, "we can solicit donations to downgrade the buildings."
The structures would essentially be monuments to a time past, the last exisiting homes of early Industrial Revolution workers who toiled in the nearby mills. Like the 1753 House replica in Williamstown, the Adams Quaker Meeting House in Adams or the Fitch-Hoose House in Dalton — also the last of its kind — the buildings would be museums with limited use.
John Lipa, who's lived near the houses for more than 60 years, said it's not just the structures but the whole area that is blighted. The city doesn't have the resources to maintain the land where it's torn down properties.
"Even if you make the best museum in the world it has to have a good entrance ... This entrance sucks," he said.
Firefighter Michael Goodson, who bought his house on Liberty Street eight years, said he's had a front-row seat watching the junkies and rodents going in and out of the detiorating buildings: "It's a constant eyesore now."
Councilor Nancy Bullett again noted the easy access into the structures. One door isn't even on, but propped up.
A nonprofit will be established to acquire and raise funds for the rowhouses.
"It's imperative we don't let 24 hours go by without securing that property," said Councilor Wayne Wilkinson, asking Mayor Richard Alcombright to secure the buildings and send the bill to the estate.
The mayor wondered why the City Council was holding the discussion.
"We are talking about properties that are not in this round of demolition anyway," he said. "What is the council's intent?"
President Lisa Blackmer said she was under the impression that the council had wanted information from the Historical Commission and then would refer it to committee.
"They can do what they want. I do know when we've dealt with this before, if the Historical Commission defers the demolition, we cannot use CBDG funds. Correct?" she asked the mayor.
Alcombright said, yes, the city would have to use funds other than Community Development Block Grant funding. The city had taken the buildings out of this year's list because the estate had shown a willingness to shoulder the demolition costs, estimated at $70,000 to $100,000.
Bona said he wanted to bring the discussion to the full council. "We have dozens of homes, some with for-sale signs, who are dependent on what will happen to these," he said.
Councilor Eric Buddington thought the discussion a legitimate way to get informed; Councilor Jennifer Breen noted the number of residents in the audience whose voices should be heard.
The mayor agreed that the buildings were troublesome but also thought the Historical Commission should be supported in its efforts to save a piece of city history. While there's no deadline, the preservation group won't have long to work on it, he said.
"They will either fix it or it will come down in the next grant round," said the mayor.
Pittsfield Teens Initiated Into Local Government
The Pittsfield Youth Commission meets Thursday for the first time.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pizza, tweeting, and some serious assessment of the generation gap in perceptions of the community's greatest challenges were among the features of the inaugural meeting of the newly reactivated Pittsfield Youth Commission.
At its first session at the Ralph Froio Senior Center on Thursday, the city's newest and arguably most diverse public body was sworn in and welcomed by local officials who expressed enthusiasm about its potential to leverage ideas for positive changes in the community.
The group, which consists of 21 voting members, two-thirds of them between the age of 14 and 18, and four additional advisory members, was welcomed as the newest branch by Mayor Daniel Bianchi, who put forth its members for confirmation by the City Council last month, then sworn in officially by City Clerk Linda Tyer.
"I can't tell you how appreciative I am of your willingness to serve on this commission," said Bianchi. "It's a very important thing, and something that I think should be a real active, vibrant part of our community."
"Oftentimes young people don't feel as though they have a voice, especially when it comes to their community, and running its government," Bianchi added. "I want to give you that voice."
"This is an amazing opportunity for you to make change in your city," Ty Allan Jackson told his younger colleagues on the commission. "This is the time for you to be loud."
Youth members were quiet at first, but opened up amongst each other when tasked to generate and prioritize lists of Pittsfield's greatest assets and worst problems, while adult members went to a separate room to do the same.
While some overlap was seen in the two groups' analysis, youth and adults differed on key points in both categories, and in the prioritization of shared concerns.
For teen members, the top five community assets were the public school system, extracurricular programs, a diverse community of people, available public resources, and the local faith community.
Drug and alcohol abuse, along with gang violence were the top two issues that most concerned them, followed closely by a lack of local businesses and activities geared toward their age demographic, and relative obscurity of those that are available.
Bullying was another key concern shared by the youth members, in particular the need for more proactive and effective strategies going beyond the kind of informational anti-bullying rhetoric typically offered.
