Public Safety Committee OKs Montana Parking Ban
The overnight parking ban would cover Montana from Hoosac to Bond, all within the campus area,
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Public Safety Committee will recommend the City Council amend its parking regulations to ban overnight parking on Montana Street between Hoosac and Bond streets.
Instituting a year-round winter parking ban on the residential street comes at the request of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts because of the instances of students living on-campus parking in the street rather than in college parking lots. The overnight parking reduces the spaces for commuter students and residents of the neighborhood, according to college officials.
A couple councilors expressed concern at the last City Council meeting that instituting the ban was forcing the city to deal with student parking rather than the college. They also noted that the city's winter parking ban covered most of the college's academic year anyway.
"If I had another option I would propose it but this seems the least harmful to everyone," said James Stakenas, MCLA vice president of administration and finance, at the Public Safety Committee meeting on Monday. He said the college's public safety department would aid in any ticketing and enforcement.
Committee Chairman Alan Marden asked if the college was looking at long-range solutions for future growth, considering the construction of the new science center.
MaryAnn King, chairman of the Traffic Commission that had previously approved the request, expressed concern that students in the Townhouse dormitories were perforce having to park on the street because only one parking permit was being allowed with each three or four-person dorm.
Stakenas said 25 spots were being added across the street and that that college expected to stay at about 2,000 students over the next five years. However, he couldn't guarantee the ratio between on-campus and commuter students; this year, the number of commuter students has risen.
The committee also approved, pending approval from the state, the painting of the MCLA letters on two crosswalks on Ashland Street near the Townhouses and two on Church Street near the Berkshire Towers and its parking lot.
King said she had spoken to state officials who indicated to her that the state would not approve the lettering because of safety and liability concerns. The state must approve any street changes in the college area.
Stakenas said the college would still submit a letter seeking endorsement. "I'd like the opportunity to try."
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School Committee Endorses 2-School Plan
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee endorsed on Tuesday night the recommendation of the school building committee to pursue a two-school option.
The board reiterated some of the points made during the building committee's session last month in updating School Committee member William G. Schrade Jr., who had not been able to attend.
The school building committee unanimously voted to present the Massachusetts School Building Authority with a $52 million plan to build a new Greylock Elementary School and to renovate vacant Conte Middle School into an elementary school.
Parents of children at Sullivan School, which would be vacated, had expressed doubts about the safety of Conte in the downtown and lamented the loss of a the quiet neighborhood school.
Committee member Mary Lou Accetta said she had spoken to "a couple of dozen" protesting parents who have since been somewhat assured after the superintendent said their concerns would be address.
"I think that has mitigated a lot of the fear," said Accetta, who recalled that "one of the parents from Sullivan spoke very eloquently and said that the essence that was Sullivan School was going to go with it. .. that it wasn't the building but the sense of community."
Schrade his concern was that in voting for two schools, the entire project was endangered.
"I'm a parent of Sullivan; the school is in dire need," he said. "I just don't want to see two schools, actually, possibly be lost because of this situation."
Mayor Richard Alcombright, chairman of the School Committee, said school officials shared the same concern but were swayed by the confidence of Margo Jones, the project architect, that the SBA would at minimum authorize one school.
"She very strongly said if they don't allow two schools you'll get one," said Alcombright. "The hands just went up ... I think the vote was not only affirmative it had a lot of mustard in it."
The city will not know until November if the SBA will approve the project; should the state OK only one school, the mayor's opinion is that it would be Greylock.
"I think if it came down to one building, [the committee would] have to come together again, and take that through and figure out what the best solution is for the community," he said.
The School Committee voted unanimously to support the project; the mayor said he would bring a similar resolution to the City Council.
In other business:
:: The committee is closing in on completing a new policy handbook. The final sections were distributed for review.
:: The committee also discussed changes to policy on renting out the Drury auditorium. Superintendent James Montepare said the major change was to clarify that the very expensive audiovisual equipment was not included. Board members discussed raising the fee of $350 for for-profit renters.
:: The public schools will hold parent orientation programs on Tuesday, Sept. 13, from 6 to 7:30 at Brayton, Sullivan and Greylock elmentary schools. Parent orientation at Drury High will be Wednesday, Sept. 14, from 6:30 to 8:30 and will be preceded by a meeting for seniors and their parents at 5:30.
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School Building Committee Rolls Double
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — School officials rolled the dice on Thursday night, opting to move forward to build a new Greylock School and renovate Conte School into a K-7 configuration.
The School Building Needs Committee voted unanimously to take the riskier road of convincing voters to support the $52 million project rather than an easier path offered by Mayor Richard Alcombright.
