NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Remember movie nights at Coury's Drive-in, or its sister the Hoosac Drive-in just south of the border?
Ahh, those days are long gone for the city. Or are they?
Area residents can get a taste of what it's like to watch a movie under the stars on Friday, Aug. 5, when "The Great Waldo Pepper" screens on what Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is touting as the "largest movie screen in the Berkshires": the airplane hanger at Harriman & West Airport.
The museum is sponsoring the 1975 Robert Redford film on the 90-by-22-foot airplane hanger door. Seating will be on the tarmac, so moviegoers are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets to sit on.
"The Great Waldo Pepper" appropriately features then-hearthrob Redford as a World War I flying ace turned 1920s barnstormer and offers up some daring pre-CGI flying feats (all on a $5 million budget!).
To get in the mood, the evening will begin with a display of planes and antique cars. The first 100 kids will receive balsa-wood gliders and will be able to compete for prizes for the longest flight, best acrobatics and worst crash.
Local vendors will be selling hot dogs, hamburgers, snacks, soft drinks, beer and wine, and, of course, popcorn.
"It's not quite a drive-in since you can't watch the film from your car, but it's close," said Joseph Thompson, director of Mass MoCA. "Pack your cars with family, friends, chairs and blankets, see a spectacular film under the stars, and check out the airport scene."
Gates open at 7; a selection of flying cartoons begins at 8:15 and the main feature starts just after 8:30.
Tickets are $7 for adults and $3 for kids; or load up the car for a special price of $14. Tickets are available only at the door.
In case of rain, the film and all activities will be moved to Sunday, Aug. 7.
The city has named the generic 'Airport Road' after Alfred F. 'Budd' Dougherty, longtime Airport Commission chairman, who was surprised with the honor on Wednesday. At right is current Chairman Jeffrey Naughton.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Alfred F. "Budd" Dougherty's long had a vision of where the airport should be — and now he's got a sign to show it.
The road to Harriman & West Airport will be named Budd Dougherty Drive in honor of the longtime member and chairman of the Airport Commission. Dougherty, appointed to the board by former Mayor Richard Lamb, was presented with the sign on Wednesday to mark completion of the long-delayed runway reconstruction project.
The nearly $6 million mostly federally funded project had been in the planning stages since at least 1985; it was mid-90s before serious effort began and only this year that the more than 4,000-foot relocated and re-engineered runway was completed, bringing the airport up to current Federal Aviation Administration safety codes. It wasn't soon enough for Dougherty, however, who retired from the board in 2008 after 30 years.
Brian Smith, left, of Gale & Associates, Mayor Richard Alcombright, city Administrative Officer Jay Green and Naughton spoke about the runway completion with a Beechcraft as a backdrop. The weather was too wet to be on the runway.
"I worked with Budd for 10 years," said Brian Smith of Gale & Associates, the consultant hired nearly 15 years ago for the project, who joked, "he kept saying he wasn't going to retire until the runway was done ... but he finally gave up on us."
Occasionally drowned out by the roar of engines being tested outside the hanger of Turbo Prop East Inc., local officials thanked all those involved and stressed not only the dedication of Dougherty but the importance of what Mayor Richard Alcombright has described as one of the jewels of the city.
"We thought it would be appropriate after so many years of starts and stops, designs and changes and ups and downs, we finally have a beautiful runway out here and to commemorate the fact that this project has come to completion and fruition," said Jeffery Naughton, the commission's current chairman.
It hasn't been easy. The effort to upgrade the 60-year-old airport became bogged down in controversary shortly after Phase 1 began in 2000. The location of the runway and its safety areas sparked contention between the city and Williamstown — whose trees were slated for cutting to accommodate the changes. The result was several years of talks, redesigns and lawsuits.
"For several years in a not-so-friendly environment, you stood for what you thought was right and kept the legs under this project," said Alcombright of Dougherty. "You put yourself in some very unenviable positions to see that this wonderful expansion and improvement poject was completed.
"You knew as many of us do how important this airport is to the city and to the greater Northern Berkshire community."