"I don't think it should be just words, just saying 'Dont bully,' " said youth member Emma Foley. "I think kids have become really desensitized to that."
Lack of adult mentoring and positive role models was their final top concern, a gap the commission hopes to help redress through its mix of membership.
"It is an honor to serve with you," the Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross of First Baptist Church told the other commissioners. "I'm looking forward to the work we'll be doing together."
The meeting also featured a speed-networking rotation to allow the members to become acquainted with each other, and wrapped up with pizza, taking selfies, and posting about the meeting to their respective social media networks (hashtags: #PittsfieldYouthCommission and #PYC).
Advisory member Vincent Marinaro, who previously served for many years on the Youth Commission before its disintegration in the late 2000s, encouraged the members to use social media and firsthand contact to spread the word about the commission and listen to the concerns of their peer groups.
"You are representatives of your peers," said Marinaro. "So it's your responsibility to find out the pulse of your classmates and other peers, and youth of all ages."
At its next meeting on Oct. 9, the commission will elect a structure of officers that will include two youth members as co-chairs and a four-member executive board to support them.
Coping With Caregiver Costs
More Americans are facing rising caregiver costs. The financial challenge of caring for an aging parent can also create caregiver stress. Don’t allow caring for an aging parent or spouse to become a crisis.
Nearly 10 million adults over the age of 50 provide care or financial support for aging parents. Their ranks have swelled significantly over the last decade and will continue to grow, according to a study on caregivers by MetLife.
The cost of providing care for a loved one – whether an ailing spouse or elderly parent – can be daunting.
Beyond medical expenses, such as in-house or nursing home care, it can also include lost income due to the large time commitment.
The MetLife study estimates caregiver responsibilities for the average person age 50 and older can result in a total of more than $300,000 in lost wages and benefits.
There is some good news. There may be ways to provide for an aging parent or loved one without jeopardizing your finances now or in the future. Here are some strategies to consider.
Talk to Your Employer
Caring for a family member can be a 24-hour-a-day responsibility. The demands of a full-time job can make taking care of an aging parent or spouse difficult. Discussing the situation with your employer as soon as possible may help create a better position for yourself.
For example, you may be able to negotiate flexible work hours that allow you to take time away for doctor appointments. Your employer may also be willing to allow telecommuting options. Working from home might allow you to stay productive while meeting the needs of your ailing spouse or parent.
Review Your Parent’s Finances
While your parent is still healthy, sit down to discuss his or her financial situation. Talk about everything from retirement savings and monthly Social Security benefits to current health care premiums and housing costs. These discussions can give you a better handle on just how much financial support you may be expected to provide.
Your financial adviser can help you weigh your options, and may be able to serve as a neutral third party during conversations with your parent about financial matters.
Your parent’s financial situation may even make her eligible for certain benefits. One example is income. If your parent’s annual income is relatively low, you may be able to claim him or her as a dependent on your tax return. This may defray the cost of care. Talk with your tax advisor before doing this to see if your situation qualifies.
Make sure your parent has an up-to-date estate plan. Be sure to review financial powers of attorney and health care proxies. You should understand what is included in these documents. Is an appropriate person named who has the authority to make critical financial or health care decisions if your parent becomes incapacitated?
These meetings should make your parent’s wishes clear.
Get (Free) Help
If your parent lives with you and needs periodic care during the day, hiring an in-home nurse can be expensive. It is likely not covered by Medicare.
Check on alternatives in your community. Many religious groups and local social service agencies provide free or low-cost care or companionship for elderly adults. These can help reduce your out-of-pocket caregiver costs.
Also check with your family. Other members may be able to participate in your loved one’s care and provide scheduled breaks for the primary caregivers.
To avoid surprises and reduce stress, talk to your loved ones about their wishes well in advance. Discuss what will happen if they reach the age when they need additional help caring for themselves.
This article was written by Wells Fargo Advisors and provided courtesy of Jonathan Buoni, Financial Advisor, in Springfield, at 413-755-1171.
Con Comm Inserts Stronger Language in Lowry, Burbank Statements
Conservation Commission Chairman Philip McNight, left, and Commissioner Robert Hatton. McKnight presented a draft statement laying out the history and intent of land under the commission's control.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Conservation Commission on Thursday strengthened the wording that will be used in its statements regarding the town-owned properties under its care, custody, management and control.
