NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A presentation by Margo Jones Architects and Strategic Building Solutions on the proposed school building project to the City Council on Tuesday veered little from recent ones to the public and School Committee, and many of the questions covered similar ground.
City councilors and residents quizzed representatives on the costs, efficiency and process. The four options presented stem from a $680,000 feasibility study approved in 2008 that was required for any project approval and reimbursement by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
The city is hoping the MSBA will allow a two-school project to fulfill the state's charge of finding educational solutions to 620 students. Of those options, the preferred one is the construction of a new Greylock School and the renovation of Conte Middle School, both to serve kindergarten through Grade 7.
But the proposed resurrection of the old Drury High School as an elementary school hasn't been welcomed by everyone.
"A fifth option does exist," said John Bedard of Meadow Street. "The same exact solution of the Greylock School by putting a new school at the Sullivan site."
Bedard said the West End has gotten new fields and lighting, and now would get a new school so its property values would go up. But the Kemp Avenue area would lose its neighborhood school and see its the property values go down. And he's argued that downtown Conte isn't safe or appropriate for younger children.
"I see this feasibility study as a last-ditch effort to save that building on Main Street," he said. "... this should be about the children ... anyone who says the children would be better off downtown is either an idiot or a liar."
Councilor Keith Bona, a member of the School Building Committee, said there was no expectation the feasibility study would find a solution in Conte, which was closed as a middle school in 2008.
"Clearly, we thought Conte was off the board," said Bona. "At no point was anyone given any instructions to save Conte ... We thought it was going to be too costly."
Kristian Whitsett of Margo Jones Architects also said Conte wasn't really considered an option but the architects were surprised to find it worked well with the "clustering" configuration for teaching and also offered a way to be "green" in terms of reuse.
The Sullivan site, too, had been studied extensively, he said, in terms of additions and building a new structure but the steep terrain around the site limited location, parking, bus drop-offs and "we couldn't figure out where to put the ballfield."
The SBA will only cover site work up to 8 percent of the construction
Renovating and adding on to the current school would mean five levels that would require children and residents going up and down stairs to get from one end of the school to the other, making it difficult for the gym to be used by the community.
Diane Parsons said she was "biased" against using Conte and council President Ronald Boucher, "a fan of neighborhood schools," asked if there was an option to build a new Greylock and fix up Sullivan if the SBA rejected a two-school project.
Wittseg said they couldn't "spend a little bit" on Sullivan because it would trigger more expensive renovations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Bedard was not convinced of the argument against Sullivan and was getting signatures on a petition to keep the school open.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said another public session on the project would be held on Tuesday, April 28, at 7 p.m. at Sullivan School. "We need people, we need people to give their input."
The agreement sets the property's assessment at $767,200, guaranteeing about $21,000 a year for the next 10 years. Abstaining from the discussion and vote were Councilors David Bond (who works for Scarafoni) and Keith Bona (who rents from Scarafoni).
• The council approved a transfer of $83,000 from the technology account to upgrade the city's aging servers, particularly for the Department of Public Safety. The transfer will leave $50,000 in the account, which is replenished through a percentage of the contract with Time Warner Cable.
Information technology officer Kathy Wall said last week that the funds would be used to replace equipment more than a decade old.
"It's hardware that's going to position us so we can handle all of the infrastructure we have now and in the future," Wall told the Finance Committee last week, including the coming installation of fiber optic in the region. "It's a smart purchase because it's going to let us look at our hardware ... it's looking at all of the infrastructure we have, all of the servers that we have. It is going to give us flexibility for technology coming down the road."
• Set a joint public hearing of the City Council and Planning Board on a proposed zoning change on Curran Highway for Monday, May 9, at 6 p.m.
The new Sony cameras are installed high on each of the chamber's four walls. They will replace the single camera that's been set up for years in the back of the chamber facing the council tables.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council Chambers are being wired up for new sight and sound by Northern Berkshire Community Television Corp.