The mayor, who is also the chairman of the School Committee, proffered a proposal to only build a new Greylock School — a move that would most likely be supported by the state School Building Authority, not require a Proposition 2 1/2 debt-exclusion vote and postpone a controversial decision between Sullivan and Conte schools for a later day.
"It won't solve but it will help the overcrowding issues," said the mayor. "It will allow the city to move forward with a project while giving us more time to analyze the Sullivan and Conte issues."
Building committee member Matthew Neville, director of facilities for the school system, said Sullivan School was becoming costly to maintain because of heating and other issues.
Committee member Keith Bona, a city councilor, said he supported the idea of doing two schools but didn't feel comfortable rolling the dice on the SBA approving a doubled project or voters giving the financial backing.
"I'm just looking at the special election that just happened and a big part of that was talking about how it would affect the schools and it lost," he said. "I just don't know if we do it all over again it would be much different."
But some of his fellow councilors and School Committee members were willing to throw caution to the wind.
"We need to move forward more boldly," said Councilor David Lamarre, who is running for School Committee this election. "We wring our hands about a lot of issues and a lot things but I think we need political courage, I think we need to recognize this is an opportunity that's not going to present itself to us again anytime too soon."
He advocated for a new Greylock, a option that has had wide support, and renovating the historic Conte over building a more expensive and problematic Sullivan School, despite protests by some parents. "I think it's a fabulous place to locate kind of the cornerstone of our public school system."
School Committee member Mark Moulton said a lot of the love recently expressed for Sullivan School was as much for the administration and staff as the location — and the staff would move with the school.
"I think we've really got to look at what's in the best interest of our schools, what's in the best interest of our kids," said Moulton. "The two-school project — Conte, Greylock — just makes all the sense."
Several others backed that conclusion, including Council President Ronald Boucher, who is running for mayor.
"I think you get one opportunity to do these two building projects," said Boucher, who agreed with Bona that "it adds up to a big number." "I believe you get an opportunity, and the worst they can say is no."
Later, the mayor said he wasn't surprised by the support for two schools, because it was a conclusion the committee had come to months ago.
"I have concerns about the next steps, how we can rally together as a community, rally around this and support it," he said. "Our job was to recommend the best possible educational solution for the students of the city and I think we did that."
Mayor Richard Alcombright proposed just building a new Greylock but in the end, the building committee stuck with its original decision to put forward two school projects.
Trevor Gilman, who came as a skeptic but became convinced of the need, said it was imperative the city's leaders present a united front if they wanted community support. "If we can eliminate the politics and just do what's best for the community then we can get the best thing for my 5-year-old."
Should the SBA reject the two-school project, the consensus at the meeting was to go with a new Greylock School. Another option presented by the consultants to build a larger Greylock for 390 students, reducing Sullivan to 230 in Grades K-5 was rejected as being inconsistent with the K-7 model being established.
The committee took three votes, all unanimous, to submit a two-school project, to reject a Sullivan/Greylock configuration, and to move forward with a new Greylock School and renovated Conte School. The city would receive an 80 percent reimbursement and the preliminary estimated cost to the city would be $10 million to $11 million, or about $70 on the average tax bill.
The City Council and School Committee will be asked to approve letters of support to be submitted to the SBA with the city's preferred options in November. According to the time line, the SBA at its March meeting will give final approval to set the budget and the final scope of the project. A debt-exclusion vote, which would allow the city to raise its levy limit to finance the project, would occur before summer.
"The school option is the best for our kids today and for the next 50 years," said Councilor Alan Marden, recalling how leaders had "the guts" to push for a new Drury nearly 40 years ago.
"We'll get through the financial thing, we'll figure it out. We'll sell it."
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Mattress Company Could Bring 100 Jobs to City
Finance Committee Chairman Michael Bloom and member David Bond endorsed the creation of an economic opportunity area and tax incentive for a company looking to move 100 jobs to the city.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is hoping a Hoosick Falls, N.Y., company will make its beds — lots of them — in North Adams. The move could bring at least 100 jobs.
WCW Inc., a family-owned manufacturer of bedding for hospitals and the hospitality industry, is eyeing the former Sprague Electric building in the Hardman Industrial Park. The growing venture wants to consolidate all three of its current facilities into one operation.
The Finance Committee on Wednesday eagerly endorsed a request by Mayor Richard Alcombright to designate the nearly 100,000 square-foot building and property in the industrial park an economic opportunity area and the accompanying five-year special property tax assessment. A resolution and tax incentive will go before the City Council on Aug. 23.
The incentive is part of a package to sweeten the deal over a competing site in Manchester, Vt.