At the urging of Commissioner Robert Hatton, the final statements — which could be voted as soon as Sept. 25 — will include language declaring the commission's intent to keep the Lowry and Burbank properties in their current uses: agriculture and passive recreation.
The Con Comm has spent the summer developing statements which Chairman Philip McKnight hopes to enter into the land records at the Registry of Deeds and, perhaps as importantly, send a clear signal to a town divided over the question of whether to develop all or part of Lowry and Burbank for the creation of affordable housing.
Currently there is no request before the Con Comm to release any of the land under its control. But the initiative to create a statement about the lands' status stems from last year's effort to consider using some of Lowry to address the town's need for subsidized housing, especially replacement housing for homes lost in Tropical Storm Irene at the Spruces Mobile Home Park.
McKnight drafted two- to three-page statements on three of the parcels under the commission's control — including Lowry and Burbank — based on research conducted by commission members.
His drafts outlined the history of each property, how it was acquired by the town, how it was placed under the commission's control, how the the commission has managed it and what conclusions the commission draws about the parcel's legal status.
The final conclusion for both Lowry and Burbank was the same: "The Conservation Commission's care, custody and control of the [each property] since 1987 has been consistent with and in furtherance of the protections afforded the Property under Article 97 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ... "
Hatton agreed with McKnight's conclusions but appeared to find it a bit verbose and questioned whether the average resident would want to read it all.
"Are you going to have a short statement?" Hatton asked, referring to the three-page statement on Burbank.
"This is short for lawyers," McKnight replied with a smile.
Hatton and commissioners Hank Art and Sarah Gardner pushed for a short paragraph that could be inserted into McKnight's draft and pulled out as text on the Con Comm's page on the town website.
Hatton offered some language for such a paragraph: "The present Conservation Commission insists on declaring to the Williamstown citizens its intent to continue the current use of the Lowry property," Hatton read aloud at Thursdays' meeting.
Art said the spirit of Hatton's text is "embedded" in McKnight's conclusion paragraph regarding the lands' Article 97 status, but he agreed that a shorter, more direct statement of the commission's intent would be helpful.
Whether Lowry or Burbank are protected under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution was a critical issue in last year's controversy. The Town Counsel from the firm of Kopelman and Paige gave the town a legal opinion that Article 97 does not apply to the Lowry property. A lawyer from the Pittsfield firm Cain Hibbard & Myers wrote an opinion on behalf of abutters to the Lowry property that said Article 97 does apply.
As McKnight has mentioned on numerous occasions, the issue ultimately would have be settled by an appelate court — if any proposal to develop the land gets that far. But the Con Comm hopes having its statement on the record will be offer a guide to anyone who might suggest development in the future.
In other action on Thursday, the Conservation Commission OK'd: a request from the Trustees of Reservations to install a beaver solutions fence that will allow the beavers to live but control the water flow in a pond on Sloan Road; a plan to install ground-mounted solar photo-voltaic modules near Williams College's library storage facility on Simonds Road; and a plan to build a single-family residence at 121 Gale Road.
McCann Begins School Year With New Staff, Equipment
The McCann School Committee is updated on Thursday on projects and hires.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — McCann Technical School's administration said the new year is off to a solid start.
Principal Justin Kratz told the School Committee on Thursday night that the freshman have already settled in.
"The start of the school year has gone very smoothly," he said."We welcomed the new freshmen in, and they found their way around the building. They seem to be a really nice class, and they seem to be really friendly."
Kratz said he also spoke to the seniors about their new role in the school.
"We talked about what their role is as seniors and how they can help to positively set the tone in the building," he said.
Kratz said 136 students are participating in fall sports, or about 27 percent of the student body.
"We have a ton of activities here, and we have seen a lot of our students get involved in a lot of different ways and that is good to see," he said. "It is very busy after school here, and it is exciting to see lots of activity."
The School Committee also welcomed two new educators: Susan LeClair and Sarah Brooks.
"We are glad to have them both, and they are off to a great start," Kratz said. "There has been a bit of a transition, but they are doing a great job and we are excited to have them."
LeClair is a former McCann student.
"From all accounts that I have heard she was a softball standout while she was here, and she is coming back to join us and we are excited to have her teach," Kratz said.
Brooks taught at both Mount Greylock Regional School in Williamstown and St. Joseph's High School in Pittsfield, but started her student teaching at McCann.