Four movable cameras — one on each wall — will replace the single camera that's been used for years to focus on the councilors. The new perspective will give the viewing audience a look at those attending council meetings (including yours truly) and closeups of speakers as well as councilors and the mayor.
The public access station's director David Fabiano told us last week that the new $30,000 system should be up and running by the first meeting in April.
"We've been talking about this for a couple of years now," said Fabiano. "We were having trouble where to put the control equipment."
The solution was to wire the controls into the old judge's chamber, unused since District Court moved to the former Sprague research building some years ago. That way, said Fabiano, the camera operator will be in a separate room and will be less of a distraction.
The controller is portable and about the size of a laptop. "Just push a botton and it just goes to the shot you want; it's a much more complex and sophisticated system," he said, adding it could be used for other events. "It should be a pretty flexible system."
The new system will also include goose-neck microphones for each councilor (they've been sharing a couple at each table) and three wireless microphones for speakers that will eliminate wires underfoot and come in handy for giving presentations. Not all the sound equipment may be ready for the April meeting but should be installed not long after.
(An important note, the microphones are not for the audience in chambers to hear the councilors but rather to pick up voice for the television audience.)
The funding comes from the cable company, part of the contract made with the participating towns.
Michael Chalifoux of Vietnam Veterans of America addresses the City Council.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The mayor released a schedule at the City Council meeting on Tuesday for upcoming meetings to discuss building proposals for the school district.
Mayor Richard Alcombright had said last week that the city was hoping to have feedback from the Massachusetts School Building Authority before making community presentations. The MSBA board is scheduled to meet March 30 but the mayor said he did not expect the city to get direction until April.
The city has submitted five options for dealing with the new kindergarten-through-seventh grade configuration, with its preference the renovation of the currently closed Conte School and a new or renovated Greylock School.
The target date for completion is the beginning of the 2013 school year; Alcombright said it was necessary to begin informing the community of the details and seeking support for project.
"The discussion has to be had because of funding down the road," he said.
The mayor had taken some flack from councilors and School Committee members for not being kept in the loop for the project.
The meetings are as follows:
• March 30 - 3:30 p.m., Drury High School auditorium; all North Adams Public School faculty, School Committee, Building Committee and City Council
• March 30 - 6:30 p.m., Drury High School auditorium; community meeting with City Council and School and Building committees
• April 5 - 6 p.m., Conte School, agenda item for School Committee meeting
• April 7 - 6 p.m., Conte School, lower level, School Building Committee meeting
• April 12 - 7:30 p.m., City Hall, agenda on City Council meeting
All of the meetings will include the options being discussed and will include presentations by the project manager and architect.
Council President Ronald Boucher expressed his concern that owners are not being responsible for their dogs, noting messes left on Main Street and an incident over the weekend involving hikers at the Cascades.
"I know if I was from out of town I'd be appalled at that," he said of what he found on Main Street. On Tuesday afternoon, a woman had called saying she and others had been harassed by three unleashed dogs. She had reported the incident to the animal control officer, who had not returned her call, said Boucher.
"I don't think the dog officer is that busy that they can't make a return phone call," said the council president, who added he would follow up through the mayor's office and come back with a communique about signage regarding dogs at Cascades.
Michael Chalifoux of the Vietnam Veterans of America addressed the council about the clean up work the VVA's volunteers and paid staff have doing for years in the city. "What we've found over the last four years is the more we pick up the less people throw it down," he said. The other day, they had filled three trash bags at the cemetery.
Chalifoux also encouraged the city to go after the state aid owed it and said he would return to speak on the failed efforts of the state regarding veterans.
Donna Dickinson said she was speaking on behalf of others who were afraid to come to the council meetings. "Some people, they feel very uncomfortable and intimidated that if they say something the wrong way they'll be told to sit down," Dickinson told the council. "I feel us taxpayers all have the right to come here and join in and be part of the group."
