The mayor holds up the floor plan for the second floor of 100 North St. with offices designated to departments and their employees.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Building Commissioner Gerald Garner says his nose can block out the pungent odor that hits him the moment he starts the descent into the City Hall basement.
He hasn't put his finger on exactly what the smell is — some mixture of moisture, mold and poor air ventilation — but it has been strong enough that contractors looking for permitting have refused to go into the basement, where most of the inspectors have offices.
"We're kind of used to it," Garner said on Thursday, as he led a tour around the building inspector's offices.
Garner said he doesn't know everything about radon but he knows the detector the state installed in his office shows more than double an acceptable level.
In another office, he points to mold growing on the ceilings — likely from the basement flooding so often. He knows there is asbestos in the walls and throughout the air system. Nearly all of the pipes drip. The bathroom has basically become a custodian's closet because of the poor condition.
"I've never had a sinus problem in my life until I started working here," Garner said. "It is just not a good environment."
Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood says his office has flooded twice in recent years, destroying supplies and leaving moldy walls and ceiling tiles in its wake.
The city had given the offices a new paint job and some asbestos were abated. But Garner says as soon as the new paint smell wore off, the poor conditions just revealed themselves again.
Mayor Daniel Bianchi says his employees should not be working full time in that environment. And any business seeking permits for a new project or homeowners seeking permits to improve their homes shouldn't have to go into such an environment.
"When you go into a place that isn't welcoming, it sticks with you," Bianchi said. "How many people are discouraged from doing business with us?"
Whether it is the smell or the lack of space to spread out maps or even having to trudge up and down stairs to get to the various offices, Bianchi says it isn't convenient for a contractor. He wants the city to be more welcoming.
The mayor is looking to move all of the inspectors' offices — health, building, utilities, fire, a community development agent and a conservation agent — into leased offices across the street at 100 North St. this fall. The cost would be about $126,000 to rent the space, including utilities, custodial and maintenance, for the first year, with the price dropping in years two and three. A floor plan has already been mocked up to take up the building's second floor.
"It is easy for people to get to and is in a well-maintained building," Bianchi said. "For what we are getting, we are getting a good facility that will be great for customer service and it will be a convenience for contractors."
Bianchi said the expenditure makes sense for business development, managing the city's employees and for constituent services. For big commercial projects, the move create a "one stop shop" for all of the needs. For the employees, they get an improved working environment, which Bianchi said is the second most important thing in getting the most out of workers. And constituents will have an easier time weaving through the bureaucracy of permitting if they want to make improvements to their property.
The city had released a request for proposals for office space and Scarfoni & Associates, a major commercial landlord in both Pittsfield and North Adams, was the only one that responded. The mayor negotiated a lease agreement for $14 per square foot for one year with two subsequent one-year options for $13 a square foot and then $12 a square foot.
The 100 North St. space is ready to be moved into and Bianchi says it won't take any extra time or effort to prepare it. The offices were recently renovated when aerospace company Bae Systems had occupied them.
"We've got the lease in hand and I can sign it whenever," Bianchi said. "I want to make sure we work out all of the bugs."
The storage space for blueprints, which the city is required to keep on file, is nearly full.
The mayor said he is working on the details for each department and permitting operations. He hopes to make the move in the calendar year's fourth quarter.
He doesn't quite know yet what to do with the vacated basement space but says there is a significant need for more storage. Currently many of the basement rooms store legal records and supplies.
"I think it would make sense for storage space," Bianchi said, adding that there are some other opportunities such as offices for board or commission meetings if needed or temporary workers such as accountants.
The mayor says he has been working on the proposal for months. Back in January, he knew he wanted to do something but didn't know where. He requested $100,000 in the capital budget just in case it was needed. The City Council rejected that because the proposal didn't have any details.
Bianchi said that was added to the capital budget before the RFP was released so he didn't have any specific plans then. He just sought the authority to use capital funds. However, Bianchi says the Scarfoni proposal is within the budget.
"I put the $100,000 in the capital budget because it hadn't gone out with the RFP yet," Bianchi said. "We have a lot of things that are authorized but we never spend."
Some city councilors, however, are still upset that they haven't seen the details of the plan. Last Tuesday, Councilor at Large Barry Clairmont filed a petition demanding answers to an array of questions about the move be answered at the September meeting. Further, Clairmont is calling for a "non-binding vote" from the council about the move.
"I think it is important for the mayor to know if he has our support moving forward or not," Clairmont said. "Certainly, this will affect future budgets."