The Next Great Radio Auction is coming Friday March 6th & Saturday March 7th...don't miss it!
New Transportation Center Eyed To Help Veterans
Mayor Daniel Bianchi, left, BRTA Administrator Bob Malnati, Soldier On President Gary Shepard and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal cut the ribbon on the new call center.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Some 25,000 veterans are treated at Veterans Affairs medical center in Leeds but a lot of appointments aren't kept.
"We know about half of our missed appointments are due to lack of transportation. This is a huge need and a huge gap," says Duane Gill of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans and their families continually struggle getting to medical appointments, jobs, or school. Some 50,000 veterans across the country are homeless and 90 percent of veterans families are living on the edge of poverty or below.
"Those folks are at risk or near risk. Transportation is recognized as a means to help them. It is a value component in uplifting them and their quality of life," said Soldier On President Gary Shepard said.
On Friday, a partnership between the federal and state government, the nonprofit Soldier On, veterans offices and the Berkshire Regional Transportation Authority started something new. Soldier On is using a $2 million grant to open up a call center staffed by veterans and will coordinate any transportation needs for area veterans — whether it is going to Leeds or Albany, N.Y., or just downtown.
"What we are celebrating here is the commitment to veterans' success. Driving veterans to not only medical appointments but any of their other needs is the success we are celebrating today," said Massachusetts Veterans Services Secretary Francisco Urena.
The call center at the Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center opened on Friday and will be staffed from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on weekdays by former homeless veterans. It is the first of its kind and officials say it could be replicated across the nation.
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, said Soldier On was given the funding because of a reputation it built on service for veterans. That led Congress to award the grant.
"Soldier On has an open door across Washington because of the reputation they earned," Neal said. "They have instant credibility so why not experiment where they were founded."
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent a certificate commemorating the occasion, which was read by her representative Everett Handford.
Soldier On will not only staff the call center but its vehicles will be used for trips. Center staff will handle dispatching and crafting the routes to fit each family. The model is particularly cited for its usefulness in rural areas like the Berkshires where there is a lack of public transportation.
State Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, said the model helps to "break down transportation barriers." The senator said too often transportation becomes a "deal breaker" in servicing veterans and he is "thrilled to see Soldier On, with support from the federal government, bring this model to the Berkshires."
Mayor Daniel Bianchi echoed his sentiments.
"It is critical that we have a very good, well-running transportation system," Bianchi said. "I think we are going to be addressing critical needs of our veterans."
Sean Sullivan from the U.S. Department of Transportation said his organization focuses a lot on veterans by supporting expansion of transportation systems to serve military families, targeting outreach campaigns to help veterans, and providing technical assistance to communities in trying to find ways to serve the transportation needs of veterans.
The department provided the $2 million grant through the Federal Transit Administration's Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative
Cabaret Uncorked Returns This Weekend To Benefit MCP
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Mill City Productions will hold its 6th annual Cabaret Uncorked this Saturday to benefit its 2015 performances.
Company member Liz Urban said the first half of the event will purely be dedicated to wine tasting. Wine will be supplied by Mark Draper from Draper's Wine and Spirits. She said there were be a variety of red and white wines as well as two local craft breweries, Glass Bottom Brewery from Lee and Lefty's from Greenfield.
"The wine and beer distributors will be able to answer questions and make recommendations," Urban said. "People can also place orders for bottles with Draper's if there is something they really like."
Urban said the second half of the evening will include cabaret entertainment featuring Mill City company members and will be emceed by Pulse Entertainment.
"All of the songs come from past performances of our annual summer cabarets and will give the audience a sense of what we do," she said.
In addition to the wine tasting and performance, Urban said there will be a silent auction which features prizes from local businesses.
"Some of the prizes include restaurant gift certificates, tickets to Shakespeare & Company and the Williamstown Theatre Festival and a night's stay at the Berkshire Hills Motel," Urban said. "We are very thankful to Mark Draper and all of our event sponsors for helping us put on this event."
Urban said all of the proceeds from the silent auction will go toward MCP's Mike Grogan Memorial Fund. The fund is used for capital improvements to the theater. This year, MCP plans to award a scholarship to a local student who is interested in theater so he or she can attend a summer theater camp.
All of the proceeds from the rest of the evening will go toward the 2015 programming, which includes a May production of "A Bright New Boise," a June production of "The Ransom of Emily Jane," the annual original August cabaret, and an October production of "Clue: The Musical."
Urban said one of MCP's goals is to provide the community with a variety of quality and accessible performances at a low cost. She said a theater group has to pay royalties if it wants to perform a play, which can cost more than $1,000 alone. This, added to the cost of costumes and actually building the set, can often be daunting for a small community theater group.
"It is so important for our community to support local theater groups, because we literally couldn't continue without support," she said.
The 21 and over event starts at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 7, at the Mill City Theater, Building 4N, Heritage State Park. The wine tasting runs from 7 to 8:30, with the entertainment portion running to 11.
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased in advance at MCP's website and or at the door.
"It seems like people are really looking for something to do this weekend," Urban said. "Especially after this endless winter."
Clarksburg Golf Course Preliminary Plans Include Solar Array
Todd Driscoll, left, and James Basiliere go over preliminary site plans for the Boulder Creek Golf Club with the Planning Board.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Developers for the former North Adams Country Club are looking to its past for inspiration.
And they're hoping a high-tech energy system will help bring the project to fruition.
James Basiliere and Todd Driscoll appeared before the Planning Board on Wednesday to present preliminary plans for the next phase of the Boulder Creek Golf Club that now includes a 4.27-acre solar array.
Basiliere purchased the 9-hole course four years ago and had planned to extensively expand it into an 18-hole course.
But the numbers failed to add up and Basiliere, partnering with Driscoll, radically scaled back the plans. Instead, the course will become a par 3 with a practice driving range. Plans for the clubhouse haven't changed.
"What we're going to do is bring it back to the original," Basiliere, referencing a 1915 postcard showing the clubhouse with a wide wraparound porch.
Driscoll said additions were "scabbed on" to the point there are three roof layers in one area.
"It's mostly tearing off what's there and getting to the original structure," he said.
The plans for the course and clubhouse were done by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Springfield. The solar array is being done by Aegis Renewable Energy, represented at the meeting by Tom Flynn, project manager.
The developers and Flynn said they had met with representatives of the state Department of Environmental Protection to determine the next steps.
Flynn said they would first file for a Request for Determination of Applicability with the Conservation Commission but noted the array itself is not expected to impinge on any wetlands. There may be some restoration required because of previous cutting.
