An unnamed volunteer, left, Barbara May and Kait Cornell look over plans for the park. Behind them is Lorraine Maloney, in red.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — On Saturday morning, if you drove down Main Street or past the post office you probably noticed a lot of activity going on at the corner of Main and Ashland streets.
A local group, Develop North Adams, and volunteers were hard at work rejuvenating a pocket park for the whole community to enjoy.
Coordinators Glenn Maloney and Kait Cornell worked for three months to plan the day. With the help of donors and volunteers, in the span of one day they transformed what had been a plot of overgrown bushes back into an inviting urban gathering place complete with chess table.
Why? "We realized that rejuvenating the life in our downtown was imperative," said Maloney. "As a community we need to have simple reasons to come together, we need to have a reason and a place to interact and get to know one another. If we are going to grow as a community we need to have a sense of community and make an attempt to know and like each other. We have a beautiful city center, a perfect place to walk, sit, chat.
"We also hope by learning to gather we could begin to support our local small businesses and shops better. We talked about benches and flowers. People came to me wanting to donate money for benches; we then realized that there was a huge amount of interest in the project."
A number of benches have been installed around the downtown in the past year and a pocket park created on Eagle Street in a lot left vacant after the Tropical Gardens pet shop building burned.
DNA has plans to continue, Maloney said.
"We have a growing base of muscle. MCLA's Community Day of Service is a part of the Greenspace Initiative, helping to maintain the spaces. Pat Wol has joined our group and will be working with the veterans agencies to put together a plan to better maintain the veteran's park. She helped us discover an unused park improvement donation fund; there will be some improvements coming to the veteran's park very soon."
Maloney said as the details are finished and the last bench installed downtown for this year, the group will begin to identify to the next project, possibly small quick projects and maybe one larger project.
"Our goal is simple: Get people to come together, give whatever it is they can give, be it money, time or positive energy and use it to make our community a bit prettier."
If you'd like to get involved, donate or just keep tabs on the group you can visit the DNA website.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city begins work Monday night on its first master plan in 40 years.
The public is encouraged to attend and participate in the session on July 11 from 7 to 9 at All Souls Church (St. John's Episcopal). The session is being facilitated by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
The work so far is being done through two grants from the BRPC. The first was used for the BRPC to map out a long-range planning strategy; the second will move the public input, or "visioning" sessions, along. The city will seek a federal grant to begin implementation.
"We're looking for just thoughts and ideas," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "It will really highlight on the six or seven things, the economy, sustainability, and all the other things we've been talking about."
The plan is being developed in conjunction with Sustainable Berkshires, a new long-range regional plan that will take a more comprehensive look at the county by including health, environmental, education, economics and other concerns.
The first visioning session for Sustainable Berkshires was held Wednesday at All Souls Church; companion sessions are set for Tuesday and Wednesday in South and Central Berkshires.
"I hope people are going to come with ideas and just open this up and see where we're going to go from here," said the mayor.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The installation of a solar array at the landfill will heat up opportunities for residents, businesses and the city to take greater advantage of sun power.
Blue Wave Capital, with partners Consolidated Edison, installer Alteris Renewables and engineering firm Tighe & Bond, was selected by the city to install a 2 megawatt array at the landfill. The installation, one of the largest per capita in the state, is expected to generate between 25 and 30 percent of the city's power.
"This seems to be the perfect partnership," Mayor Richard Alcombright told the City Council on Tuesday. "I don't think we find a stronger financing partner than ConEd."
ConEd is financing the project and will lease the landfill and own the array, selling the power back to the city at a locked-in, lower rate over the next two decades. The city could have the option of buying the array after six years.
"Three out of every four years, electricity prices have gone up," said John DeVillars, manager of Blue Wave Capital, in presenting the project to the council. "It will be a very precise price ... it's a hedge against what every energy economist predicts will be substantial increases."
Alcombright and DeVillars said they were looking at other municipal locations, such as the airport, former wastewater plant and Drury High School, as possibilities for arrays.
DeVillars said once the municipal side was done, Blue Wave would work with the city in outreach to the community on solar use. Alteris Renewables, the region's largest solar panel installer, has a "zero down" program for residences and businesses. Working with SunRun, a provider of residential solar electricity, homeowners could apply for solar installations for minimal or even zero investment.
Further, DeVillars said for every five homeowners who sign on for a panel, the partnership would donate one for a community or municipal facility.
"This hasn't really been tried yet in the way we envision this," he said. "We hope we could use it as a community organizing tool."
For example, parishioners could band together to target a church or hall for solar; a neighborhood could select community center or city building.
In response to a question from Councilor Alan Marden, DeVillars said the installation would create short-term jobs as Alteris is committed to subcontracting with local companies to install the arrays.
DeVillars expected the array to be up and running by the end of the year to take advantage of state and federal tax incentives.
In other business:
• Discussed changes to a vendor bylaw were postponed until July 12. The issue was raised last summer but stalled in the General Government Committee.
"I don't think there's an easy answer to this; currently, what's in the books is working, there's some flexibility there," said committee Chairman Keith Bona. "We can still talk about it in General Government more ... .
The mayor suggested it be postponed to "see how things go through the Wilco weekend."
• An order on renaming a section of Summer Street for former resident and horticulturist Lue Gim Gong was filed at the motion of Councilor Michael Bloom. Bloom said there did not appear to be support on the council or in the community for the change but urged historian Paul Marino, who raised the idea, to work with the Historial Commission on a more appropriate memorial.