Boucher did tell one citizen to sit down after he began talking about being sexually abused. "This is not the place for this," Boucher told him.
Alcombright read on behalf of Human Services Commission Chairwoman Suzy Helme the seven applicants granted $500 for services benefiting local families: Child Care of the Berkshires, Family Life Support Center, Elder Services, Berkshire Immigrant Center, Berkshire Community Action Council, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and United Cerebral Palsy Fun Club.
The council also:
• Reapppointed to the Hoosac Water Quality District Dr. John Moresi, who has served for 24 years, and Boucher, who has served for 12 years. Boucher abstained from the vote.
• Appointed Alan Horbal and Darrell English to the Historical Commission. All terms will expire in 2014.
• Referred a communication from the council president on adopting state anti-idling legislation to the Public Safety Committee.
• Approved the renewal of a secondhand license for Hudsons antiques shop at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
Councilors Lisa Blackmer and Alan Marden were absent.
Councilor Marie Harpin questioned why relocating and new downtown businesses weren't going before the Planning Board. Councilor Michael Bloom, second from left, worried about micromanaging businesses and Coucilor David Lamarre, next to him, said the Planning Board should be concerned with standards, not matters of taste.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday referred questions about the purview of the Planning Board to the city solicitor.
The request was prompted by Councilor Marie Harpin, who expressed concern that downtown businesses were not being properly vetted by the Planning Board.
"The Planning Board doesn't just fall under the city ordinance; it has to comply with that state law," she said, referring to Chapter 41, Section 81 of the General Laws. "By not coming through the Planning Board, even if it's an existing business, it still has to through for the signage and parking and all those other issues."
Harpin pointed to the recent musical chairs on Main Street in which Shear Madness, I Got Goodies and Shima relocated to larger quarters, and to the reopening of a restaurant on Marshall Street as the barbecue joint RUB.
"I attend every Planning Board meeting and I haven't seen any of those people," she said.
(RUB, I've Got Goodies and Shima submitted letters to the Planning Board notifying the board of changes and two were approved for new signage; Shima kept its original sign.)
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the none of the businesses needed site plan review because they were a pre-existing conforming use.
"When you have an existing business that's basically moving two doors down to expand their business, they don't have to go before the Planning Board," he said. "I don't think we're outside the ordinance and I don't think we're breaking any laws here."
Councilor Michael Bloom, also a local business owner, said the board would not be out of the loop because any business would have to contact the building inspector, who would tell them the planning process.
While Harpin worried about broken rules, Bloom was concerned that the rules would be too tight.
"If we're going to micromanage, it's anti-business," he said. "If you want to have cookie-cutter signs that are all black and gold throughout the entire city, all one exact look, that's your opinion ... I think diversity will attract more people to the city."
Harpin, however, thought the proliferation of colorful nonstandard signs, like those at an Eagle Street pizza parlor, wasn't putting the city in the best light.
"So we become the city of the rainbow," she said. "We have to abide by the rules we set up, otherwise why have them?"
Councilor Lisa Blackmer said she had had a long conversation with former Administrative Officer Jay Green shortly before his departure about site plan review and how the city's practices compared to those of other municipalities.
Blackmer said she was of the opinion that "we're actually lucky that someone didn't have the financial wherewithall to sue us in some cases because of some of the things we denied or hoops we made people jump through."
Harpin said planners had expressed their concerns to her.
As part of the agenda, Robert Cardimino spoke against the biomass plant being proposed across the border in Vermont, citing concerns over air and water pollution, logging and the effect of heavy traffic that will come with it. Alcombright agreed, noting up to 100 trucks a day are expected to arrive at the plant — most of which will come through the city.
The mayor said he has been in contact with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and Williamstown officials and had sent a letter to the BRPC, which has been granted intervenor status, to be included in the consortium.
Cardimino asked the council to adopt a resolution against the plant; Harpin believed former councilor Gailanne Cariddi had started one before taking up her duties at state representative. Alcombright asked the council to keep him apprised of their decision on a resolution or letter "so we're working together on this."
