Committee Debates School Project Direction
The School Building Committee debated options for the school project on Wednesday night.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — School officials and the School Building Committee are hashing out an educational strategy that will be financially and politically palatable to voters.
The easiest and cheapest solution is to build or renovate one school; the more difficult, convincing skeptical taxpayers on the need to pass a debt-exclusion override to build or renovate two schools. More than a few at the meeting thought that would be an uphill battle after the recent defeat of a Proposition 2 1/2 override that would have prevented school budget cuts.
School Building Committee member Nancy Ziter, the city's business manager, summed it up: "Are we ready to fight the fight for two buildings?"
The city is looking to resolve the educational needs of 620 students, a number approved by the Massachusetts School Building Authority and based on projected enrollment, the closure of Conte Middle School and the reconfiguration of grades into K-7 and 8-12.
The project, however, has been at a low boil since parents at Sullivan School objected vociferously to the idea of shuttering the 50-year-old hillside structure in favor of renovating Conte as a new K-7 building.
Meeting on Wednesday night, school and city officials failed to come to a consensus on how to proceed despite the already busted timeframe.
"Anymore delay for the MSBA is not a good thing," said Mel Overmoyer, principal with consultant Strategic Building Solutions, who facilitated the meeting. "They are already impatient with us. We have to put to them a new time line and we have to stick with it."
The nearly century-old Conte had been off the radar until Margo Jones Architects began a review of the school district's buildings. They determined that Conte's architecture would fit the grade-clustering concept well and would be cheaper to renovate at $24 million.
Mel Overmoyer of SBS counts votes as attendees deliberated on school options.
Sullivan parents, however, objected when it became apparent Conte would replace Sullivan, resulting in moving the their children to the downtown location.
Renovating or adding on to the multitiered Sullivan is considered impractical and building a new school on the current site or by taking over nearby Kemp Park would cost around $31 million. Some of the higher cost is because of the significant grading and site preparation (which would not be covered by state reimbursement) and for moving the children off-site during construction. Relocating the building to Kemp Park would mean the loss of the ballfield there and a prominent three-story building in the very residential area.
The group did agree on two things: There was support and need for a new or renovated Greylock School and there was no support for 620-pupil school.
But they were stuck on whether to pursue a two-school solution — one that the MSBA has not clearly stated it would support — or do one school, with the goal of doing a second in the future.
Committee member Keith Bona was concerned that the city was gambling with a two-school solution that the MSBA might not reimburse and that taxpayers wouldn't support.
The anticipated cost to the city would add about $70 to the average tax bill, said the city councilor. "When I hear that $70, I know that's just one part of what people are going to get hit with."
Doing one school, on the other hand, would not require a debt-exclusion vote if it did not raise taxes above the levy limit. The city is coming to the end of its debt obligations for the construction at Drury High School and Brayton Elementary, neither of which required votes.
"If we do one school, say $6 million to $8 million, with the debt falling off Drury and Brayton while this project is being completed, that bond is absorbed into the budget," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "The council approves it."
If the city went with one school project, likely Greylock, it could do some repairs at Sullivan in the meantime, said the mayor.
Building Inspector William Meranti, a member of the School Building Committee, warned that any significant repairs would trigger the Americans With Disabilities Act and force the city to spend far more in making the building handicapped accessible.
Building Committee members agreed to return the second week in August to allow some of its newest members to absorb the information provided at Wednesday's meeting.
"We have to get off this fence and say we want something," said committee member Ronald Superneau, who served for more than three decades on the School Committee. "If you're really concerned about something here, bite the bullet."
Council Subcommittee Debates BYOB
Mark and Renee Lapier, right, speak with the General Government Committee of Lisa Blackmer, Chairman Keith Bona and Michael Boland about developing a BYOB ordinance.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The General Government Committee will look for expertise from public safety and the License Commission as it attempts to craft a so-called "bring your own bottle" ordinance.