• The council adopted the state's anti-idling law at the behest of the Board of Health and on the recommendation of the Public Safety Committee. The "adoption" merely indicates support for the law, which is in effect statewide.
• Approved an economic development opportunity area for the North Adams Transcript site on American Legion Drive and minor changes suggested by MassDevelopment to the tax incentive financing agreement with Scarafoni Associates that will allow the property to be purchased and renovated for the Brien Center.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city's going to "take a step back" from the school building project.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said a press conference regarding the project will be held Friday at noon to explain the whys and wherefores.
The school building committee and its designers have come under withering fire from parents and neighbors of Sullivan School on Kemp Avenue when it became apparent it would likely be sacrificed for the renovation of Conte Middle School.
During a three-hour meeting last Thursday, parents hurled charges that the committee and designers hadn't spent enough time on finding ways to renovate the school. They oppose sending youngsters downtown to Conte, which had operated as a high school and middle school for nearly 100 years, but never as an elementary school.
The designers and school officials, including faculty, say the hillside school is problematic because of its multiple levels and limited expansion options because of the steep grade.
In an email announcing the press conference, Alcombright said the decision was being made in consultation with Superintendent of Schools James Montepare.
"This time will allow the design team to more fully explore Sullivan School options and will allow us to meet on any new proposals," he wrote. "Upon receipt of new design options, we will re-engage the School Building Committee, School Committee and City Council through public process as well as convene additional public sessions with the result being more significant and consistent support."
The mayor said he and the superintendent would be available for questions on Friday.
Parents and residents raise their hands to ask questions about the school building project at Sullivan Elementary School.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Parents and neighbors of Sullivan Elementary School expressed their displeasure for nearly three hours on Thursday night at the idea of closing the school in favor of resurrecting Conte School.
"This is a safe neighborhood and a great place to have a school," said one man. "Why are we going to invest in a school that's falling apart? ... I would rather have a new school rather than have a middle school in the middle of town."
More than 60 parents and community members, the largest crowd so far, sat at lunch tables in the stuffy Sullivan cafeteria to hear the latest presentation on options to deal with the closure of the middle school, which happened two years ago.
The architects flipped through the school buildings noting the pros — strong neighborhoods, good bones — and the cons — the lack of energy efficiency and program space, and outdated design. In the mix are Greylock and Sullivan elementary schools and Conte for five options for renovation and rebuilding to address the educational needs of 620 students.
Superintendent James Montepare, Mayor Richard Alcombright and Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco answer questions from citizens.
Renovating the century-old Conte in the downtown has emerged as the preferred option over Sullivan's problematic configuration of levels and tight space on the side of a hill.
While there has been little debate over renovating or building new at the Greylock site, the possibility of closing the 45-year-old Sullivan on quiet Kemp Avenue and sending the kindergarten through Grade 7 pupils to Conte has alarmed some.
Parents raised concerns over traffic, safety and small children walking to the downtown location. "I don't want my daughter walking down Eagle Street," said one. Another mother spoke of seeing suspicious characters watching the middle school children exit Conte when it was open.
Superintendent James Montepare said school officials were discussing the issue of children walking downtown, which has been raised as earlier sessions, but disputed the idea of people "lurking" about the school.
"There was always a police officer in the school and a police officer on the corner in a cruiser waiting for the kids to [get out]," said Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco, who conceded there had been problems with the middle school children.
"They were old enough to be trucking around by themselves," he said. "I do not see that problem when you're talking about grammar school children."
But the commissioner got into a bit of a shouting match with City Councilor Lisa Blackmer, who pointed out that two sexual assaults on children had occurred near Conte and at the library across the street.
"The one thing I keep hearing about is public safety," said Blackmer. "And the fact that nobody considered the traffic astounds me."
Morocco retorted that the downtown "is as safe as it ever was ... You show me the figures that show me it's not safe."
Blackmer said Sullivan should have more represention on the school building committee.
"I don't think anybody is really listening to their concerns," she said. "I have real apprehension about kids this age being in the downtown."
The school building committee and some city officials were pleased to see Conte as one of the options, but Sullivan supporters accused school officials of pushing the renovation of the former high school over Sullivan.
"It feels like the powers that be prefer Conte," said Angelica Parades, who said she'd rather see her son go to the Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School — on busy Commercial Street in Adams — than go to Conte.
Former Mayor John Barrett III weighed in, suggesting holding off on the project and ensuring the preservation of the neighborhood schools.
"I don't think we should kick the can down the road for the next generation," he said, urging the School Committee to have an "open and transparent vote" on their preferred option. "I think that the Conte School can be used for a better purpose."
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the question was not can we afford it, but "can we afford not to do it?" The MSBA's 80 percent reimbursement may not be there in the future and constrution costs are likely to rise, he said.
John Bedard, a frequent and outspoken critic of the plan, warned that voters won't forget if Sullivan closed.
"If you do push this agenda through you know it will be against the will of the people and it will show in the next election," said Bedard. "I probably have 400 signatures on a petition to save this school ... I'll drive this down to Boston to the MSBA to prove that we don't want this."
Montepare countered that other than Bedard and Thursday's audience, he had received no calls or emails against the Conte option.
"I'm not the one who's pushing Conte; all the questions that have been coming my way have been about Conte," said Montepare. "I'm happy to have two neighborhood schools anyplace."
:: 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.