Conservation Commission members Clebe Scott and Gregory Vigna, who were in attendance, said they would plan a meeting in April.
Basiliere said the area will require some minor grading and ties into the work being done on the adjacent driving range.
Planning Board Chairman David Sherman asked for the board to be provided drainage details.
"I think our piece is there's drainage and you're not flooding anyone else," he said.
The developers did not believe flooding would be an issue and agreed to provide more information.
Basiliere said a new well would have to be dug and they would have to decide whether to use the functioning septic or tie into the sewer line that ends near the maintenance garage.
No permits have been filed for any of the work yet. Driscoll and Basiliere said they wanted to the board to preview the plans so as to anticipate any issues.
"We used a designer to take away any of those problems that could pop up," Basiliere said. "We designed the course to be environmentally friendly. That's why the solar fits so well."
"We want to hit the ground running once the snow melts," said Driscoll.
Basiliere, however, did not anticipate the course opening this year.
Sherman said a site plan review and public hearing would have to be held and abuttors notified.
Basiliere said there may still be some materials sold off the property, but not on the scale at which he taken out a gravel removal permit. Both men said there was no profit in trucking the material out so any sales would likely be small and to buyers close by.
"There's still some sand and soil," Basiliere said. "We have to try to make money where ever we can."
Sherman advised them to approach the Selectmen on the issue.
"It's hard to pick out things in a preliminary plan, but we can get a sense of what you have," he said. "There's a lot going on up there, it's a big piece of property."
In other business, the board extended by 30 days the time limit on a permit filed for a solar array off Gravel Bank Road.
Solar developer Kirt Mayland was unable to attend the meeting and asked for the extension in writing.
Another informal presentation on a solar array for off River Road was also postponed.
Adams Taking Green Communities Program To The Next Step
Jim Barry of the Green Communities Program explains the criteria to the Selectmen.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Selectmen have agreed to continue discussions on adopting the Green Communities Designation Grant Program.
Jim Barry, regional coordinator of the Green Communities Program, told the board on Wednesday night what the program could offer Adams.
By adopting the policy and meeting the criteria, Adams will commit to lowering its energy use baseline by 20 percent and adopt new building codes focused on efficiency.
Barry said communities that meet the five qualifications will receive a minimum of $125,000. Communities receive more money depending on the qualifications they have already met and population.
He said poorer towns receive more money and he expects Adams to fall in the $155,000 to $165,000 range. This money can be used to create more efficiencies.
Barry said after the first year, communities can apply once a year for up to $250,000 to fund continued work.
Adams has already met criteria one by adopting the by-right solar bylaw. Muncipalities are required to adopt as-of-right siting in designated locations, which allows for plan approval without special permitting.
Second, towns must expedite the permitting process within a 12-month time frame. Towns do not have to approve the project, but do have to answer within the 12 months.
Third, municipalities must find their energy use baseline and create a five-year plan that focuses on reducing it by 20 percent.
"You would come up with a reasonable five-year plan that you would accomplish if and when you have money," Barry said. "The idea being if you become a green community, you would get the money."
Barry said criteria four required that all future town vehicle purchases be fuel efficient. Commercially unavailable fuel-efficient cars such as Department of Public Works trucks and police cruisers are exempt. He said this request will not affect Adams.
"For most towns this is easy because you don't have to worry about it. You don't buy selectmen a new car, but if you were going to buy the selectmen a new car it needs to get 22 mpg," he said. "You can’t get a fuel-efficient snowplow either; you aren’t going to attach a snowplow to a Prius."
The requirement is the adoption of an efficiency building code that is stricter than the basic building code. Barry said this is called the "stretch code" because when it was initially created it was an option beyond the basic code.
He said many towns have had issues with the stretch code because they were afraid it would increase the cost of construction and deter new buildings. However, Barry said the basic code changes every few years and is almost equal with the stretch code. In 2009, the stretch code was considered 20 percent more energy efficient than the basic code.
"The difference between a stretch-code home and a non-stretch-code home today is substantially less than it was five years ago when we first rolled this out," he said. "It's more of a matter of detail and not spending a whole lot more money."
He said one of the largest extra cost is the performance test. Experts have to come to the new home and test its efficiency to get the rating. He said this can cost between $750 and $1,200 and there are grants available for this.
Adams had turned down the program in the past because of the stretch code, Barry said, but since things have improved and more than 130 communities in Massachusetts have adopted it.
The Selectmen were concerned that the new code would affect people who want to do additional work on their homes.
Barry said renovations, additions, rehabilitations, repairs, and historical buildings are exempt and only new buildings have to follow the new code.
The Selectmen asked if the stretch code will change in the future when the basic code catches up.
"If you were concerned that you are handcuffing your town to a code that may negatively affect the town know that you aren’t handcuffed forever," he said.
The board agreed they wanted to continue to the next step and have a workshop discussing the program and and later a public meeting.
"I have always been a proponent of this, and I think we should try it again," Chairman Arthur "Skip" Harrington said. "If the board is in favor, I'd like move it to the next stage."
MCLA Launches After-School STEM Program for Brayton
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts has recently launched an after-school initiative for Brayton Elementary's third-grade students to participate in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities.
The program will take place in MCLA's Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation through the "Help Yourself" program.
The college was approached by the Help Yourself Foundation to host a hands-on, inquiry based program for youth at MCLA.
The Help Yourself foundation was founded in 2005 by the president emeritus of Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. Roger H. Hull. Hull developed after-school programs that allowed school-aged children to come into college campuses a few times a week to participate in STEM-focused activities in the Capital Region.
"The Help Yourself Foundation thought this would be a natural extension of the work that they've already done, and would provide a unique format and location here at MCLA," H. Jake Eberwein, dean of graduate and continuing education, said. "We're replicating in great part the model that's been used in the Capitol Region, but we'll be supporting students in North Adams."
Supported by MCLA staff, students and North Adams public educators, the first 20 third graders began their activities at MCLA.Two times a week the third-graders will travel to MCLA campus with a teacher or tutor for Help Yourself's program.
In addition to the time spent in the science center, the student will also get a chance to become acquainted with MCLA's campus.
"We're building academic skills, but we're also really elevating aspirations," Eberwein explained. "These students might not have college in their sights.
"The idea is, you bring them on campus and provide academic enrichment activities. As we do that, we're providing them with exposure to the campus," he continued. "We will do some role modeling and campus tours, and through being on the campus they can begin to imagine that this is a place they can one day attend college."