BYOB restaurants are becoming popular in some areas; Big Shirl's Kitchen is the first in the city to seek guidance on how to operate as one. The committee met Wednesday to begin dicussions on the issue.
State law does not regulate BYOB other than stating venues with alcohol licenses may not allow BYOB. Because it is not covered by state law, municipalities can create ordinances to regulate it.
City Councilor David Lamarre, a former member of the License Commission, questioned the need for a BYOB ordinances when the city has no limit on alcohol licenses. "It just seems to me unnecessary."
Mark and Renee Lapier, owners of Big Shirl's, said they were not oppposed to licensing and regulation but were thinking of the convenience of their patrons and not the overhead that would come with a liquor license.
The small, 40-seat restaurant would have to expand for storage space for alcohol and add anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 to its insurance bill, said Mark Lapier. To cover that cost, "we'd have to push the booze I don't want do that."
Lamarre said the city could lose in meals tax if people began going to Big Shirl's with their own bottles. Renee Lapier said more sales of meals might make up for that.
Committee member Lisa Blackmer said she didn't think BYOB is the tipping point for diners.
"I think people decide to go to a restaurant because of the food," she said.
Committee member Michael Boland worried that too much attention was being paid to the needs of a single restaurant.
"We should be doing what is good for the community, not what's good for Big Shirl's," he said.
Chairman Keith Bona agreed but said the Lapiers' concerns should be taken into consideration. In questioning both the couple and Lamarre, it was decided the ordinance should look at licensing and fees; waitstaff TIPS (alcohol serving) training; state open bottle laws, hours of operation and compliance.
The committee will invite E. John Morocco, retired public safety commissioner, and License Commission Chairman Jeff Polucci to its next meeting in August to discuss the issue in more depth.
|Tags: ordinance, BYOB|
Sons of Italy Sold to Redevelopment Authority
|The Sons of Italy has been sold twice in the last year. The newest owner is the Redevelopment Authority.|
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The North Adams Redevelopment Authority has purchased the former Sons of Italy building for $150,000 from Deborah Renzi and K & M Nominee Trust of Pittsfield.
The money was taken from the HSP/Redevelopment Authority Account, which after the purchase has a balance of $150,000.
In a message to the City Council, Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said the purchase was to ensure overflow parking for Western Gateway Heritage State Park after an attempt to negotiate parking in return for an easement to hook into the city's sewer line.The property was purchased for $75,000 by Michael Renzi and Kurt Hotspot in spring 2010 with the idea of developing the building at 1492 Christopher Columbus Drive. The Sons had put the building up for sale in 2006 as its membership aged and declined. More than half its members were over the age of 80, Sons of Italy Lodge 704 Trustee Paul Catelotti said last year.
Renzi and Hotspot were aware of the septic issues but hoping to overcome them to develop the property into studio or retail space.
Alcombright explained the reasoning for the purchase in his communication to the council, posted below:
Last year, two gentlemen from Pittsfield purchased the Sons of Italy building. As the building had a failed septic system, they wanted an easement to hook on to city sewer. As I thought through the process, I determined that the City has no "legal" parking rights in the Son's lot for what we refer to as the overflow parking for Heritage State Park (HSP).
In the ensuing months, I negotiated with the owners to give the city an easement for the parking in exchange for an easement for the sewer. They would not give the easement. My persistence with wanting the easement on the parking was determined by the following:
1. Parking has always been limited at the park and in that respect, limits potential growth whether owned by the city or held in the private sector.
2. As the Department of Conservation and Recreation has committed to locating a visitors office in HSP in 2013, this will give the park considerably more exposure as the North Side Visitors Center [for Mount Greylock State Reservation] and have the potential of putting tens of thousands of visitors through the park annually.
3. This, combined with the completion of the bridge, potential capital improvements at the park and a good marketing plan could drive more retail or arts-based businesses back into the park, also increasing the need for parking.
