Polito Gets Updates on State-Funded Projects in Adams, Cheshire
She swung by the Adams Visitors Center to get an update on the Berkshire Scenic Rail project for which the state, in 2016, awarded $2.6 million in MassWorks funds to finish the last stretch of the rail and to fund the installation of a passenger platform.
"This was an important project for us," Polito said. "You have private investment in this project and have created a partnership with the business community. It does allow you to brand your community as a destination. All this is evident here and that is why we used MassWorks funds for this project."
The purchase and development of the rail line between North Adams and Adams by the state allowed the nonprofit Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum to begin offering scenic rides that officials in both communities are hoping will draw tourists and spark development.
The railway's Jay Green went over different functions held on the historic Budd Car as well as marketing initiatives.
He added that businesses and hotels in Northern Berkshire county have noticed an uptick in business when the train runs and said the next challenge is to connect the train to Western Gateway Heritage State Park in North Adams and take advantage of proposed development in that area.
"The North Adams end has just as much potential as it does down here, if not a little more because the investments already made into Heritage State Park," he said. "So the hard part is the physical infrastructure because the track that we operate on does not really connect to the park."
Riders would have to cross several active tracks to reach the park; on the Adams end, a new welcome station and platform will be right across the street from the Visitors Center on Hoosac Street.
Polito said she was excited to come back for a ride when the platform has been built and the Hoosac Station is in full working order.
Interim Town Administrator Donna Cesan said the Hoosac Street area is a focus of the town that will act as both a gateway to the train and the eventual Greylock Glen.
"We feel between the train and Greylock Glen, that is going to be transformative for the town of Adams," she said. "It is going to make us a player in Berkshire County tourism. We have never been that before and it will make a significant difference in our local economy."
Selectman Joseph Nowak thanked Polito for paying the town a visit and reiterated how important the glen project was to the town.
"I’d like to thank you for coming and I see that you are always all over the state," he said. "This is just a piece of the puzzle as we are getting more into the tourism game. I just hope you can give us a hand because this project is needed if we are going to move our community forward."
Polito agreed and said it is on the administration's radar. She urged the town to continue to work with its state representatives.
"We are looking at this and I appreciate seeing all of the other assets you have that link into the project. It is very helpful," she said. "We appreciate all that you do to help grow the economy here."
Before heading north to Adams, Polito had been to several smaller towns to sign Community Compacts and was in North Adams to cut the ribbon on the new North Berkshire Academy. She also stopped in Cheshire for a roundtable discussion with the Board of Selectmen. Chief among the topics was education and funding challenges the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District faces.
"I know that there are educational challenges especially with declining enrollment that is a serious issue," she said. "We want to be able to address that and begin to grow enrollment. That is the key: getting families to live here, start their families here and be the next generation that moves this county forward."
Selectman Edmund St. John IV got Polito up to speed with the consolidation of the district and the closing of Cheshire Elementary School. He said the charter school reimbursement formula continues to be a problem.
Polito said she has heard similar stories throughout the region and that the state has invested in studies to survey opportunities for consolidation.
St. John added that although Chapter 70 and 71 funds have not decreased, the community could always use more.
Polito said Gov. Charlie Baker's administration has made an effort to grow local aid by the same rate of growth as state revenues. She anticipated local aid would only increase as it goes through the budget process.
"I don't see, given the rate of growth in our economy, that these numbers will go down," she said.
State Rep. John Barrett III, who was present at the meeting, had a more specific concern with how the funding formula affects smaller school districts.
"We somehow have to create a funding formula that is going to work because it is not working here and when I look at the condition of some of our school buildings, if we don't do something we are going to be in trouble at our funding level," he said. "We have great teachers and students but if we continue to base funding on a number it is going to kill us."
Polito said the administration will continue to work with the community on this matter.
She went on to ask how the town has utilized its Community Compact funds and St. John explained that the funds went toward the development of a Master Plan that was completed last year.
Polito said she was happy the funds were able to help solidify the town's vision.
"That is what is great about the compact program because first of all it is voluntary, and it is funded and it is your choice of what you want to work on," she said. "And with this, you held listening sessions and there was community engagement and you started talking about the future and redefining your vision of what comes next and what you want to work on."
St. John said the plan also outlined ways in which the town can capitalize on its natural resources and the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail.
Polito said a recent "Rail and Trail" initiative could be a benefit to the town.
"We want to enhance and expand the trails networks in our commonwealth," she said. "If we can provide you some assistance with your planning efforts to connect to other public spaces and making these trails more connected throughout the county.
"It is unbelievable how much the communities really appreciate having the amenities the resource and the quality of life that comes from it but also the economic value that it brings to an area."
Town Administrator Mark Webber added the trail ties into the town's pending Complete Streets application that looks to overhaul Depot and Railroad streets, which align with the trail that runs along a former railroad line.
"That makes the neighborhood more accessible ... and with people coming to use the trail, you need appropriate places to park and access the trail," Polito said. "That is great."
Polito also was happy to hear that Cheshire may join the Green Communities program and try to replace its streetlights with LED lights.
"We can help you plan, then we can help you pay for it," she said. "It helps our state meet our energy efficiency goals. We are No. 1 in the country and we would like to stay that way but we cannot do that alone."
Tags: MassWorks grant, polito, state grant,
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