By Andy McKeever On: 03:25AM / Thursday April 25, 2013
Joseph Nowak is a lifelong Adams resident who is embarking on his first campaign for the Board of Selectmen.
ADAMS, Mass. — Joseph Nowak remembers when he returned to Adams with a master's degree and struggled to find a job.
"I had a master's degree and I was mopping up locker rooms," he said. "It took me a while to just get a job with the state."
He stayed and worked his way up with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation because he loved the Adams community.
But, things haven't gotten much better in the last 40 years with the major manufacturers moving out of town. There aren't many incentives for a young family to stay.
Now there are run-down apartment buildings, vacant storefronts, farms are going out of business, and there's a transient population and aging infrastructure.
Nowak, with his degree in land use and a history working with the Democratic Party, is running for one of two vacant selectman seats to help Adams return to the quaint New England town that it once was.
"We need a community with a vision. It's a balancing act, we need to promote the town's history as well as look to the future," Nowak said on Wednesday.
It will take a long time for Adams to solve all of its issues but Nowak wants to be part of starting that process by helping to create an "identity."
The biggest problem, he says, is that a simple Google search shows that Adams is cutting its school budget while still having one of the highest tax rates in the county, which is not very attractive to families looking to relocate to the Berkshires.
"We're not able to get people to come to town," he said.
The 61-year-old says the town needs to help get Topia Arts Center up and running. The center has the ability to be an anchor of the downtown, spurring new development, he said, but leaders of the nonprofit are "discouraged." They have not been able to complete the project to renovate the center after investing $1 million of their own money into it. They want the town's help in reeling in state grant money.
"We'd be foolish if we don't try to work with the people who own Topia," Nowak said.
The Greylock Glen has long been seen as the keystone to the town's futures and Nowak wants to support that, too. Hiking trails, an educational center and campgrounds will help draw people to the Berkshires, he said and cited 22 years of working in state parks to show that he has seen the type of draw natural resources have.
However, he is concerned with the plan to build an amphitheater because that would increase traffic on the side streets and cause light pollution. Additionally, he said that if the Glen is developed, there will need to be some type of officer there to keep it from being vandalized.
"I worry mostly about the traffic," he said.
While those two projects should be priorities to start turning Adams around, Nowak said there are "a lot of little things" that he'd like to see to build on what the town already has — such as placing signage promoting that Adams is the birthplace of Susan B. Anthony.
While focusing on the projects already begun, the town needs to continue to look for other businesses to bring in, he said. He said there is a need for a slaughterhouse, a medical marijuana facility and train depot that could work in Adams and town officials should look toward finding those businesses.
"I will promise the people of Adams that I would be creative and innovative," Nowak said. "We have a long path ahead and there is no one big thing that will happen. But we need to get people on the street."
As a member of the Conservation Commission and one of the founders of the Agricultural Fair, Nowak is also very concerned about the future of farmers. There are only two remaining dairy farms in Adams and he would like to set policies to help farmers stay in business.
Those efforts will help broaden the tax base and set the town up for future growth, but he isn't sure if there are immediate ways to lower the tax rate. Town buildings are needed to be repaired and the school needs more funding, he said.
"You are between a rock and a hard place," Nowak said. "If you own property and it is in disrepair, you have to fix it."
Nowak says the town should look to move relatively quickly with tearing down a portion of the Memorial Middle School to alleviate the maintenance costs and build a park area for children at the Youth Center.
The reuse of portions of the building by Ooma Tesoro's and the Youth Center are good fits for those portions of the building, he said, but the rest of the building is too costly to repair.
"It's beyond its life cycle," Nowak said. "It'll be an albatross around the town."
With the Youth Center now leaving the Community Center vacant, Nowak wants the town to move quickly on that, too. If a buyer doesn't appear soon, Nowak wants a salvage company to come help tear the building apart and save what they can.
If the town doesn't start moving in this direction, Nowak fears things will only get worse — particularly with the new Walmart SuperCenter opening in North Adams.
"They don't mind putting people out of business," Nowak said.
Nowak is one of four vying for the two seats on the board. Also running for the position are Donald Sommer, Richard Blanchard and Michael Young. The election is on May 6.
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