Additionally, the Sons of Italy building and land is the only parcel not owned by the Redevelopment Authority from the entrance on West Main all the way down to the Apkin property. There have been discussions with the city and the Partnership for North Adams with respect to future passenger rail and/or some sort of tourist/scenic rail. The Partnership has been in conversation with Pan Am as well as Berkshire Scenic Railroad and while this concept is still far away, it is something that could certainly come to fruition.
With the owners not willing to give an easement on the parking, I could not risk losing that parking and as time passed, the owners threatened to block all parking and access to park customers ... and at one point did chain off the parking. With no clear rights to the parking, I spoke with the city solicitor and he advised me that a purchase of the property would be the best solution and would avoid a court case and prolonged litigation should the owners continue to barricade the lot and prevent HSP parking (which they were prepared to do). The priority then became to find a way to assure the city retain that area and assure adequate parking for the park.
In May, I began negotiations with the owners to purchase the property and last month, I met in executive session with the Redevelopment Authority to discuss the details of that purchase. The Authority approved the negotiated purchase of the Sons of Italy building for a price of $150,000 and authorized me to act on behalf of the Authority through the city solicitor to finalize the purchase. The property was purchased on Tuesday, July 19.
Please know that the funds for this purchase came from the HSP/Redevelopment Authority Account which after the purchase has a remaining balance of approximately $150,000. No "city" money was used for this purchase.
I will be happy to answer any further questions at the council meeting.
Water System Plan Identifies $20M in Repairs, Upgrades
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Public Services Committee on Wednesday reviewed a 20-year capital plan to address the city's aging water system.
The $20 million "wish list" was created by Tighe & Bond with a $10,000 grant through the federal Drinking Water Act. The funds ($7,500 with a $2,500 match by the city) was awarded by the state Department of Environmental Protection in December.
"When I was hired, the mayor made it clear what he wanted to achieve," said Public Services Superintendent Timothy Lescarbeau, who was placed in charge of the DPW last fall. "He wanted to know how bad the infrastructure was in North Adams."
Underneath the freshly paved roads are "time bombs" of crumbling water and sewer pipes, he told the committee, as he and Mayor Richard Alcombright ticked off issues the DPW has been dealing with just since the federal streetscape project has been ending.
On Massachusetts Avenue alone, the city's had to dig up the new road six times since last fall to deal with water main breaks. A 24-inch water main stamped 1882 was uncovered and Lescarbeau searched the National Archives to find a schematic for a gate valve made by a company out of business for a century so R.I. Baker could replicate it. Digging to clean a sewer break on Church Street uncovered old wooden telephone boxes and a 100-year-old gas main that has to be replaced.
Ten percent of the water lines are at least a century old; some 200 hydrants aren't working.
Lescarbeau, who ran the water filtration plant for United Water until the city took it over last fall, said the grant allowed the city take its first step in the capital planning process.
Alcombright said the plan will become part of a 10-year capital plan that will also look at other infrastructure, such as the police and fire stations and the sewers.
"The goal is to put together a high-level planning document," said Thomas D. LeCourt, Tighe project engineer who, with Vice President Dana Haff, explained the findings and recommendations. "It's really a wish list ... There's nothing in this report that obligates you to do anything. We have a schedule with the projects and a timeline but there's nothing saying you have to follow this schedule."
The survey looked at six areas — source, treatment, storage, pumping, distribution, and other — and identified priorities and expected costs.
Among the top priorities is the deteriorating aqueduct linking the Notch and Mount Williams reservoirs. The concrete structure installed in 1917 crosses a ravine. While repairs have been made on it, Alcombright said at least one of the pylons is more rebar than concrete.
The aqueduct and dam improvements are estimated to cost $3.5 million.
Also on the list were pump replacements, security improvements at the reservoir and filtration plant; a new, larger storage tank at Upper East Main; tank resealing; and replacements of meters, valve, pipes and hydrants. The plan recommends setting program goals and determining funding.