Ideally, students in this first year will continue the program through eighth grade and a new group of third graders will be added on every year behind them. Eberwein is optimistic about the program's success and its potential for growth.
MCLA Selects U. Wisconsin Provost as 12th President
The MCLA board of trustees on Thursday voted unanimously to offer the post of president to Greg Summers, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. The appointment is dependent on the approval of the state Board of Higher Education next week.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts board of trustees voted unanimously to name Gregory Summers as the college's 12th president.
The position is dependent on approval of the Board of Higher Education, at a special meeting on March 10, and negotiations with Summers.
Became readily apparent during Thursday afternoon's brief meeting that Summers would be the choice to replace Mary Grant, who became chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Asheville earlier this year after more than a decade at MCLA.
"MCLA needs to remain student-centered, remain genuine and be a home away from home," said student Trustee Alyson Stolz in stating her preference for Summers. "This president needs to be the MCLA president, not just the president."
Summers, currently provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, was one of three finalists winnowed down from an initial 59 candidates.
He and Jane McBride Gates of Western Connecticut State University and Paula Krebs of Bridgewater State University each visited the campus and were interviewed by the trustees. Gates withdrew her name leaving the choice between Summers and Krebs.
All three candidates were "outstanding," said trustees Chairman Tyler Fairbank. "I was really blown away by the quality of the individuals."
However, Summers emerged as the clear favorite, possibly dating to the initial interviews of the 13 semi-finalists in Albany, N.Y., two months.
"He just sort of fit right in," Trustee Susan Gold, co-chairman of the search committee, said, adding his vision was very much aligned with the college's.
There was some joking that one or more trustees and search committee members had "fallen in love" with Summers.
"I personally, from the day I met him, I thought Dr. Summers was terrific," said Trustee Jondavid Chesloff.
Fairbank said he wanted to not only vote for someone he was confident was qualified, but someone who excited him, which Summers did.
"I labored personally over my desicion," he said, feeling it was important to select someone who could continue the college's efforts as it begins to harvest the fruit its worked so hard for.
Trustee William C. Dudley, provost at Williams College, said Summers impressed him as a thoughtful and good listener.
"He gave extremely sharp answers with concrete examples drawn from his experience," he said, citing Summers' "fierce commitment to public higher education. He knows it's fragile and is willing to fight for it."
Several trustees commented on his passion for public education, his degrees in both history and physics, his experience in governmental relations and administration, his ability to bring a different perspective, his focus on collaboration and community involvement, and his rapport with students.
Trustee Mohan Boodram, also co-chairman of the search committee, said he had called some of Summers students in Wisconsin. The student government president had told him that Summers "established a relationship of trust and transparency right off the bat."
He also pionted to Summers' involvement in founding A Partnership for Thriving Communities in Wisconsin, designed to foster collaborative engagement with the surrounding towns.
"He started looking to how institutionally they could be better citizens of the area they served," he said. "Dr. Summer was clearly the one with the deeper experience who could hit the ground running."
Summers began as a faculty member in the university's Department of History in 2001. He received his undergraduate education at the University of Akron in Ohio, a master's degree in U.S. history from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and a doctorate in U.S. history from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
The trustees (with Trustee James C. Clemmer participating remotely) took about a half-hour to make their decision before about three dozen members of the college community; much of the "robust dicussion" had been done in executive session last week. Fairbank said a survey had been sent to the college community after the candidates' visits and 187 had been returned for use in the trustees' deliberations.
The board also voted to create a committee to negotiate with Summers on salary and benefits.
Fairbank thanked the search committee, trustees, those providing administrative support and outgoing Commissioner of Higher Education Richard M. Freeland for his "guidance and wisdom."
Stamford Student Makes State GeoBee Semi-Finals
STAMFORD, Vt. — A Stamford School student has been named a state semifinalist in the National Geographic State Bee.
Carter Honig, son of Duncan and Marilyn Honig, will compete in the state Bee on Friday, March 27.
This is the second consecutive year the seventh-grader has been eligible to compete as a semifinalist.
This is the second level of the GeoBee competition, which is now in its 27th year. It is sponsored by Google and Plum Creek.
School Bees were held for fourth- through eighth-grade students throughout the state to determine each school champion. School champions then took a qualifying test that was submitted to the National Geographic Society.
The National Geographic Society has invited up to 100 of the top-scoring students in each of the 50 states, District of Columbia, Department of Defense Dependents Schools and U.S. territories to compete in the state Bees.
Each state champion will receive $100, the National Geographic Atlas of the World, 10th Edition, a medal, and a trip to Washington, D.C., to represent their state in the National Geographic Bee on May 11-13. The national champion will receive a $50,000 college scholarship and lifetime membership in the society. The national champion will also travel (along with one parent or guardian), all expenses paid, to the Galápagos Islands.
Adams Housing Authority Gives Property To Habitat for Humanity
A structure at 221 East Road will be demolished to make way for a net-zero energy two-unit home being built by Habitat for Humanity.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Adams Housing Authority will give one of its properties to Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity so it can build a zero-net energy home.
The Housing Authority at a special meeting Tuesday approved the sale of the vacant 221 East Road property to Habitat for Humanity for $1.
Chairman Mark Covert said the home has been vacant since 2002 and the Housing Authority has been struggling to dispose of it.
"It has a myriad of problems. Essentially it is falling down, it is very old, and we have been trying to dispose of the property for a long time," Covert said. "This has been a thorn in the Housing Authority’s side because we had to take care of the maintenance."
He said this will be the first Habitat for Humanity home in Adams.
The Housing Authority's executive director, Richard Hamblin, said specific legislation had to be created in the fall 2013 to allow for the board to put out an request for proposals to dispose of the property.
"Basically it was couched in terms if you can get an entity that wants to take the property and make it available for affordable housing you can take that into consideration when you offer the property," Hamblin said.
Covert said, in the past, if they wanted to sell or dispose of any property they had to replace it.
"If we took out two family units we would have to replace them with like units and we don’t have the capital to do that," he said. "In Adams, it is hard to do that."
Habitat for Humanity plans to remove the current structure and build a two-story townhouse with two 535 square foot apartments. The estimated total cost for the project is $243,880.
Hamblin said Habitat wants to focus on building a zero-net energy home that has the ability to generate as much power as the occupants consume. If funding is available or grants become available, the group would like to furnish the home with energy-efficient appliances, and efficient hot water heater and pump, and solar panels. Occupants will be educated on how to operate the house at peak efficiency.
"In 2015, that's what you should be doing," he said. "It makes sense because if this building is going to be in place of 40 to 60 years, in 40 to 60 years people are still going to want to be able to live there."