"She actually started out as a student teacher here," Kratz said. "She did a nice job then, and we are glad to have her back."
Committee member James Gazzaniga welcomed the two new teachers.
"You have an administration that is dedicated to providing the finest education possible," he said. "I always know when I see arrivals here your successes and your qualities have preceded you and that is why you are a member of this staff."
Superintended James Brosnan reviewed the completed renovations in the school. He said there were fewer renovations because they were planning on adding an addition to the school for the nursing program.
Principal Justin Kratz reports on the first days of school.
"There are less renovations because of the idea that there would be an addition for the nursing program that was not done because it would cost too much," Brosnan said. "We were putting any resources we had toward the construction of a new building for the practical nursing program, which was way over any possible budget."
He said the renovations in the business technology program were completed as well as the teachers' area in Metal Fabrication.
He said the automotive tool room was also cleaned up and made Occupational Safety & Health Administration compliant. OSHA had cited McCann for the tool room.
"We did all those things, and they were all done in compliance," Brosnan said. "We made sure to cover every base that was recommended in the report."
The committee also approved $37,500 used to purchase new equipment for the school and shop.
Brosnan said this includes a new automotive welder. The old welder was cited by OSHA. He said the new one will change the way welding is taught in the school.
"We are going to use team teaching with seniors and automotive students, which is terrific on safe use once we have a new welder in place," he said. "We aren't just looking at new equipment, but a whole new brand of how we are teaching and working cooperatively."
Mount Greylock Tower Project Seeks Code Waivers
The state is seeking variances on accessibility requirements as it plans a nearly $2 million renovation of the Mount Greylock War Memorial.
ADAMS, Mass. — The state Department of Conservation and Recreation is hoping for a $1.8 million renovation of the 80-year-old War Memorial atop Mount Greylock.
But the amount the project entails means the tower must fully comply with federal handicapped accessibility requirements.
Jeffery Harris, a preservation planner with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, met with the Historical Commission on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the alterations — and to ask for a waiver.
"Ever since the tower was built in the '30s there has been chronic water infiltration, and we are at another critical moment with the tower where the water infiltration has increased to the point where we had to shut down the tower to the public," Harris said. "We need to undertake some major improvements to make it functional again."
The stone tower has been closed since last year and isn't expected to reopen until late 2016. The renovation provides an opportunity to make the tower more accessible, said Harris, but full compliance would compromise the historical integrity of the structure.
Harris asked for a letter from the commission stating that and noting that variances would be needed.
"We are looking for some variances that would allow us to use some alternative measures that aren't meeting the full letter of the law in terms of code, but still will provide some level of access to the tower in light of the adverse effect that would occur if we have full compliance," he said.
The tower has one ramp that allows access to the terrace, but there is no access to the chamber. He said there would be a ramp at the entrance of the vestibule and one that goes down into the memorial chamber. He said access to the chamber itself will be provided by a curving ramp that would take the place of a utility room.
He said these ramps do not meet the slope requirement for handicap access but are close.
Another alteration Harris added was railings leading onto the terrace. He said for full compliance each entry would need a railing, however, Harris said they are asking to put one on the most used entrance.
He said these alterations would have minimal impact on the structure.
Harris said complete compliance to the tower would mean access to the observation level on the fifth floor of the tower. He said this is not feasible.
"We would have to build an addition to the tower with some sort of bridge over, which obviously would have a major impact on the tower," he said.
Harris said the plan is to put static images of the various views from the observation level on the lower part of the tower. He said the images would change every season and would be a good alternative because there is often no visibility from the observation level because of fog.
The committee agreed to write a letter approving the needed variances. The letter will go to the Massachusetts Historical Commission so it, too, can approve the variances.
Dunkin' Donuts To Raze Pittsfield Church for Drive-Through
A Dunkin' Donuts franchise is seeking to tear down St. Mary's on Tyler Street and put up a new drive-through.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Developers aim to demolish a vacant former Tyler Street church and its rectory to make way for a new Dunkin' Donuts drive-through restaurant.
According to permitting paperwork filed with the city's Office of Community Development, Cafua Management Co. of North Andover, the largest franchisee of Dunkin' locations throughout the country, is in planning to erect this new restaurant on the site of the former St. Mary the Morning Star.
"The proposed restaurant will be 2,100 S.F. in size and will be located on the westerly end of the property," according to a site plan application filed by local firm SK Design. "It will include on drive-thru service window located on the north end of the building."
