Parents, Neighbors Argue for Sullivan Option
Parents and residents raise their hands to ask questions about the school building project at Sullivan Elementary School.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Parents and neighbors of Sullivan Elementary School expressed their displeasure for nearly three hours on Thursday night at the idea of closing the school in favor of resurrecting Conte School.
"This is a safe neighborhood and a great place to have a school," said one man. "Why are we going to invest in a school that's falling apart? ... I would rather have a new school rather than have a middle school in the middle of town."
More than 60 parents and community members, the largest crowd so far, sat at lunch tables in the stuffy Sullivan cafeteria to hear the latest presentation on options to deal with the closure of the middle school, which happened two years ago.
The architects flipped through the school buildings noting the pros — strong neighborhoods, good bones — and the cons — the lack of energy efficiency and program space, and outdated design. In the mix are Greylock and Sullivan elementary schools and Conte for five options for renovation and rebuilding to address the educational needs of 620 students.
Superintendent James Montepare, Mayor Richard Alcombright and Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco answer questions from citizens.
Renovating the century-old Conte in the downtown has emerged as the preferred option over Sullivan's problematic configuration of levels and tight space on the side of a hill.
While there has been little debate over renovating or building new at the Greylock site, the possibility of closing the 45-year-old Sullivan on quiet Kemp Avenue and sending the kindergarten through Grade 7 pupils to Conte has alarmed some.
Parents raised concerns over traffic, safety and small children walking to the downtown location. "I don't want my daughter walking down Eagle Street," said one. Another mother spoke of seeing suspicious characters watching the middle school children exit Conte when it was open.
Superintendent James Montepare said school officials were discussing the issue of children walking downtown, which has been raised as earlier sessions, but disputed the idea of people "lurking" about the school.
"There was always a police officer in the school and a police officer on the corner in a cruiser waiting for the kids to [get out]," said Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco, who conceded there had been problems with the middle school children.
"They were old enough to be trucking around by themselves," he said. "I do not see that problem when you're talking about grammar school children."
But the commissioner got into a bit of a shouting match with City Councilor Lisa Blackmer, who pointed out that two sexual assaults on children had occurred near Conte and at the library across the street.
"The one thing I keep hearing about is public safety," said Blackmer. "And the fact that nobody considered the traffic astounds me."
Morocco retorted that the downtown "is as safe as it ever was ... You show me the figures that show me it's not safe."
Blackmer said Sullivan should have more represention on the school building committee.
"I don't think anybody is really listening to their concerns," she said. "I have real apprehension about kids this age being in the downtown."
The school building committee and some city officials were pleased to see Conte as one of the options, but Sullivan supporters accused school officials of pushing the renovation of the former high school over Sullivan.
"It feels like the powers that be prefer Conte," said Angelica Parades, who said she'd rather see her son go to the Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School — on busy Commercial Street in Adams — than go to Conte.
Former Mayor John Barrett III weighed in, suggesting holding off on the project and ensuring the preservation of the neighborhood schools.
"I don't think we should kick the can down the road for the next generation," he said, urging the School Committee to have an "open and transparent vote" on their preferred option. "I think that the Conte School can be used for a better purpose."
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the question was not can we afford it, but "can we afford not to do it?" The MSBA's 80 percent reimbursement may not be there in the future and constrution costs are likely to rise, he said.
John Bedard, a frequent and outspoken critic of the plan, warned that voters won't forget if Sullivan closed.
"If you do push this agenda through you know it will be against the will of the people and it will show in the next election," said Bedard. "I probably have 400 signatures on a petition to save this school ... I'll drive this down to Boston to the MSBA to prove that we don't want this."
Montepare countered that other than Bedard and Thursday's audience, he had received no calls or emails against the Conte option.
"I'm not the one who's pushing Conte; all the questions that have been coming my way have been about Conte," said Montepare. "I'm happy to have two neighborhood schools anyplace."
|Tags: Conte, Sullivan|
North Adams School Committee Has Open Seat
A vacancy is opening up on the North Adams School Committee. Committee member William G. Schrade Jr. sent us this statement on his decision not to run over the weekend at our request and it got buried in our email, as so many things do, before we had a chance to post it. Our apologies to Mr. Schrade.
Schrade told us he wanted to spend more time with his family and focus on his job as a program manager with the North Adams Housing Authority. He wanted to get the word out early that he would not stand for re-election to give time for other interested citizens to decide if they would like to run.
The School Committee is made up of six four-year elected positions and the mayor, who is automatically the chairman. There has been little changeover in the committee in the past decade. Schrade's stepping aside offers an opportunity for a new viewpoint on the board, something that the three-term board member encourages.