"This gives us a snapshot of what the priorities are going to be," Alcomright said of the plan, which committee members David Bond, David Lamarre and Keith Bona voted to recommend to the City Council. "I don't think there was anything shocking in there. We kind of knew what it was, but it puts it all on one place."
LeCourt said the some of the projects could be funded in part by grants or, more likely, through SRF funds. The city's plan will be submitted to the state to help more federal money flow into the state revolving fund.
"The more need they can document that Massachusetts water systems have, the more money they'll be able to get to allocate to communities," said LeCourt. "They're looking for hard numbers that they can use to improve their position to get more money."
But the city would also have to look at bonding or water rates, which would push the burden onto water users.
Alcombright said he was interested in taking the water fees, which currently flow into the general fund, and placing them into an enterprise account. That would limit the use of the funds to water system-related issues only, allowing a reserve to build up toward maintenance and repairs. A number of municipalities use such accounts, including Adams and Williamstown.
"A lot our capital plan will be deferred until we can find money," said the mayor, adding that having the plan in place will be critical to attaining those funds.
Lescarbeau said the repairs — from water breaks to hydrant repairs — will keep going, plan or not.
"I'm going to do what I can to chip away at a lot of this stuff," he said. "I'm not going to wait for a capital plan. If I have the stuff available, I'll take care of it. That's what I was hired for."
The survey will be presented to the City Council at its first meeting in August.
Cascade's Request For Street Name Rejected
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Community Development Committee on Tuesday voted not to recommend a change in name for a section of Grimes Street.
Cascade Paper Co. of 1 Brown St., which has been operating on Brown and Grimes street for more than 80 years, had asked to change the name of Grimes to Cascade Way from the intersection on Brown Street to the point where it takes a turn toward State Road.
The business's offices are on Grimes Street, not Brown Street, said Todd E. Shafer, vice president. "It's little bit misleading because it's not our address."
While the company doesn't get a lot of traffic, "we put our street address on different things and to me it adds a little status to have the street named after your company as opposed to something else," he said.
"I'm pro Cascade," said committee member David Lamarre, who said he worked there as a teenager. "But from a general manner of principal, I'm opposed to renaming city streets. I don't see a real value, I don't see a necessity in it for the company."
The address change would only affect Cascade; all the homes are on or after the turn. However, several neighbors objected, saying it would change the historic and residential character of the neighborhood.
"It is a family-oriented neighborhood, not a business zone," Garry and Mary Robert of 2 Grimes St. wrote to the committee. They were concerned that a new name would indicate the company owned the street and change the character of the neighborhood.
John Larese, who owns his grandfather's house at 4 Grimes St., said the neighborhood had been named in honor of a family that had done much for the city in the 19th century. "There is a lot of history there."
Lamarre said he understood how it might be more attractive to have a street address with the company name but didn't believe it would "make or break Cascade after 80-plus years in business."
Committee Chairman Lisa Blackmer said unless it involved a public safety issue, such as the confusion over addresses on Barbour Street that resulted in part of that road being renamed Brayton Hill Terrace. "I really don't think renaming this street is a good idea."
The committee noted it had also rejected the idea of renaming part of Summer Street for horticulturist Lue Gim Gong.
Shafer said he had hoped that renaming part of the street would continue to honor the Grimes while also recognizing the Wells family's committment to maintaining Cascade in the city even though they have moved away.
"I thought it would be a nice thing for our company; the company's been there for 80 years, and I thought the owners would like it," he said. "The owners live out of state, they are not involved in the day-to-day operations but they are very proud that they keep business in North Adams."
Larese said he would support signage at the four points on Brown and Grimes street indicating the business and the location of its offices.
The committee suggested Shafer contact the Historical Commission to see if that board had any ideas on how better to recognize the company and its history in the neighborhood.
|Tags: Community Development, Lue Gim Gong, Cascade Paper|