School Building Committee Rolls Double
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — School officials rolled the dice on Thursday night, opting to move forward to build a new Greylock School and renovate Conte School into a K-7 configuration.
The School Building Needs Committee voted unanimously to take the riskier road of convincing voters to support the $52 million project rather than an easier path offered by Mayor Richard Alcombright.
The mayor, who is also the chairman of the School Committee, proffered a proposal to only build a new Greylock School — a move that would most likely be supported by the state School Building Authority, not require a Proposition 2 1/2 debt-exclusion vote and postpone a controversial decision between Sullivan and Conte schools for a later day.
"It won't solve but it will help the overcrowding issues," said the mayor. "It will allow the city to move forward with a project while giving us more time to analyze the Sullivan and Conte issues."
Building committee member Matthew Neville, director of facilities for the school system, said Sullivan School was becoming costly to maintain because of heating and other issues.
Committee member Keith Bona, a city councilor, said he supported the idea of doing two schools but didn't feel comfortable rolling the dice on the SBA approving a doubled project or voters giving the financial backing.
"I'm just looking at the special election that just happened and a big part of that was talking about how it would affect the schools and it lost," he said. "I just don't know if we do it all over again it would be much different."
But some of his fellow councilors and School Committee members were willing to throw caution to the wind.
"We need to move forward more boldly," said Councilor David Lamarre, who is running for School Committee this election. "We wring our hands about a lot of issues and a lot things but I think we need political courage, I think we need to recognize this is an opportunity that's not going to present itself to us again anytime too soon."
He advocated for a new Greylock, a option that has had wide support, and renovating the historic Conte over building a more expensive and problematic Sullivan School, despite protests by some parents. "I think it's a fabulous place to locate kind of the cornerstone of our public school system."
School Committee member Mark Moulton said a lot of the love recently expressed for Sullivan School was as much for the administration and staff as the location — and the staff would move with the school.
"I think we've really got to look at what's in the best interest of our schools, what's in the best interest of our kids," said Moulton. "The two-school project — Conte, Greylock — just makes all the sense."
Several others backed that conclusion, including Council President Ronald Boucher, who is running for mayor.
"I think you get one opportunity to do these two building projects," said Boucher, who agreed with Bona that "it adds up to a big number." "I believe you get an opportunity, and the worst they can say is no."
Later, the mayor said he wasn't surprised by the support for two schools, because it was a conclusion the committee had come to months ago.
"I have concerns about the next steps, how we can rally together as a community, rally around this and support it," he said. "Our job was to recommend the best possible educational solution for the students of the city and I think we did that."
Mayor Richard Alcombright proposed just building a new Greylock but in the end, the building committee stuck with its original decision to put forward two school projects.
Trevor Gilman, who came as a skeptic but became convinced of the need, said it was imperative the city's leaders present a united front if they wanted community support. "If we can eliminate the politics and just do what's best for the community then we can get the best thing for my 5-year-old."
Should the SBA reject the two-school project, the consensus at the meeting was to go with a new Greylock School. Another option presented by the consultants to build a larger Greylock for 390 students, reducing Sullivan to 230 in Grades K-5 was rejected as being inconsistent with the K-7 model being established.
The committee took three votes, all unanimous, to submit a two-school project, to reject a Sullivan/Greylock configuration, and to move forward with a new Greylock School and renovated Conte School. The city would receive an 80 percent reimbursement and the preliminary estimated cost to the city would be $10 million to $11 million, or about $70 on the average tax bill.
The City Council and School Committee will be asked to approve letters of support to be submitted to the SBA with the city's preferred options in November. According to the time line, the SBA at its March meeting will give final approval to set the budget and the final scope of the project. A debt-exclusion vote, which would allow the city to raise its levy limit to finance the project, would occur before summer.
"The school option is the best for our kids today and for the next 50 years," said Councilor Alan Marden, recalling how leaders had "the guts" to push for a new Drury nearly 40 years ago.
"We'll get through the financial thing, we'll figure it out. We'll sell it."
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Redevelopment Planned for Former Dealership
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Scarafoni Associates is planning to demolish parts of the former car dealership on Union Street and redevelop the rest for commercial use.
The proposal was to be presented to the Planning Board on Monday night but was postponed after one of the planners fell ill and the meeting was adjourned.
"It will allow us to do something with a piece of property that's been sitting there for awhile," said David Bond, who does commercial leasing for Scarafoni Associates.