Covert said it is a "win-win situation" because it will only make the home more affordable.
"When they move in and turn on their light switch they should not be worried about turning on their light switch and not being able to afford to pay the electrical bill," Covert said.
Demolition is proposed to start this summer and construction to be complete in the summer 2017.
Pittsfield Group Suggests Limiting Chemical Spraying For Mosquitoes
The Board of Health, Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project Administrator Christopher Horton, and a working group formed by the mayor all discussed the city's efforts to control the mosquito population on Wednesday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — An ad hoc committee asked the Board of Health on Wednesday to incorporate alternative methods into its mosquito controls to reduce the use of chemicals.
Tri-Town Health Director James Wilusz served with residents Kathy Lloyd and Joe Durwin on a working group. He presented the group's findings on Wednesday that called for more education, more alternative uses, and a clearly formed risk criteria that defines when adulticide spraying is done.
"Overall, we'd like to see the reduction of adulticiding," Wilusz said.
Adulticide is a chemical combination designed to kill the adult mosquito; larvacide kills the developing insect.
The group was formed during the winter after heated debates over the use of the chemicals. Opponents argue there is an environmental and health hazard in using them. Proponents said mosquitoes were the hazard, not the chemicals.
Mayor Daniel Bianchi formed the ad hoc group to make suggestions on how to improve the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project's efforts in the city, including the use of alternative methods.
Last summer, a truck mounted with the adulticide spray DUET was used six times before a single case of West Nile virus or Eastern Equine Encephalitis was found. In September, a mosquito tested positive to West Nile and the city was sprayed again. It was the only finding of disease in 2014.
The state Department of Public Health elevates risk levels when a disease is found in two samples or one human case. Wilusz, a former city health director, said there has only been one case of West Nile in a human in the Berkshires and no cases of EEE in the last three years.
"There has not been a consistent documented prevalence of West Nile and EEE," he said.
And yet, adulticide spray was used nine times last year. The Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project responded to 212 calls for service from residents wanting adulticide treatments and 20 properties were served with individual treatments via backpack application.
Wilusz and the group said the Board of Health should only allow the spraying when the health risk has raised according to Department of Public Health standards. Mosquito Control Project Administrator Christopher Horton, however, said he follows recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control in determining when to spray.
"It was a preventative measure. It was not looked at as a nuisance response," Public Health Director Gina Armstrong said.
The Board of Health didn't just look at the population numbers when approving Horton's request but what species of mosquitoes were prevalent. When species that are more likely to carry the disease are prevalent in high numbers, the board decides to spray that area.
Horton says he doesn't prefer the truck-mounted sprayings but it is a tool the project has to use on occasion to keep population numbers under a certain threshold. The project uses a number of techniques to control every age group of mosquito population, he said, using larvacides to adulticides.
"It is a science. We are practioners of science," Horton said. "We know what the mosquito populations are and we want to keep those levels below the thresholds [for common diseases]."
The working group members said they, too, are in favor of controlling the population. But, they want more of an effort to do it without chemicals: pesticides, larvacides, or adulticides.
Lloyd said there are natural items like bacillus thuringiensis israelensis that can help. BTI, as it is known, has been shown to decrease mosquito populations by 90 percent over a decade in areas where it has been applied, she said. BTI is a naturally occurring bacteria in soil.
"It can be spread in wetlands. It can be spread into drainage," she said. "This is a request to re-evaluate how we address mosquitoes."
Wilusz suggest bat houses could be placed in certain areas to help control the population or using rain gardens — all efforts that have proven to work in other areas.
The group said the Mosquito Control Project is short on resources to manage more control systems and suggested that the city allocate some money and work to the Department of Public Works to apply control methods in the storm-water system or in wetlands. Otherwise, the "short-term" sprayings won't make a large impact, they said.
Whatever program the city opts to go with should also include an educational aspect, Wilusz said. The group said it isn't clear whether the city is using the truck-mounted sprays as a nuisance response or a health response.
Using it only when the health risk is raised to DPH's standards would make it clear to the public when and why the spraying is to be done, they said, and residents in areas that will be treated should know exactly what the risk factors are.
Board of Health Chairwoman Roberta Orsi defended the board's decisions to use chemical treatments based on the project's response protocol but was also supportive of trying to incorporate the group's suggestions.
Baker's $38B Budget for 2016 Raises School, City Aid
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled his first state budget on Wednesday, a $38 billion spending plan that give municipalities and schools more money while addressing a $768 million budget deficit.
Unrestricted local aid is being increased by 3.6 percent to $980 million; Chapter 70 education aid is being increased by $105.3 million, including giving school districts $20 for each child.
"Our budget today sets the stage for a competitive and stable economic environment by making investments essential to future growth," Baker said in a statement. "By right-sizing the budget now and investing in transportation, education and our communities, we are making Massachusetts a better place to live, work and raise our families.
"This budget will allow our economy to grow, strengthen our schools, and build healthy communities across the commonwealth."
Most Berkshire communities will see a bump in their total aid of at least a few thousand. Pittsfield, not surprisingly, will see the most gain at $576,960; the smallest, Sandisfield with $411. North Adams and Adams, the two other largest communities, will see bumps of $84,821 and $31,654, respectively. Clarksburg is up $51,000 and Lenox $159,000.
A number of towns are seeing their total aid drop: Otis is down $17,000, Windsor $4,480.
"The cherry sheets are out and it looks like we have done OK with state aid," Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco told the Selectmen on Wednesday. "The schools look like they have taken a hit but I have only taken a quick look at it and it doesn't look devastating."
Indeed, the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District is down $29,000 from this year. Adams-Cheshire is be paying more in tuition for sending children to outside schools and the charter school, while being up only slightly in school choice and other receipts.
All of the regional districts saw their receipts drop with the exception of Mount Greylock Regional School District, which is up $53,627. Mount Greylock has seen a significant drop in tuition for students out of district.
More on the governor's budget can be found here. Below are the cherry sheets (state aid and charges) for Berkshire municipalities and regional school districts. They also can be viewed here.
Mount Greylock presents 'South Pacific'
Mount Greylock students present 'South Pacific: In Concert' on Friday and Saturday, March 7 and 8, at the '62 Center at Williams College.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — War, romance, human frailty and some of the most memorable tunes in the American theater will be on display at Williams College's '62 Center for Theatre and Dance.
Mount Greylock Regional School's spring musical, "South Pacific: In Concert," will be staged at the venue on Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7, at 7 p.m.