• 1940: 1,400-foot Greylock landing strip created
• 1946: City creates Airport Commission
• 1950: City acquires land and strip expanded to 2,200 • 1951: George West's Mohawk Aviation builds hanger & fueling station • 1958-59: More land added, approaches cleared • 1985: Obstructions removed, road built • 1995: Gale & Associates hired • 2000: Environmental permitting begins • 2008: Runway safety areas begin construction • 2010: New runway completed
Airport Manager Mathew Champney said people overlook the fact that the facility brings in money to the region both from the businesses already located there and the people who fly in for work or pleasure.
"The [Williamstown] Theater Festival, for instance, these people are going to the theater, they're spending money at the theater, they're going to dinner, they're paying money in their fees to the city, and their taking on gas."
Once the safety areas are completed in the spring, Champney said the runway will be able to accommodate larger aircraft, "which I think is going to increase the larger traffic, which I think will benefit this community."
Both Champney and Dougherty said the community doesn't grasp what a resource the airport is — and can be. Champney speculated that it was difficult to break through people's conceptions; Dougherty wished North Adams businesses would use it more.
"When I first became involved here, the airprot was producing a great deal of money for the city of North Adams because we do charge for all the work that's done here and all the planes that come here," said Dougherty. "Because of what's going on economically, it has certainly lowered down but it has served the businesses in North Adams and Williamstown ... I'm certainly disappointed Williams College doesn't use it more."
Michael Sarrouf, an airline pilot who started flying with his father out of North Adams and later worked for longtime pilot and former airport manager Peter Esposito, said Harriman & West was a great place to learn to fly.
"They always said if you learn to fly out of North Adams, you can go anywhere because this isn't the easiest airport to fly out of at times but it's great for training," he said. "It's an outstanding airport for sharpening your skills."
All three agreed some kind of outreach was needed to bring more attention to the upgraded facility. "We need to find a way to market the airport more to people in New York and other places to get them in here," said Sarrouf.
After many thank-yous, including to former Mayor John Barrett III, U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, and the many agencies, officials, consultants, community, neighbors and those who use the airport, for their commitment and input, support and tolerance, Dougherty had a small gift of his own.
The former chairman pulled out 50th anniversary hats, mementos that had become tied to tragedy when the airshow celebrating the airport's golden year a decade ago ended when two planes hit, killing their pilots. It seemed the start of cloudy days for the airport.
"I saved these and have one for each member of the Airport Commission," said Dougherty, rewinding the prop a bit, "and one for Jay [Green].
Now, with the completion of the runway, the airport is looking toward safer flying and bluer skies.
Mayor Alcombright says the aged concession and public bathrooms at Fish Pond are an embarrasment.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday will be asked to authorize up to $150,000 in borrowing to update Windsor Lake (Fish Pond) and its campground.
Mayor Richard Alcombright told the Finance Committee on Thursday afternoon that the money would be used to revamp the two bathroom buildings at Historic Vally Campground and build a new concession stand and bathroom facility closer to the beach.
"The idea is how can we renew the excitement and enthusiasm about the lake," said the mayor. "It's a beautiful, beautiful place."
Alcombright said the two bathroom buildings built in 1969 are in a state of disrepair; the concession stand and public bathrooms at the lake "are in deplorable condition, they are embarrassing quite honestly."
The concession and facilities were built in 1959. They are now located far away from the public beach area as is the playground equipment.
"It's inconvenient, it's old, it's nonfunctional," said the mayor. "Considering the idea is to enhance the lake, to remarket the lake [we would] build a new concession/restroom building on the green space as you walk toward the beach."
The estimated cost for refurbishing and making the campground bathrooms handicapped accessible would be $60,000; building a new one-story concession modeled after the one at Noel Field about $70,000 to $80,000. The playground would be moved and needs new equipment.
A possible beach volleyball court could be put in but Windsor Lake Recreation Commission Chairman George Forgea said that would not be included in the borrowing. "There may be other ways to do that."
A lot of the exterior work would be done by McCann Technical School students and most of the rest done by city workers. The cost would be primarily materials.
Revenues from the lake and campground go into the general fund. Forgea said the campground "is nowhere near the capacity of the revenue it could generate." But the park is in dire need of upgrades beyond just the bathrooms: its roads and buildings need serious upgrading as do the sewer and electrical.