The first tenant will be J Star Gymnastics, owned by Jonathan Girard. Girard said he closed his studio on Curran Highway about a month ago because the space wasn't working out. "We didn't want to close but it was something that had to be done," he said.
He's hoping to move his growing business — 60 students now and a cheerleading group — into the Union Street complex "as soon as possible." The move will require a special permit from the Planning Board to operate a gymnastics studio in an Industrial-1 zone.
Scarafoni and Associates is proposing to redevelop the former Chevrolet dealership on Union Street into commercial space. The building to the left, which sustained structural damage during the winter, will be torn down to provide more parking.
J Star will move into the 18,000-square-foot building along Union Street but won't take up the entire structure. Bond envisions using the rest of the building — showroom section of the former Shapiro/Gateway Chevrolet — for community or recreational uses such as Zumba classes.
Bond said the work will be done in phases, with the demolition of the sections of the buildings in poor condition. The garage area next to the showroom facing Canal Street was severely damaged from this past winter's heavy snow and is scheduled to be removed this month, pending approval by the Building Department. An older section between the Windsor Mill and the dealership on Union will also be demolished.
The property was originally part of the Windsor Mill until being operated as a car dealership since the 1940s. It's been sitting empty since Gateway moved out several years, part of a countywide consolidation of new car dealers.
Parking spots will replace the torn-down buildings and the property will be subdivided into three separate parcels, each with a building ranging from 12,000 to 18,000 square feet. The entire property is just under six acres.
Bond said the parcels could be further divided into commercial, retail and light industrial space with leasing or sale costs based on renovation requirements. It will be done in phases with plans by Westall Architects and will include landscaping along Union Street (Route 2).
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Council OKs Land Buy; Handicapped Signs Coming
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday night authorized the mayor to buy a section of the parking lot of the Armory for $1.
The .166-acre plot should have been included in the city's purchase of the former National Guard Armory on Ashland Street several years ago. Mayor Richard Alcombright said Michael Nuvallie of the Office of Community Development had worked over the past year with the state Division of Capital Asset Management, which set the value at $18,000 after an appraisal was done.
"This parcel is obviously very important to the project and while erroneously omitted from purchase, it was pretty clear we would have to pay," the mayor read from his communication to the council. He credited Daniel Bosley, former state representative, for getting the priced dropped to a dollar in one of his "last legislative efforts" and saving the city $18,000.
The Armory is currently undergoing an extensive renovation through the use of federal and state grants with the idea of using it as a community or youth center.
A proposal for a hawkers and peddlars ordinance that's been floating around for most of a year was filed at the request of the mayor.
"We've been successful just by monitoring them and running them through the Board of Health," said Alcombright of food vendors operating at events in the city. General Government Committee Chairman Keith Bona and committee member Lisa Blackmer concurred that there had been no issues to date. The mayor said he will meet with Bona and Tourism and Cultural Development Director Veronica Bosley to craft a city policy for vendors.
Councilor Marie Harpin expressed her concern over the continued detioration of the Hoosac Mill and the safety of the sidewalk area where parts of the roof had collapsed over the winter. The mayor said he would be meeting with the owner and the building inspector on Thursday and that jersey barriers would replace the current plastic fencing to prevent people from using the sidewalk.
Councilor Alan Marden asked about the disappearance of the handicapped parking spots on Main Street. The mayor said the spots still existed but the signs had not been installed.
"Everything we paid so much attention to for ADA compliance ... and handicapped parking signs were not drawn on the plans," the mayor said. "We've gotten that resolved."
In the meantime, he reminded those with handicapped plates or placards that they could park in any spot, not just the designated ones.
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Two Challenge Alcombright; Barrett Tries For Council
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — This year's municipal elections should prove interesting, with a mayoral preliminary and a full slate for council that includes the state's longest-serving mayor.
Should all of the City Council candidates be certified, it will result in one of the largest fields in the past decade. At least three newcomers will be elected.
Mayor Richard Alcombright will face off against Council President Ronald Boucher and newcomer Robert Martelle in September; the two highest votegetters will go on to the general election in November. Alcombright is seeking a second term in the corner office while Boucher is completing his sixth term.
All three mayoral candidates have been certified and will appear on the ballot.
Among the 18 candidates who have turned in papers for City Council, the standout name is John Barrett III.
