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Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli led the request for more information about the building.

Pittsfield Councilors Calling For Engineering Study On City Hall

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Some city councilors are calling for an engineering assessment to be done on the building. Multiple studies in the past have outlined the conditions and the subcommittee wants to know how much it will cost to fix the issues.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A City Council subcommittee is calling for a comprehensive engineering study of City Hall with cost estimates.
 
The Public Buildings and Maintenance subcommittee accepted a report from Building Commissioner Gerald Garner and Director of Building Maintenance Peter Sondrini that outlined a series of capital needs on City Hall.
 
The subcommittee now wants an engineering firm to assess and outline all of the capital needs so the city can craft a long-term plan to start addressing those concerns.
 
"My feeling is this building needs TLC. I don't know how much TLC," said Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli. "We are all very aware that this building has some obvious problems."
 
The problems outlined by Garner and Sondrini were worse than some committee members expected. While a 2008 state Department of Public Health report showed high levels of radon in the basement and a mitigating system was installed — though two rooms tested above acceptable levels as recent as eight months ago — some committee members said they didn't know about air quality issues in the rest of the building.
 
"We need air exchange in the building," Garner said. "The carbon dioxide levels are not acceptable in 11 out of 15 offices."
 
The air system is of such a need, that Garner said the union negotiated a clause in its contract that the inspections departments cannot be moved back into City Hall's basement unless that system is added. Mayor Daniel Bianchi moved the inspections department to 100 North St. via an administrative order and cited health concerns with the working conditions in the basement as one reason for the move.
 
The decision upset some city councilors who felt they were left out of the loop. Councilor a t Large Barry Clairmont was, and continues to be, particularly adamant about the costs associated with the move and impacts on future budgets. However, Clairmont was one of those councilors on Wednesday who voiced concern with the overall shape of the building and said he was surprised to learn about some of the conditions facing the rest of the structure.
 
"I think this is something we should take very seriously," Clairmont said after peppering Garner and Sondrini with questions. 
 
The basement is most problematic, according to Garner, because of water seeping in through the foundation. He said Bianchi is going to be including money to seal the foundation at the front of the building — behind the stairs — but there are still other areas where water is getting in. Those other areas aren't all known. The water combined with the air system has led to mold growth.
 
"If we don't do anything to address the water problem, it is only going to get worse," said Council Vice President Christopher Connell.
 
Connell is hoping that some work will be done to make the basement useful again, whether it be for the inspectors again for some other reasons.
 
Sondrini said the city has been working to improve the building every year and is making progress in addressing the issues. However, the process is slow because of monetary issues. The air exchange system, which has been cited as a need in numerous reports previous City Councils have commissioned, will need engineering and work throughout the entire building, which is a costly endeaor. How much that costs isn't known because an engineer has never been hired to plan it.
 
"We're not sitting stagnant on the building," Sondrini said.
 
He said each year such things as asbestos abatement is done but there are still a lot left wrapping pipes, in the floor tiles, sprayed on the ceiling, and in places they don't even know about yet. 
 
The city received a quote to upgrade this speaker system in the City Council Chambers.
Meanwhile, the roof was replaced eight years ago, the heating system five years ago, and windows 20 years ago. Sondrini agreed that a lot of the work needs an engineering assessment.
 
"It makes me feel good to know things are in the works," Simonelli said. "It is very important that we know the deficiencies this building has."
 
The City Council Chambers are also eyed for upgrades but not for health or safety reasons. Sondrini is sending a quote to the mayor from Wood Bros. Music to upgrade the audio quality. Currently, the councilor's microphones and the one at the podium are amplified through small speakers that are intended for a home stereo system. 
 
"The speakers and amplifiers aren't designed for this room," said Shawn Serre, Pittsfield Community Television station engineer who helped with determining the needs. 
 
PCTV was consulted on the amplification issue because the amplification levels could cause feedback into its recording equipment. The organization has agreed to foot the bill for mixers that will automatically turn off microphones that aren't being used.
 
"We're actually keeping the city record if you want to look at it that way," said Executive Director Bernard Avalle. "We want to put in a system that works for everybody."
 
Sondrini said with PCTV footing the cost of the mixers, the city will be expected to pay about $3,000 for the speakers and amplifier to raise the volume inside of the chambers. That money would come out of the budget though there is no specific line item for it. 
 
"I think that's reasonable," Clairmont said. 

Tags: capital projects,   city hall,   renovation,   

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