According to the application, Cafua is currently under agreement with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield, who decommissioned the church in 2008, to purchase 2.6 acres of the property, which includes parcels at 653 Tyler Street and 75 Plunkett St. The former St. Mary's campus includes five structures totaling over 41,524 square feet, including the church, rectory, convent, a small garage and a former school building that has been closed since 1973.
"The church and rectory will be razed as part of this project," the application indicates. "The school will be razed at a later date. A new parcel will be subdivided out of the two exiting parcels for the proposed restaurant."
The property is zoned for general business, and the restaurant usage is allowed by right. However, Cafua must obtain a special permit for the drive-through operation, one which requires City Council approval in addition to that of the Community Development Board. Because the structures of the church and rectory are less than 75 years old, their demolition does not need to be reviewed by the city's Historical Commission under its Demolition Delay Ordinance.
Cafua's application for a special permit includes a 76-page traffic study prepared by the firm Tighe & Bond, charting the potential impact of the new type of business at this location. Traffic formed a major point of consideration in the denial by the City Council last year of another drive-through permit sought by Cafua at the site of the former Plunkett School building.
Cafua Director of Development and Construction Gregory Nolan declined to comment on the proposed restaurant at the St. Mary's site.
"I have no comment on that location," Nolan told iBerkshires. "We're just going to go through the process."
St Mary the Morningstar was founded in 1915, but the current church building dates back to the 1950s. For decades it served as a cornerstone religious institution in the densely populated Morningside neighborhood, shutting its doors in 2008 amidst a wave of closures throughout the diocese. It has been on the market since 2010, listed on a "Price on Request" basis.
Mark Dupont, secretary of communications for the Diocese of Springfield, said he could not comment on the potential sale of any diocese property until a sale had closed, confirming only that the St. Mary's property is still on the market and there has been no closing on its purchase
Speaking generally, Dupont said that as with other closed parishes, St. Mary's had final closing services after which the building was decommissioned and sacramental objects removed and transported elsewhere.
Dupont added that the proceeds of any local church property stays within that municipality's existing church community.
"After any debt that has been incurred for that property is paid off, the remainder of the proceeds stay in that area," Dupont said. "The sale of any Pittsfield church stays in the Pittsfield Catholic community."
When asked if it was customary for any further opportunities to be provided prior to a sale for former parishioners to visit a church a final time before its demolition, Dupont said this would not be appropriate, due to the fact that its interior would be stripped of its sacramental objects and other appointments, and fundamentally different from its previous state.
"It would not be as they remembered it," said Dupont "It would not be the same parish building that they knew and loved."
Site Plan Application- 653 Tyler Street by Joe Durwin
Lanesborough Crafting Plan For Water Line Expansion To Land Fill
Town Administrator Paul Sieloff told the Board of Selectmen that he will solicit bids to engineer the water line expansion.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The town is now looking for quotes from engineering firms in designing the water line expansion to the landfill.
The expansion was approved by town meeting and is eyed to help reduce the cost of state-required water testing. An Ore Bed Road home well was found contaminated and the state suspected the chemicals came from the landfill.
For the last few years, the town has been paying for additional water monitoring in the area as the state tries to pinpoint the contamination.
Last year, a chemical turned up on a test and the Department of Environmental Protection ordered immediate, emergency testing. Those tests were returned negative but did cost the town thousands of dollars to perform. To eliminate those type of tests, the town wants to run a water line up there and connect a least six homes to the system.
"The houses that are affected down there with their well, those issues will go away," said Town Administrator Paul Sieloff about unpredictable extra tests the state sometimes orders.
Voters approved borrowing $200,000 to perform the work and Sieloff is now reaching out the engineers to craft the plan. From there the town will consider contracting the labor out or doing it in-house.
Selectman John Goerlach suggested hiring a couple people full-time and renting equipment just for the project. Goerlach said the Highway Department already has a good understanding of the road — such as where the river crossing and ledges are — and can find out even more.
Selectman Robert Ericson asked the department to send as much information it can to the engineering firm that bids on the contract. Then the engineering firm will take the next steps in determining the scope of work.
"One of the first steps is soliciting a minimum of three engineering proposals," Sieloff said.
Sieloff said a minimum of six homes will be set up to the water system. There are four or five others in the area he hopes will want to hook on.