Set in an island paradise during World War II, two parallel love stories are threatened by the ugliness of prejudice and the perils of war.
Nellie, a spunky nurse from Arkansas, falls in love with a mature French plantation owner with a past, Emile de Becque. Nellie learns that the mother of his children was a beautiful Polynesian woman and, unable to turn her back on the prejudices with which she was raised, refuses Emile’s proposal of marriage.
Meanwhile, the strapping Lt. Joe Cable denies himself the fulfillment of a future with an innocent Tonkinese girl with whom he has fallen in love out of the same fears that haunt Nellie.
Featuring songs like "Some Enchanted Evening," "Nothin' Like a Dame," "Bali Hai," and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa' My Hair," "South Pacific" won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Libretto for Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers in 1950.
The adaptation Mount Greylock is staging was created by David Ives in 2006.
This production is being mounted by a cast of 24 Mount Greylock students under the direction of Jeffrey Welch. Vocal direction is provided by Kate Caton, and choreography by Ann Marie Rodriguez. In addition, a pit orchestra made up of 17 student and community musicians is being conducted by Lyndon Moors.
Tickets are $6 for students/seniors and $8 for adults and can be purchased at the door on show nights.
Williamstown Housing Trust Awards Second Homebuyer Grant
Affordable Housing Trust board members Stanley Parese, left, and Richard DeMayo. The trustees discussed the parameters of their Mortgage Assistance Program as they voted to award a second grant.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town's Affordable Housing Trust has awarded the second $15,000 grant under its Mortgage Assistance Program.
The program, created last year, seeks to help income qualified first-time homebuyers, people who have been displaced by the loss of a job and former residents of the Spruces Mobile Home Park.
The grant can be used for a variety of purposesto help lower the cost of homeownership.
"This grant will allow the borrower to obtain financing without paying private mortgage insurance," Trustee Stanley Parese said before the board voted on the application last week. "PMI is an ongoing several-year expense that the borrower would have to pay. This will enable this first-time homebuyer to avoid that ongoing expense.
All four of the trustees in attendance at the meeting voted in favor of the grant, but only after the board discussed whether it needs to narrow the parameters of the program.
Trustee Craig Clemow expressed concern that the program could conceivably be used by homebuyers who have low income but significant wealth and asked if the trust receives any information about whether applicants could afford a home "but for" the grant.
"I'd hate us to be at a point where we don't have the full amount [to give]," Clemow said, referring to the trust's finite treasury, which has been built with funds from the town's Community Preservation Act property tax surcharge.
"We're basically saying if someone came in as a first-time homebuyer and had a million dollars ...?"
Parese said the trust's intention was to examine and possibly tweak the program once it started receiving applications.
"You could conceivably have someone with millions of dollars and very little income, but we have not sweated that point because most people with great wealth also have capital gains," Parese said. "The question also came up [during the program's creation] about the magnitude of the house. We wondered if we should say you can't buy a $4 million house with the grant.
"One of the things we resolved to do is refine the program as we experience it."
In other business, Parese reported that the trust's request for for proposals for a partner on the acquisition of a building lot would be posted on the commonwealth's Central Register on March 4 with a reply date of April 17.
The trust has discussed partnering with Habitat for Humanity or another non-profit to acquire a lot in town for the purpose of building a home that would be sold to a qualified buyer and deed-restricted to keep it affordable in perpetuity.
Clarification: A "correction" had been added to this report about who was not eligible for the grant. Initially, Spruces residents had been deemed ineligible but the trustees changed the guidelines last fall. That information had not been been communicated to the town for updating on the Williamstown website. We have removed the correction because the original story is correct.
North Adams Rent Board OKs Increase for Wheel Estates
Mobile Rent Control Board members Suzanne Wick, James Morocco and Chairman Wayne Wilkinson check a spreadsheet prior to the meeting.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Mobile home Rent Control Board approved a $29 monthly rent increase for Wheel Estates Mobile Home Park effective May 1.
Based on review of the park's income and expenses, the board voted to increase the lot rent by $14, and allowed an increase of $15 per month for a capital project, bringing the total monthly rental to $374.
Adding in the city's $9 a month mobile home tax, Wheel Estates residents will pay $383 a month in rent, or $4,596 a year.
The Tenants Association, owners of the park, had asked for a $40 total lot rental increase to cover operations and a $500,000 water line replacement. A number of residents had argued at the public hearing two weeks ago that the increase was too high and complained that some work from the Phase 1 water line replacement had not been completed.
The two increases were applied for separately and the board reviewed and voted on each separately. The board had also asked for modifications and more information for the two applications.
The operations increase was determined by reviewing the $2,736,200 park's income and revenue. The board accepted expenditures of $804,909, including maintenance, salaries, supplies and professional services totaling $426,383 and debt service of $378,526.
Revenues were $774,180, all from rentals of the 187 occupied lots, leaving the park short $30,000. There was some discussion of whether to count all 199 lots but it was decided to calculate the rent increase using only those lots occupied. Dividing 187 into $804,909 resulted in 4,304, divided by 12 months, came to $358.66. The board rounded up the number to $359 a month, up from the current $345.
The same calculation was made with the amount needed to be borrowed for the Phase 2 water line replacement of $462,000. The Tenants Association has already put in about $40,000 toward the $505,000 project, which will complete the line replacements at the park.
"I think that it happens to be the case that they can not move forward unless we move forward," Chairman Wayne Wilkinson said, referring to the Phase 2 capital plan.
Wilkinson said he initially had reservations about approving an increase for the plan because there had been some question of whether the first phase had been completed. The association had received a rent increase for that $1.3 million project when it bought the park in 2013.
"I thought we should wait until the phase had been finished," he said. "I know there are some people who think there are some things that hadn't been done yet."
However, association President Sandra Overlock had told the board its approval was required that night by the loan guarantor, ROC USA (Resident Owned Communities), which had also helped the tenants buy the park.
"I told Sandy that I understood they were between a rock and a hard place," he said, asking for other board members' input.
The board decided to approve the increase, allowing the park to get the loan, but with the condition that any work be completed within the year beginning May 1. Should it fail to be done in time, the board would rescind the increase.
"That's fair but we intend to complete it," said association Vice President Jesse Martinez. He estimated the major part of the construction would be completed in 90 days with the expectation that it would begin as soon as the ground thaws. At the last meeting, he said some minor landscaping and paving from Phase 1 would be done in the spring.
ROC also is standing guarantor that the work will be completed and funding for the project will be doled out in phases.