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city administration should look further afield to find more diverse nominations for boards, according to one city councilor.
"Over the last 20 years ... appointments tend to be politically connected," said Councilor Lisa Blackmer at Tuesday's City Council meeting. "What about other skill sets out there? People ask me, 'how do I get involved?'"
The discussion was prompted by Mayor Richard Alcombright's nominations of Joanne DeRose, a member of the City Democratic Committee, and Brian Miksic, head of Develop North Adams and a supporter of Alcombright's mayoral bid, to the Planning Board.
Blackmer said she was sure DeRose would do a good job but that there had been talk of appointing possibly a retired architect, someone who wouldn't have any conflicts, or a citizen with a similar background. She pointed to one individual from New York City who has a depth of experience but whose short time in the city was seen as a negative.
"Typically speaking, if you look through all my board appointments, they all come with people who are qualified and will represent that board in a positive way," said the mayor, who estimated he'd submitted 30 or 40 names over the past year of people he'd worked with on other boards or through his experience with the community.
He'd used the recent semester-opening breakfast at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to solicit interest in serving the city, he added, and encouraged interested citizens to contact him. "We haven't been shy about that, we've kept a list of names of people who call."
Councilor Michael Boland said they had used the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition newsletter to drum up candidates for the new Human Services Committee.
"Pretty much, I see a name in front of us, they seem to be involved in the communty," said Councilor Keith Bona. "We're a small community so it's not unusual for people to be involved in other organizations."
Miksic's involvement with DNA, a local cultural and business association, prompted council President Ronald Boucher to get an opinion from the city solicitor, who suggested Miksic abstain from decision affecting the downtown. Alcombright said he had also suggested Miksic contact the state Ethics Commission. Bona pointed out that Paul Hopkins, vice chairman of the Planning Board and chairman of the Redevelopment Authority, sits on the DNA board.
Council President Ronald Boucher said it may be matter of people not knowing how to get involved.
"I tell them to call the mayor ... but people, I guess they don't know the process of how to get their skills and their interest in the city to be used without being actively involved publicly," said Blackmer.
In other business:
• The city solicitor sent a letter stating that he would have an opinion on a request to switch a parcel owned by Curran Highway Development LLC from industrial zone to commercial at the Feb. 22 meeting.
• The Traffic Commission sent a communique on several areas of concern submitted by former Councilor Gailanne Cariddi. The police put a radar monitor on North Street for a number of weeks to reduce speeding and an issue on Patterson Road had been addressed by the mayor's office. As to oversized traffic using West Main Street to access Route 2, the mayor said there were signs in place now to prohibit such traffic but they could be moved to make them more visible before vehicles enter the roadway.
The mayor also took the time to expand upon complaints of the shortened time for crossing intersections. After discussion with the Traffic Commission, Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco said he would look into adding 5 seconds to crossing time.
Alcombright said the amount of time allowed to cross intersections in the downtown ranges from 28 to 45 seconds depending on location and length. That includes the time when the "Walk" light starts flashing and through the "No Walk," which offers another 10 to 12 seconds to complete the crossing. There were "problematic ones" near Cumberland Farms and the high rise on Ashland Street, possibly because of the number of elderly in that neighborhood, he said.
The mayor also noted that the grates have been removed from the new lights after discussions with the state. There have been complaints that the protective grates made it difficult to see the lights. He said he would look into a comment by Blackmer about the new light's lack of a lefthand arrow from Monument Square onto Ashland Street.
• An application for Edward Tripodes to drive a taxi for Candy Tripodes was filed after the applicant failed to appear for the second consecutive meeting. An application by William Gaudreau to drive a taxi for Lori Smith was approved.
• An ordinance relating to hawkers and peddlers was continued. General Government Chairman Keith Bona said he expected it would take a couple more meetings to formulate language.
:: 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.