Barrett served 13 terms as mayor before being ousted by Alcombright in 2009. It's been rumored for months that he might run for office again, possibly taking on Alcombright for a rematch. But Barrett, who's recently showed up at City Council meeting to chastise its members, waited until deadline day to take out and return nomination papers for council.
He's not the only political veteran to delay a decision. Alan Marden, Marie Harpin and Michael Bloom, all with seven or more terms under their belts, hadn't planned on running this year until it became apparent that next year's City Council would be light on experience.
Councilors Lisa Blackmer, David Bond and Keith Bona were the first to pull papers; Blackmer is seeking a third time, Bond his second. Bona is also seeking a second term although he has past experience on the council.
Michael Boland and David Lamarre, who was appointed to fill the seat left vacant by state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi earlier this year, have both declined to run again. Lamarre, however, will seek a seat on the School Committee. Boucher is running for mayor.
Another council veteran who returned papers, Diane Gallese-Parsons, served three terms a decade ago. Past candidates running include Gregory Roach and Eric Buddington, along with newcomers Nancy P. Bullett, Robert Cardimino, Chatherine Chaput, James B. Gyurasz, Michael Hernandez, Jennifer Breen Kirsh, Kellie A. Morrison and Gail Sellers.
The nine highest vote-getters will be elected to the council. One more candidate would have triggered a preliminary election since 18 is the maximum. However, only seven of the 18 candidates have so far had their nomination signatures certifed by the city clerk's office: Buddington, Cardimino, Bond, Gyurasz, Bona, Bullett and Kirsch.
Three people, Shane Gaudreau, Roland Gardner and Brian Flagg, took out papers but did not return them.
Returning papers for School Committee are incumbents Mary Lou Acetta and Lawrence Taft; William B. Schrade Jr. decided not to stand for re-election. Newcomers challenging the incumbents are Lamarre, Tara Jacobs and Leonard Giroux Jr.
George Canales is running for re-election to the McCann School Committee, leaving one North Adams seat empty because Hernandez is running for City Council.
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Planning Board Meeting Cut Short By Illness
Planners Joanne Derose, Wayne Wilkinson and Paul Senecal with a rendering of the west side of the Blackinton Mill.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board's Monday meeting was cut short after one its members became ill.
Planner Kyle Hanlon became ill and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. With Planners Joseph Gniadek, Paul Hopkins and Donald Keagan absent, it was determined that a quorum was not present and the meeting was ended after 15 minutes.
Chairman Michael Leary, left, and Planners Kyle Hanlon and Brian Miksic listen to David Moresi, at left. Shortly afterward, Hanlon excused himself.
The board had just wrapped up a public hearing on an application for a special permit for residential units in the Blackinton Mill when Hanlon excused himself. David Moresi of Moresi Associates, who was representing Magid Mill LLC in the hearing and is also a paramedic, was called into the hallway to assess Hanlon and an ambulance was called to City Hall.
Prior to that, Moresi had been presenting a proposal for six 1,000-square-foot loft/studio units in the Massachusetts Avenue mill. Moresi said the artists lofts, the only residential spaces allowed in an industrial zone, are the second phase in the redevelopment of the historic mill.
"We have to basically market this toward an artist clientele in this particular zoning," he said. "With the Williamstown Theatre being there, with another entity we're in discussions with, it ties in well."
Williamstown Theatre Festival set up its production facilities in the mill earlier this spring. Moresi said since April, "just north of $500,000" has been invested in the building.
Planner Wayne Wilkinson asked if the exterior and landscaping will be completed before the lofts are. Moresi said it would be done in tandem but the west side of the building is dependent on the owners reaching a deal on city-owned land abutting the property.
Nor would the development of the units be dependent on purchase agreements since they will be rentals, he said. "We get a lot of calls, believe it or not, from people looking to rent studio space."
He did caution that while the owners were eager to start, they were cautious businessmen.
"They are ready to move forward ... obviously, the global economy, the national economy plays a big role as it does in any significant development project," Moresi said. "Obviously, the news over the past few days (in the stock market) makes us all step back a bit but they're pretty excited."
Also postponed was an application by Snoford LLC for a special permit to operate a package store, by request; a hearing on a special permit for Bark-N-Cat to move from Eagle Street to 28 Holden St.; and a hearing on a special permit for J Star Gymnastics to operate at 69 Union St.
Editors' Note: all the cases were approved at the rescheduled meeting the following week.
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