Cheshire Asks Kinder Morgan For Information Presentation
The Selectmen are hoping to set up informational sessions with Kinder Morgan and its opponents before the town votes its position on the controversial natural gas pipeline.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — Kinder Morgan officals are willing to do a presentation on its plans for a natural gas pipeline — but only if they don't have to share the floor.
Selectman Robert Ciskowski told the board Tuesday that he had recently contacted Kinder Morgan to see when it could send a representative to give a presentation.
The proposed natural gas pipeline will pass through Cheshire along with other Berkshire County communities before heading north into New Hampshire and then to Dracut.
Cheshire would like to set up an informational meeting to inform residents before they hold a nonbinding referendum in the spring.
Ciskowski said Kinder Morgan will give a 15-minute presentation followed by a question-and-answer period, but asked that no oppositional groups be allowed to present alongside. Ciskowski said he would rather have both viewpoints represented.
"If we are going to do a presentation, I don't think we are really going to get the real picture if Kinder Morgan just does 15 minutes and then questions," he said. "I would really recommend that we push them to let someone else present so we can really give the voters both sides of this."
He said Kinder Morgan also asked that the meeting be held like a Selectmen's meeting so people could be "reined in" if need be.
"Right now they don't really want competition," Ciskowski said. "They said they don't want a debate forum, and I am guessing they have done that before and it didn't work out to well for them."
Ciskowski said if it came to it, he would be up to holding two separate meetings but rather they be on the same night.
Chairwoman Carol Francesconi recommended having both presentations on the same night at different times with no interaction between the two groups.
Town Administrator Mark Webber reported his findings from the recent Berkshire Regional Planning Commission pipeline group meeting. The group provides areas affected by the Kinder Morgan pipeline with support and legal counsel.
He said that Kinder Morgan has asked BRPC to provide maps with overlays of the affected communities showing the impact areas. He said the overlays will show wetlands, watersheds, sensitive areas, and existing residential and commercial buildings.
BRPC will give the maps to the communities for local review before they go to Kinder Morgan. He said it will be up to the town to make known any areas of proposed expansion or subdivision, public wells, substandard roads or bridges, and areas important to the town.
"What we have to do is see if there is anything within that impact zone that doesn't show up on the map," Webber said. "It will give the towns the opportunity to be more comprehensive in what the maps will show."
Kinder Morgan will pay BRPC for the service.
Webber said he learned that other pipeline companies may at this point be ahead of Kinder Morgan's Northeast Energy Direct in the race to Dracut. He said BRPC reported that the Access Northeast pipeline has more contracts with gas companies, which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission takes into account when awarding permits.
"I am sure it's like a horse race where it's back and forth, but they have more power purchase contracts with providers than Kinder Morgan does at this point," he said. "That is a key thing FERC looks at."
Webber said 10 municipalities have entered the BRPC group and the cost has been brought down to $4,950 for the remainder of the fiscal year. BRPC expects a few groups from New York to join, which will lower the price even more.
The Selectmen said the proposed solar array project to be built on the Bushika gravel pit property has been cut from 1 megawatt to .5 Mw because the National Grid power lines cannot support the power load.
Webber said the developer believes the town accounts may still benefit from the array, but he does not think other accounts will able to be added.
"People were very interested in what he was saying. A renewable resource for Cheshire that would save residents money," Ciskowski said. "It is most unfortunate."
North Adams Historical Commission Nixes Park Lighting Scheme
The Historical Commission has requested the designers for the proposed Greylock Market use more historically appropriate lighting, similar to the fixtures currently there.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Historical Commission has given a thumbs down on lighting plans for the proposed Greylock Market at Western Gateway Heritage State Park.
The commission, meeting in special session last Thursday, asked that the designers for the project come back with lighting fixture options more in line with the historic venue.
"If we are going to maintain some semblance of what this place was supposed to be ... ," Commissioner Darrell English said. "We know the inevitable is coming down the track but we would at least like to see a vestige of this town's old center maintained to a certain degree."
A private developer, Greylock Market LLC, is finalizing negotiations for a long-term lease with the city to transform the 30-year-old park into a destination artisan market and residential space. Some $6 million in public and private investment is being poured into the park to renovate its buildings and landscaping.
But commissioners agreed that the lighting presented wouldn't fit the former freight yard, whose buildings date the late 19th century and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"The picture shows a modern brick building and a modern bench and it fits beautifully," Chairwoman Justyna Carlson said, referring to an illustration offered by the designers that shows the more modern lighting fixture near contemporary buildings.
It doesn't go, she said, with the park's older buildings.
"I think the main problem with the lights we have now is they were not properly maintained," Commissioner Paul Marino said. "If we got something brand-new like this, it's going to happen again anyway ... can we restore the present lights to their original condition?"
Community Development Director Michael Nuvallie said the current lights are more than 25 years old and in very poor shape. The entrance into the park is being modified to allow delivery traffic to get through so most of the posts will have to be removed anyway.
"They're not worth keeping," he said, adding that any new fixtures would become the responsibility of the tenant. "One of the reasons why the city wants to find a long-term tenant for the park is to keep up the maintenance."
Nuvallie said the lighting choice was less for atmosphere than the acknowledgement that there would be people living in the park who would need good lighting in public areas. The designers believed this option to be the best, he said. "The idea was to make them look somewhat historical."
Carlson pointed out that the widely discussed economic development plans for the city had focused on creating pathways to get people walking between the park, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Berkshire Scenic Railway and the downtown.
"Most of the downtown [lights] are lantern style," she said, wondering if the park could have something similar.
Nuvallie said the goal was a look somewhat between old and new and "to give the park a little different feel from Main Street."
Resident Richard Zona, who attended the meeting, said the selected lighting didn't look very historical.
"It doesn't necessarily have to be an exact replica," he said. "This modernism stuff, it seems to be me it's a little out of place and inappropriate."
The commissioners voted for Marino's motion to be shown more options similar to lights on Main Street before making a decision to approve.
Nuvallie said he would take commission's input back to the designers.
In other business, the commission approved a "simple" safety railing on the roof of the Armory, feeling screening would only attract attention.
The commission also heard a report from Carlson on a meeting of the Western Massachusetts Historical Commission Coalition that had focused on insuring historical properties, disaster planning and groups that will do insurance assessments.
Carlson also spoke on the public meeting held last Wednesday by the Partnership for North Adams on changing the branding of the city, and the commissioners talked about the images presented. They noted that only one of the proposed logos, developed by an outside source, showed the Mohawk Trail and none the river or Hoosac Tunnel.