"I would like to approach the water department," Sieloff said of the upcoming steps. "They are generally very supportive with working with us."
In other business, the Selectmen want to get more involved with the elementary school budget. They hope to start establishing meetings with the School Committee in the fall as school officials begin to build their budget.
North Adams Council Votes to Move Ahead on Liquor Petition
The City Council voted to give a home-rule petition request two weeks more before voting on it.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday night voted to move swiftly to deal with a home-rule petition for a liquor license.
An initial motion by Councilor Keith Bona to continue the the matter to November failed; a second motion by Councilor Jennifer Breen to bring it back in two weeks passed unanimously.
Councilor Wayne Wilkinson, however, advocated acting immediately.
"They're using the City Council as a fallback position in case their deal falls through," said Councilor Wayne Wilkinson. "Everyone knows how they're going to vote at this point ... We should vote and get rid of it."
V&V, Steeple City Spirits, has been seeking legislative approval to obtain a a full liquor license in excess of the city's quota. There have been several meetings on the petition, including two well-attended hearings by the Public Safety Committee, chaired by Bona.
The committee voted 2-1 to recommend to the full council to submit the petition to the Legislature.
In the meantime, the beer and wine retailer entered into a purchase-and-sales agreement with River Street Package Store to acquire its liquor business and license. Should the deal be completed, the home-rule petition would be rendered moot.
Bona agreed that the home-rule petition was a fallback at this point.
"Chances are if this sale goes trough with no problems, it will be filed. ... There's truth but it's part of our job," he said. "We are the fallback. If it falls through they will go for the home-rule petition."
The applicant had asked for the continuance until November, Bona said, and the council had done similar continuances for others when asked.
Breen agreed. "I think we should respect that... we postpone our own things ad nauseum."
She also pointed out that no one was there to represent V&V, since they had expected the continuance.
"They deserve the courtesy of the council," she said, adding that business was doing exactly what it had been encouraged to do — buy an existing business.
Local liquor store owner David Whitney, who has strongly opposed the home-rule petition, urged the council to act.
"This has been going on since May," he said. "My life as been on hold dealing with all this. He's been making dupes of everybody."
Mayor Richard Alcombright said he had spoken with V&V's attorney and "he has every confidence this will close." But, he said, "if I thought there was any risk I would have told them to be here."
Wilkinson and Whitney speculated how the drawn-out process was affecting the value of the city's four liquor licenses. Breen objected that the council shouldn't be concerned with that.
"I think it's a public safety issue and that's all we should be discussing," she said.
Councilor Wayne Wilkinson felt the council was being used as a backup plan.
Wilkinson argued that the council had already spent an "exorbitant amount of time" on the issue and should move ahead rather than waiting two months.
Councilor Joshua Moran agreed.
"Whether it's now or three months from now, I don't think our opinions are going to change," he said. "We say we don't want to stifle business but that's what we're doing by drawing it out."
Bona countered that he hadn't even presented his public safety report yet and that V&V should be able to respond to the council. It's a process that could have to start over again if the deal falls through, he said. "I think it's easier to continue it."
Breen asked Bona if he would consider amending his motion to continue the issue for two weeks as a compromise. Bona declined, saying if his motion failed another could be made.
His motion failed on a 4-4 vote. Breen motioned to come back in two weeks, and to notify V&V, which passed.
In other business, the council:
Passed to a second reading and to publish an ordinance amendment recognizing the speed limit in Wheel Estates Mobile Home Park at 15 mph.
Gave final approval to a change in rates for cemetery lots and perpetual care fees.
Pittsfield Parks Go Smoke Free On Monday
The first signs were installed on Wednesday. All of the parks will have signage by Monday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The air will be a little fresher in the city's 29 parks next week.
On Wednesday, city workers began the installation of no-smoking signs on all city parks and playground in anticipation for when new smoking rules go in effect.
More than 1,000 acres of open space will now be smoke free as part of the Board and Health and the Parks Commission's new regulations.
"Most importantly it will reduce secondhand smoke and it will reduce trash," said Health Director Gina Armstrong.
The ban in parks was part of a larger overhaul of smoking regulations. The changes include reducing the number of vendor permits, stopping new vendors from opening near schools, and implementing bans on certain packaging and prices.
However, the parks ban was particularly supported by the community.
"We were really thrilled with the support from the community. There was a lot of advocacy," Armstrong said.
