Pittsfield Council Presented 100 North Street Plans

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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The mayor gave a slideshow presentation to the City Council on Tuesday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Jeff Clemons assumed the mold issue in the basement of City Hall would be cleaned up when he first took the job. 
 
Two years later, he knows it won't be.
 
Clemons told the City Council on Tuesday that he has been working in unhealthy conditions in the building inspector's department. He cited a 2008 state Department of Public Health air quality study showing poor air quality.
 
And that is why is he is supporting the mayor's proposal to get the employees out of there and into new offices at 100 North St.
 
Cheri Rodhouse agrees and says the air quality is terrible. She too asked the council to move the offices.
 
"I get hit in the face with a strong mold and mildew smell," she said. "In the winter, we choose to wear every sweat shirts and coats because we'd rather freeze than breath the mildew and mold."
 
Mayor Daniel Bianchi said it isn't just a bad work environment for the employees. It isn't good for developers who need to pull permits. Or homeowners. He says there have been contractors refusing to file for permits because they didn't want to go into that environment.
 
"I've talked to contractors who don't want to do business in Pittsfield because of the permitting process," Bianchi told the City Council. "We've got to change that attitude."
 
The mayor plans to move the building, health, and fire inspectors, the permitting coordinator, conservation agent, and the Department of Public Utilities to the new offices. This creates a "one-stop shop" for those needing permits.
 
"In those communities where they have an active business community and a lot of development, the key is to have an atmosphere that is welcoming," the mayor said.
 
Bianchi says the move could ultimately mean more people doing business in the city. The one-stop approach is one piece of being business friendly. With the Berkshire Innovation Center being built, Bianchi expects more and more developers to be in the city.
 
"We are on the verge of a community of really growing. I'd like to think we'll have a lot of developers," he said.
 
The mayor also says there is a need for more space, which the new offices would provide. Later the city is looking to implement new online permitting programs to ease the process even further.
 
When the highway garage burned, Bianchi signed a short-term lease on a new garage. He did the same with the adult learning center. And now, he has reached a lease agreement with Scarafoni Associates for the second floor of 100 North St. — the same building where Bianchi has an office with Global Montello. 
 
The city went out to bid with some very specific requests — at least 9,000 square-feet, located within two blocks of City Hall, handicapped accessible, have men's and women's restrooms, have an elevator if not on the ground floor, two reception areas, 15 administrative offices, five areas for cubicles, one utility room, one staff meeting room, a computer lab, a kitchen and working sink, and be ready for July 1, 2014.
 
Scarafoni was the only one to respond. Bianchi moved $105,000 from the city's contingency fund in the unclassified budget into a contractual services line in the same budget,  and came to terms with a one-year lease with Scarafoni with options for two more following years. 
 
Bianchi hopes the city can build a new police station and renovate the Allen Street station for inspection services.
 
But the City Councilors weren't involved. Councilor at Large Barry Clairmont, a very vocal Bianchi opponent, said the plan calls for $100,000 to be wrapped into the next year's City Council-approved budget. He called on the mayor to answer dozens of questions explaining the move.
 
Clairmont was out of town when Bianchi made his presentation. The mayor says he'll respond in writing to Clairmont's questions later. Bianchi plans to sign the lease with Scarafoni this week and doesn't need the City Council's approval for that.
 
"This is not a lease that needs to be approved because of the length of it," Bianchi told Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, who asked the mayor to put off signing the lease until Clairmont's questions were answered. "There is no need to wait on signing the lease ... We entered into short-term leases often. We do a lot of things operationally often."
 
While Bianchi says the inspectors don't have to be there in the future. Councilor at Large Kathleen Amuso doesn't see it that way.
 
"I know you are signing a one-year lease but it is tough to make a change after you get them into this building," Amuso said.
 
Amuso wanted Tuesday's presentation to have happened before lease agreements were drawn up. The City Council had rejected a capital budget request for $100,000 to renovate a new space for inspection services because the mayor hadn't provided any information.
 
"Originally we did put something in the capital budget as a placeholder ... As it turns out, it wasn't needed," said the mayor about that request. "There will be some moving costs and we have to do some computer work but that can be done with operation budgets."
 
Councilor at Large Churchill Cotton says the move to 100 North St. is a good concept but still lacks detail. He agreed the workers need to be moved but wants a "long-term" solution. 
 
"It is not a long-term solution so I worry about where we will be in three years," he said. "I think we need to get everybody out there as soon as possible."
 
Most of the City Council agreed that the move should be made — particularly after hearing from the workers and seeing the conditions firsthand. But, they are upset about the way it was "rolled out." 
 
"This was elevated to a political issues and it didn't have to be," Bianchi said. "There was no need to roll this out the way you are suggesting.... This is a management move. It was well thought out and well planned out."
 
Meanwhile, Clemons, Rodhouse and the rest of the building inspectors are loading up on sinus and allergy medication while they wait until November for Bianchi to move the offices.

Tags: inspections office,   leasing,   

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