All the plans, Carlson said, left off the fact that the city was the Western Gateway.
"This was a feeling out of what the public thought," she said, adding that the big thing was that the old North Adams was not the present or the future North Adams.
"I don't think they were in touch with any of us previously ... We'll try to stay on this because this is our job."
Hancock Suing Berkshire Wind Over PILOT Payments
The town of Hancock and the owner of Berkshire Wind are in a dispute over PILOT payments. The Selectmen on Tuesday voted to take the utility to court.
HANCOCK, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday decided to authorize the town's attorney to sue Berkshire Wind Power Cooperative Corp. for back payments from the utility's wind turbine farm on Brodie Mountain.
The action is the latest step in a dispute that stretches back to 2013, the last year of a three-year payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement between the town and the eastern Massachusetts power cooperative.
On Tuesday afternoon, the utility said it has been negotiating with the town in good faith and was disappointed by the board's noontime decision.
"Litigation will increase costs unnecessarily for the town and BWPCC," the utility wrote in a statement.
In addition to authorizing the legal proceedings, the Selectmen voted to return a $147,000 check the town received on Tuesday morning from BWPCC.
The town maintains that the company owes $165,850 to cover its payment for 2014 plus interest.
That is based on the $156,600 annual PILOT program that BWPCC and the town negotiated in 2011, an agreement that ran out after 2013.
Chairman Sherman Derby said on Tuesday the town has been attempting to negotiate a new PILOT since 2013 but has gotten nowhere with the utility.
"We made offers to extend the contract at the same rate," he said. "They rejected the offer. They came back with an offer of a lot less, $100,000. We elected not to accept that.
"They came back with $120,000. We also refused that.
"The last thing we heard was on Feb. 3. Their offer was $150,000 for the delinquent year (2014), $147,000 in 2015, $145,000 in 2016 and $143,000 in 2017. We took that up at the meeting and rejected that."
In an email on Tuesday, the Ludlow-based municipal utility said the $147,000 payment was an interim payment because no new agreement is in place to cover 2014 and beyond.
"BWPCC has been in discussion with Town of Hancock officials regarding a new PILOT agreement since fall 2014," the company's statement reads. "With these discussions continuing into 2015, in February BWPCC issued a payment to the Town of $147,000 as an interim PILOT payment that would be adjusted, up or down, based upon the appraised value in the appraisal report resulting from the RFP or the amount agreed to by the Town and the BWPCC (without a new appraisal) in a new PILOT agreement."
The original PILOT was based on the $55 million value of the turbines, Derby said. BWPCC leases the land, and the town has no issue with the landowner.
The $156,600 annual fee was calculated by applying the town's current property tax rate, which, Derby pointed out, is the lowest in the commonwealth at $2.48 per $1,000.
Derby said that while it is true personal property — like the turbines — depreciate, the utility is generating more power from the 10 turbines than it projected before they were built and if it agreed to another three-year PILOT, it would be able to lock in the current tax rate.
"Do you think Hancock's tax rate is going to be $2.48 three years from now?" Derby said. "They're getting the benefit of that rate for three years. That would make up any depreciation they got."
Derby said the town attempted to have an appraisal of the turbines performed as part of the new PILOT negotiation. But he said it was BWPCC that stalled that effort.
"We had a response back [from the RFP], and the response was they want a minimum of $50,000 to $60,000 plus expenses to do the valuation," Derby said. "We gave that information to [BWPCC], and they were not willing to accept it. And this was from one of the vendors they gave us."
According to the 2011 PILOT agreement, the utility pays the for appraisal report.
The board also voted to retain the services of a prominent attorney who specializes in energy issues to represent the town.
Vincent DeVito of Bowditch & Dewey of Boston will assist town counsel in its action against BWPCC.
DeVito is a former U.S. assistant secretary of energy for policy and international affairs.
DeVito is described as "a corporate and regulatory attorney who represents utilities, corporations, investors, and entrepreneurs in the energy, power generation, and technology sectors in the United States and abroad," the website of Boditch & Dewey, where DeVito is a partner.
Adams Sets Public Information Sessions on Electrical Aggregation
ADAMS, Mass. — The town is holding two public information hearings on Wednesday, March 4, about municipal electricity aggregation.
The meetings will be held at 1:30 p.m. at the Adams Visitors Center and at 6 p.m. in the Selectmen's meeting room at Town Hall.
The state some years ago deregulated the purchase of electricity, allowing residents to shop around for the best rate. A number of municipalities have entered into contracts to provide lower electrical rates to their residents and businesses.
Towns and cities can also join together to purchase electricity. North Adams and Clarksburg, for example, recently joined a 10-municipality electrical aggregation plan with Hampshire Power.
Purchasing power from another provider does not change the utility delivering the electricity — residents would continue to get bills and customer support from National Grid. Residents can also opt out of any municipal plan and select their own power providers at any time.
Any decision to join a municipal aggregation plan would be decided by town meeting. Residents are urged to attend one or both of the public information sessions to have any questions answered. residents would continue to get bills and customer support from National Grid. Residents can also opt out of any municipal plan and select their own power providers at any time.
Any decision to join a municipal aggregation plan would be decided by town meeting. Residents are urged to attend one or both of the public information sessions to have any questions answered.
Pittsfield To Hire Extra Help For Pothole Season
Potholes have already formed in many city roads. And officials are expecting a whole lot more as the spring rolls in.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city is looking to hire two additional crews to help patch potholes.
The city typically has about 10 people from the House of Correction and about eight in the Highway Department working on the holes. Those will be complemented by two additional crews the city will contract.
"We expect this year is going to be a particular challenge because of the cold," Mayor Daniel Bianchi said. "With two additional crews, we should do a bang up job."
The freezing temperatures of this last winter are expected to cause more frost heaving and potholes than in other years. Water soaking into the soil underneath pavement freezes and expands. When it melts, the road erodes.
On top of the frigid weather this winter, the city hadn't done a major repaving project on roads in the late summer and fall because the funding wasn't in place. Bianchi and the City Council hadn't come to terms on the borrowing authority in time for a late summer bid last year.
Bianchi says now more than $3 million in road work is expected to go bid in the coming weeks and the city is using a bump in Chapter 90 highway funds to pay for the additional pothole patching work.
"We hoped for the middle of February [to put the road bid out] but it looks like another week or so," he said.
Highway crews will be looking for the worst potholes on main roads first. Then they'll move to the neighborhood roads. The mayor says residents should report any holes they see.
Meanwhile, road paving construction will begin on others.
"Road work in the Northeast is never-ending," Bianchi said.