In May, resident Tyson Edwards went to the City Council asking for the ban. He then gathered signatures on petitions to help support the Board of Health's decision. Edwards started advocating for the issue after seeing children running through clouds of smoke in a city park.
The Parks Commission joined the Board of Health in implementing the ban.
"I think the biggest benefits from no smoking in parks is that non-smokers won;t have to compete with smokers for their enjoyment," said Parks and Open Spaces Manager James McGrath.
McGrath cited health benefits as the main benefit from the ban. But, added that litter reduction is a "side benefit."
"Cigarette butts and empty cigarette packs have been a perennial problem and it is most notable in our playground areas," McGrath said.
The ordinance goes into effect Monday but the city won't have anybody out there enforcing the new rules. Armstrong said as with similar bans in other municipalities, park patrons have essentially policed themselves.
"Our initial approach is all about education ... it will take some time for everyone to be aware of [the rules]," Armstrong said. "We're hoping that through education and asking people to be respectful of each other, we will have success."
However, if things do get out of control the Board of Health does not have the authority to take action against a violator. Armstrong is hoping that doesn't happen.
"We are looking at this as primarily a self enforcement thing," McGrath said.
With more than 1,000 acres now smoke free, McGrath is hoping to take it to the next level and implement similar bans on conservation land. He says he will bring the idea to the Conservation Commission soon.
Biometric Lunch Scanners Raise Parent Ire in North Adams
Drury High School cafeteria manager Trinity Spencer shows how easy the school's new biometric system is. Some parents, however, are concerned about privacy issues.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The introduction of biometrics in the school lunch line has a number of parents concerned about privacy and big-government intrusion into their children's lives.
The school system is instituting the equipment at lunch lines this fall after more than a year of discussion about parents failing to pay delinquent lunch bills, the stigma surrounding free and reduced lunches and the need for student privacy.
But a notice sent home to parents informing them of the changes sparked a firestorm on Facebook, with some parents and community members decrying what they see as an invasion — not a protection — of privacy.
Corey Nicholas, food service director for the public schools, said the idea was to move students through the cafeteria line more efficiently and ensure parents could accurately track their children's lunch habits online.
The district's "point of sale" equipment, NutriKids, supports the new biometric readers from identiMetrics.
"It's definitely going to streamline the system and make the transactions more accurate," said Nicholas on Tuesday. "Those that participate are able to see all those little transactions ... we want to make sure those transactions are as transparent as possible."
The use of biometrics — from fingers to irises — has been proliferating across public schools and higher education institutions as a way to increase efficiency and security. It's even gaining traction on iPhones and automobiles. The state of Florida, however, banned the use of biometrics in schools in June, calling it an invasion of children's privacy and a civil rights issue.
"No child should have to have a body part scanned to get a meal! There was no problems with those swipe cards that we were ever made aware of," wrote one parent on Facebook, who said she'd send her child with bag lunch before allowing a fingerprint scan.
Parent Cara Roberts, in a letter to Mayor Richard Alcombright and to iBerkshires, raised concerns over security and health.
"Let us not allow our children to allow privacy to become a thing of the past. Our duty is to educate and protect them, not to catalog them like merchandise," she wrote. "Our duty is to teach them to protect and care for their bodies. What message are we sending when we tell them their body is a means of identification, a tool for others to use to track them?"
She included to links to an article on Justia.com that delved into privacy and civil rights issues related the growing reliance on biometrics and one on ScientificAmerican.com about the use of biometrics in surveillance. Both articles more broadly discuss the use of digital fingerprints, palm prints and iris scans.
The technology being used in North Adams, from identiMetrics, does not register a fingerprint, but rather a pattern created by the intersection of unique elements of the print against a grid. The four points are then encrypted as binary numbers and that's what's stored and compared each time the finger is scanned later.
"The software cannot recreate the fingerprint itself because it does not store the fingerprint," said identiMetrics President and CEO Raymond J. Fry. In fact, the system doesn't have the server space to store hundreds or thousands of digital fingerprints, he said.
The former Chicago principal and administrator said he understood parent fears and it was because of his experience with children and concerns about safety that the company's product is designed to ensure their privacy and security.
"I've had these conversations for 10 years," he said on Wednesday. "It's not new technology, and it's not new to school districts."