"[Owner] John Wilkinson really likes North Adams, he's made that very clear," said Alcombright, who was knowledgeable about what Vermont was offering. "I looked at the numbers that he had ... we certainly seemed to be very, very competitive; in fact, I think we're more competitive."
The mayor said the condition and size of the building, the city's lower property prices and taxes, significantly lower state workers compensation rates and state tax credits, and McCann Technical School and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts were all attractors. It also hasn't hurt that Housing and Economic Development Secretary Gregory Bialecki has spoken to the Wilkinsons on the city's behalf.
In a letter of intent to the mayor, WCW President Jeffrey Wilkinson wrote, "this project would involve the purchase of an existing building suitable to allow the relocation of our entire operation and staff. This would involved relocation of approximately 100 jobs with an annual payroll in excess of $4 million."
Local and state officials have been working with the company to bring the deal to fruition over the past six weeks.
"This is by far the most exciting, encouraging thing since ... Mass MoCA," said Councilor Keith Bona.
Michael L. Vedovelli, regional director for the state Office of Business Development, said the City Council's approval will be necessary to wrap up a package including state tax credits by a September deadline for the Economic Assistance Coordinating Council.
"It's viewed as a three-way partnership with all parties coming together," he said, describing the state's package as "aggressive."
Where a TIF, or tax increment financing, agreement allows reductions on capital investments, the STA provides for property tax discounts over the entire value. That's important, said Alcombright, because investment into the building is expected to be small while the assessment on the property is $2.2 million.
WCW mattresses are sold to hospital and hotels — and exported to China.
"The STA will provide, I believe, the incentive we need to have this company locate in North Adams," said the mayor. "Their commitment, on the other hand, is the purchase of the building, capital improvements, corporate growth and expansion of jobs over time."
The STA would would tax the company at 25 percent increments, starting at 0 and ending at 100 percent over the five years.
John Wilkinson has been in the bedding business for some 30 years; WCW was established in 1992 and holds 16 patents for various types of bedding and mattresses. It currently operates an administrative headquarters and a manufacturing facility for sewing, foam cutting and assembly in Hoosick Falls and customer call center in Bennington, Vt.
WCW is looking to relocate before the end of the year and the former Sprague building is "the perfect size" for them, said the mayor. The structure is about 20 years old; it has been vacant for some years but is in good condition. It also has space to the south that would allow for future expansion.
About 80 percent of current jobholders are expected to follow the company; that percentage would decrease as jobs opened for local residents and the company expanded.
Alcombright and Michael Nuvallie of the Office of Community Development toured the facility last week and were impressed with the operation. In addition to being family owned and an American manufacturer (that exports to China), the company is very green: everything is recycled, it's very clean and it uses nontoxic materials.
"I think everybody in this city is ready for some good news," said Bond. He asked, "is there any way for the council, the community, to communicate with this company and really let them know ... how well received they would be?"
"I think supporting the STA shows how committed you as a council and the city of North Adams are toward this project," said Vedovelli, "and if you're talking about welcome, I think that's a very strong sign."
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School Building Committee Sets Meeting
I. Call to order
II. Reading and Approval of Records
a. Minutes of 27 July 2011
III. Project Status Overview
IV. Project Scope – 620 vs. 310 student school/s solutions
V. School building options: Greylock, Sullivan and /or Conte
a. Building Committee vote on size of project and choice of school building/s
VI. Schedule – MSBA Feasibility Study Extension Timeline
a. Building Committee vote on approval of schedule to complete Feasibility Study and Schematic Design Phase
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Building Committee will meet Thursday, Aug. 11, at 6 p.m. in the lower level conference room at Conte Middle School.
School officials are expecting to continue the discussion on the school building project's direction taken up at the last meeting.
Officials are debating the wisdom of moving forward with a two-school solution for the educational needs of 620 pupils in Grades kindergarten through 7. While the Massachusetts School Building Authority has agreed on the number of students and the continuation of the K-7 alignment, it has not specifically endorsed a two-school solution.
Sullivan School parents have also forcefully rejected the idea of closing Sullivan in favor of a more cost-effective Conte School renovation. The general consensus has also rejected building one large school but there seems to be agreement on either renovating or building a new Greylock School.
School officials are now debating whether to proceed with two schools, which would require a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion vote and an inevitably controversial decision on Sullivan or Conte. The other option would be to put forward one school, which would likely not need a debt exclusion vote but would only solve the educational needs of half the students.
The MSBA's approval in either instance is not assured.
School and city officials are looking to the public for more input and residents are encouraged to attend next Thursday's meeting. The project status from the last meeting is below.
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