In other business, the mayor said the city is in negotiations for leasing terms on a garage for Highway Department vehicles. The previous lease had expired and the city went out to bid a second time for a new lease.
Hancock School Committee Opens Conversation About Expansion
Hancock Elementary's four classrooms house the K-6 program. The School Committee is proposing an addition to provide more classroom space and bathrooms.
HANCOCK, Mass. — The School Committee on Monday explained its rationale for investigating a possible expansion to the elementary school and sought public feedback on the initiative.
"Long-term, we need more instructional space and a couple of other spaces as well," Superintendent Barbara Ripa said.
"Some of you are saying, 'When I was a kid, I was in that building and there were 85 kids and we all fit.' Well, education has changed. The kinds of programs and services we need to provide our students so they have a quality education, that's changed, too.
"So we need these spaces."
The School Committee established a building subcommittee to assess the current facility and look into whether the school could manage in the current space and, if not, what could be done to make the school more functional.
"Out of it came a proposal that we add on to the building in a very efficient, cost-effective addition, an addition where would have one more classroom — because that's what we're always short," Ripa said.
The school currently has four classrooms for the K-6 program. The tuition-based preschool uses a space carved out of the common area in the middle of the school.
That common area, which also is used for gross motor skills and to house the school's library, was the setting for Monday's meeting, at which architect David Westall showed preliminary conceptual drawings of what an expanded Hancock Elementary School might look like.
Westall showed a layout that would add 2,260 square feet with a "very preliminary cost estimate" of $550,000, not including engineering fees, legal fees and furniture.
Much of that cost would go toward solving the current school's issues with restrooms
"We need to redo our bathrooms," Ripa said. "They're not ADA accessible. That means if one of our kids happened to have an accident and broke a leg and showed up on crutches or in a wheelchair, they'd have a hard time using the bathrooms.
"And in this building, there is no adult bathroom. There's a bathroom we use, and it's attached to the health office. It's part of the health office. So if you're dealing with a sick child, you're having competition for that bathroom.
"And the state doesn't allow you to share a bathroom with kids. We make do, but you need proper bathrooms."
The School Committee spent $4,000 from its School Choice receipts to hire Westall to do the conceptual drawings — the first step in a long process that continued on Monday with the meeting to gauge residents' interest.
Most of the attendees did not reject the notion of expanding the school and several commented that the building's current size is a concern.
But the committee did hear some criticism for the process they used to reach a decision. A couple of audience members said the committee should have produced a full, written study of the elementary school's options before even taking the step of developing a concept for the expansion.
The chairman of the Board of Selectmen was one of those calling for more study, and he specifically argued that the School Committee needed to ask town meeting to form a building committee.
"If you find the study has merit and you need space, then you need a professional group to tell you what your alternatives are," Derby said. "You might the alternative to change the interior of the rooms. Your worst alternative would be to close the school.
"This should all be investigated before you spend $4,000 on an addition. I think you're putting the cart before the horse, and you'd know whether the town was behind you if you had started at the annual town meeting."
Another member of audience went a step further than Derby, suggesting that the town might want to keep school closure on the table and determine whether tuitioning children out or joining another school district makes sense.
That notion drew a reaction from Will Clark.
"The school shouldn't be the stepchild of our community," Clark said. "The school should be the reason people move to Hancock. People who are considering buying a home in the community probably stop by the school first to check it out.
"I believe it would have an impact on our home values if we got to the point where we said we don't care enough to have our own school and make sure it's the best school in Berkshire County."
Derby also challenged the School Committee about financing for the project.
"Are you planning on taxation?" he asked. "Have you applied for a grant?"
"We're here to see if there is interest in taking those next steps," Ripa replied.
"You can sell something easier if we're not paying for it," Derby said.
Before moving on to the regular business of its meeting, the School Committee indicated that it is willing to put more time into a written report for residents' consumption outlining the need for an expansion.
"We realize we have not done a full study, and that's a necessary next step," School Committee Chairwoman Patty Bishop said.
Later, during the meeting, the committee agreed to take that step.
"I think it's clear people want more information in writing about the process, the steps we took, the information we gathered, the conversations with the architect," Ripa said.
"Our board is strong, so we will work to persevere and work with [Derby] and work at town meeting," Bishop said.
In other business on Monday, Ripa reported to the committee the result of a inquiry she made to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education about Hancock Elementary's accountability level.
Hancock was classified as a Level 1 school as recently as 2011, but the last three years, it has been listed by DESE as having "insufficient data."
Erica Adametz of DESE sent Ripa an email explaining the change.
"Under our current accountability system, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education only assigns accountability and assistance levels (1-5) to schools that have tested 20 or more students on MCAS in each of the last four years," Adametz wrote.
"Please note that the change between 2011 and 2012 does not signify a decline in performance, but rather a change in our accountability measures and how we classify schools."
"We were never a Level 2 school," Ripa told the School Committee.
The School Committee also set a public hearing for its fiscal 2016 budget. The hearing will be held on Monday, April 6, at 6:30 p.m. The budget is essentially level funded, Ripa said, with one increase of $30,000 for special education based on anticipated increased need for the district.
Adams Field Renovation Plan Makes It Into Preliminary Budget
The Parks Commission hopes plans for the Russell Field renovation stays in the budget.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Russell Field master plan has been written into the town's preliminary budget.
The Parks Commission in reviewing the budget on Monday night said the proposed $15,000 master plan made the first round of the budget process.
During the commissioners' last meeting, they voted to make the Russell Field master plan a main priority. They said they would like to start construction by 2016 and believe grant funding could help renovation of the field.
Chairman Todd Shafer said the budget is still preliminary and they still have to go before the Finance Committee and the Selectmen.
"I guess the end result is that that it is a requested budget at this point and we will have to wait and see," Shafer said.
Russell Field renovations have been a priority request of the Parks Commission for a long time, but it has been always trumped by other projects.
The commission's secondary priority is mulch for the town's playgrounds and maintenance on the town common. These too have been written into the preliminary budget.
The board also approved field request forms for the Lassie League and Little League Baseball but were concern that field condition may cause scheduling issues.
"The fields are going to be wet for a while," Commissioner Jacob Schutz said. "They will be scrambling to schedule all of their games."
Vice Chairwoman Barbara Meczywor said she will not be running for re-election on the Parks Commission but hopes another woman runs to takes her place.
"I guess it is just time," Meczywor said. "I would really like it if another woman would run, somebody with some pep, vigor, and who cares."
Shafer is also up for re-election and said he plans to run again.