"The wiring goes back to 1969," said Forgea. "We had several campers who came up and found we only had 20-amp service and turned around and left."
The campground isn't prepared for the larger campers and their multiple appliances. Forgea said the idea isn't to turn the campground into a "Disneyland" but to make it attractive to the types of people who are coming to spend money at places like the local museums and theaters. They're not coming in tents, he said.
Of the park's 100 campsites, 48 were occupied by seasonholders but the remaining 52 had only a 30 percent occupancy rate.
Some changes are already under way. After operating on a cash only basis for decades, campers will now be able to use charge cards, make reservations online and, more importantly, be required to make deposits. A new management team will take over in the spring as well.
Finance Committee members were in favor of the investment because of the likely future return.
"Any money spent on the lake is money well spent," said committee Chairman Michael Bloom.
In other business, the committee voted to recommend borrowing for $650,000 to complete the the $6.3 million airport project. The matter was referred to the committee at the last council meeting.
"It's our obligation as a city to finish this airport," said the mayor. "This is an amount of money we can work with to get this done."
The city would use $150,000 to complete its 2.5 percent match of the runway funding (another 2.5 percent is being paid by the state and the rest by the federal government). The balance of the borrowing would used to pay any overruns regarding the Runway Safety Areas.
The RSA work is currently in litigation over a dispute with a subcontractor regarding the design and amount of work needed to complete it.
"The bonding request that the mayor sent [the council] is larger than the estimated local share of the project," said Administrative Officer Jay Green. "That is to have a buffer zone to make sure we're covered."
Not all money may be used, he said, because there is a federal wetlands grant for the project that may provide more funding. The city's attorney is in talks with the subcontractor to reach a settlement.
Mayor Richard Alcombright will address the health coverage of elected officials at this week's City Council meeting and request the approval of a municipal health-insurance agreement with MIIA.
The issue raised some controversy earlier this year when it was discovered a number of officials had taken advantage of the city's benefit health package — at a time when taxes and fees were being hiked to cover a significant budget shortfall.
The benefits have been in place for some time and reportedly fall under state Chapter 32B, which also covers employees, retirees and spouses of retired or insured workers. Alcombright said he would bring a policy to the council that would go into effect on Jan. 1.
(We tried to search 32B for the pertinent language but the Legislature's new website for the General Laws is much more difficult to navigate and time-consuming to load. We give it a thumbs down for user-friendliness.)
He'd said several months ago that he wanted to review the policy and, if it were to be discontinued, give those covered enough time to make arrangements for alternative health insurance coverage.
The mayor is also bringing a request to borrow $650,000 for the Harriman & West Airport improvement project, which includes a half-million to cover an overrun. The state and city are each responsible for 2.5 percent matches on the $5 million project; the feds were picking up the balance.
However, the mayor writes that only $150,000 of the borrowing will fulfill the match. "The $500,000 is quite honestly an overrun and represents the completion on the Runway Safety Area (RSA) which has been problematic since 2009. There is a new design for the RSA and we are hopeful on two front: first, that $500,000 will complete the RSA and second, that the FAA may infuse additional funds to help defray these additional costs," he wrote.
Also on the agenda for the council's decision is an ordinance to place delinquent sewer fees with the real estate tax bills; several ordinance amendments for second readings; the appointment of Joanne Hurlbut to the Historical Commission for a three-year term; and the discussion of tag sale and other signs left hanging around the city.
:: Preliminary Election: Deadline to register is Wednesday, Sept. 7. (Office open from 8 to 8.)
:: General Election: Deadline to register is Tuesday, Oct. 18
Registration can be completed at the city clerk's office at City Hall.
Absentee ballots are now available at the city clerk's office for the Sept. 27 preliminary city election. Voters may come in between the hours of 8 and 4:30 weekdays. Written reguests for mailed ballots can be sent to City Clerk's Office, 10 Main St., North Adams, MA 01247. Deadline for absentee ballots is Monday, Sept. 26, at noon.
The preliminary election will be held Tuesday, Sept. 27, to narrow the field of three mayoral candidates to two. The general election to select nine city councilors and a mayor will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8.