Fry tells school districts to make sure parents are informed of how the technology works and to give them the option not to participate — both of which North Adams as done, although some parents are saying they should have been asked permission first, not after the fact.
North Adams may be the first in Massachusetts, but biometrics is being used by schools in more than 40 states, said Fry. Some 75 percent of schools in West Virginia use the technology to track usage in their libraries and cafeteria and for student attendance.
The reason the technology is catching on is because pressing a finger on a reader for a few seconds is both faster and more accurate than swipe cards or pin numbers, said Nicholas.
Swipe cards were difficult to use because they are constantly getting lost, damaged or traded, he said. "We have 300 or 400 kids going through cafeteria ... we were making them all the time. ...
"You can't open a file to look at the unique point ... It's just an encrypted number."
Fry said that's far more secure than swipe cards that often have children's names or pictures or schools on them.
The scan device is similar in cost to the swipe card reader although the software is more expense; it should last five to eight years, or as long as 10. The student's number would only last as long as they're in the schools system and be deleted when they leave.
It takes about a minute to scan the fingers — only the index fingers on each hand. The schools have begun processing the students with the expectation of going online by the middle of next week.
"The kids are excited about it ... it's kind of a neat thing," said Nicholas.
Drury High School cafeteria manager Trinity Spencer is looking forward to using the readers. The cafeteria workers have been trained on the technology and have found it fast and easy to use. The student places their finger on the scanner and their account pops up on the register screen.
"Once it's in there — 'beep' — and that's it," she said.
Alcombright said on Wednesday he was aware of the concerns and had responded to Roberts' letter, explaining that many of the issues she had raised had been discussed by the committee and answered to its satisfaction.
"As for research, our School Lunch Program Director reviewed this product and several others — I believe he either visited or discussed with other districts, the platform we will be using and in all cases, there did not seem to be any issues either operationally or with respect to health or privacy," he wrote.
"It's one of those things that are new and people want to scrutinize," the mayor said on Wednesday.
Nicholas on Tuesday said he'd so far received three written requests to opt out. The mayor, who also serves as the chairman of the School Committee, said he didn't see a reason to abandon the devices because of a few complaints.
"We have 1,600 kids in the school system and this was thoroughly vetted by the School Committee. I respect their concern but the full fingerprint is not stored ... We weren't told [the print was stored] by our administration and we weren't told that by our vendor."
He was pleased that parents were reading the information sent home and asking questions. "It's good to say people are reading and being informed," he said.
Brayton School PTA member and parent Kaitlyn Cornell said she'd looked up the technology online to educate herself and noted where it was being used, including at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
"I'm all for innovation and technology and moving forward," she said. "I didn't think it was depersonalizing so much as making [the cafeteria] run smoother. .. I know that the lines back up so much at lunch time.
"If people feel uncomfortable, give them the option out but I feel to take it all away, it just hinders the technology of moving forward."
Adams Town Administrator Search Attracts 22 Applicants
The search committee has begun receiving applications for the town administrator post but so far half don't meet the criteria.
ADAMS, Mass. — Adams has received 22 town administrator applicants so far, the Town Administrator Search Committee reported on Tuesday.
Committee member Carol Corrigan said that of the 22 applicants, so far 10 meet the minimum requirements.
The applicants come from various parts of the country — Texas, Maryland, Minnesota, Colorado, California and Kansas.
Committee member Michael Ouellette said he felt the three-year experience minimum that the committee agreed on could disqualify many candidates.
"We might not want to be too rough on things like that because we might disqualify a good candidate, and I just want to make sure we are all in agreement with this," Ouellette said.
Committee member Erica Girgenti said the three-year minimum is important. The department heads the committee spoke with wanted to make sure Adams did not get a novice town administrator, she noted.
"Do we want to be a training ground for town administrators or do we want to invite someone in that is qualified," she said.
The committee also discussed how it would format the written essay questions for applicants. The four essays represent issues facing the town of Adams such as the Greylock Glen and the town’s elderly population.
They decided the essays should be no more than a page long.
Originally the committee felt 250 words would suffice because it would make the review process more streamlined, however they decided the one-page length would give applicants more of an opportunity to be creative.
"If you are really knowledgeable of something it can be difficult initially, but ultimately easier, to be succinct and concise," Chairman Jeffrey Grandchamp said. "We can tell when someone doesn't have a lot to say about it because they are going to fluff it out."