Schrade writes that:
|While I have enjoyed my 12 years with the North Adams School Committee, I have decided not to run for re-election. This is a decision that I do not take lightly after so many great years in this position.
There comes a time when a new and fresh perspective would be welcome to the School Committee. I encourage people to think about the contributions and ideas for the N.A. school system that they might bring to the table and consider running for this office.
My decision is both personal and professional. My intention is to more fully invest myself in my work with the North Adams Housing Authority and to have more time with my family. I would like to thank everyone I have worked with including two mayors, two superintendents, many School Committee members and most importantly the staff of the North Adams Public School System.
April 28, 2011, 3:36 p.m.: Updated to correct length of terms
Cab Complaints Concern Public Safety Committee
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Public Safety Committee is looking into complaints made about the local taxi service.
Written and oral complaints had been received by city councilors, said Chairman Alan Marden, but not by the Police Department.
City Council President Ronald Boucher, attending the meeting, said the complaints related to customer service, such as inconsistent fares and smoking by the driver. The city had banned smoking in cabs by both drivers and passengers a decade ago.
Marden said he'd also been given two very specific complaints about cabs not servicing handicapped customers.
The board agreed it was a matter of compliance and voted to have Marden do a site visit with the company to "get their side of the story."
The city only has one taxi service now, American Cab & Livery Co. Boucher said there had been talks with Rainbow Taxi of Pittsfield to open an office in the city to offer competition, but nothing came of it.
Board members noted that the taxi company provides an important service to residents.
"It's not the best of economic times to be operating any business and they do provide a public service so we should try to work with them," said Marden. "But we definitely do not let this go by."
The board voted unanimously to "adopt" the state's anti-idling statute passed in 2009. The measure prohibits the idling of a motor vehicle for more than five minutes unless related to repairs, deliveries and pickups in which the motor is the only power source available. Fines range from $100 to $500.
The measure, and a similar one banning idling motor vehicles at or near schools, was enacted to limit pollutants. The Board of Health had asked the City Council to take up the matter and enforce it for health reasons.
"It may not be required but as a courtesy to the Board of Health, we're going to adopt it," said Marden.
|Tags: taxis, anti-idling|
School Project Session Set for April 28
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city will hold another community forum on the elementary school building project on Thursday, April 28, at 6 p.m. in the Sullivan Elementary School cafeteria.
Presenters will include Carl Weber of Strategic Building Solutions, hired as project manager, and architects from Margo Jones Architects. Mayor Richard Alcombright, Superintendent of Schools James E. Montepare, Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco and members from the School Building Committee, North Adams School Committee and City Council will also be on hand.
City officials strongly encourage all citizens to attend the meeting in order to have questions answered and to offer input on this project.
Residents will be updated on the project, including the options being presented to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The MSBA, which is reimbursing 80 percent of eligible costs, was to have made a decision in March but has delayed a final review. School and project officials are pushing for a "two-school" solution for 620 pupils and believe that may be why the MSBA is taking longer to finalize construction. The state agency will make the final decision.
The preferred option is a renovation of Conte Middle School for Grades kindergarten through 8 and a new, or at least renovated, Greylock School. Some, however, are objecting to the closure of Sullivan School and the relocation of youngsters to the downtown area.
City Advertising for Tourism Director
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is looking for a new face — someone who will promote North Adams' cultural and recreational assets and partner with regional organizations with similar goals.
The position for a director of tourism and community events was posted on BerkshireJobs.com last week. The job appears to expand on what had been the director of the Mayor's Office of Tourism and Cultural Development.
According to the job posting, "This position will create an atmosphere that attracts, welcomes and supports existing and new cultural institutions and creative businesses, as well as artists and creative individuals of all disciplines into the city of North Adams."
The goal is to increase the number of visitors (and the amount of their spending) in the city by coordinating events with other entities and towns and promoting marketing intiatives. The director will also coordinate all city-sponsored activities, such as the Mayor's Downtown Celebration, the Northern Berkshire Food Festival, and sporting events among others. The person selected will also be expected to grow a volunteer corps and work with existing organizations.
The post requires a bachelor's degree in marketing or communications and several years experience in related marketing. The new director will also have to be able to handle the website, email marketing, social media and online strategies.
The tourism position had been filled for the past decade by Rod Bunt, a former WNAW radio host hired by the former administration. Bunt quit March 3 saying he was looking for opportunities in the private sector, but there had been speculation for months that he and Mayor Richard Alcombright weren't seeing eye to eye on the position's responsibilities. "I've been canned, sacked, terminated, booted, ...," he wrote on his "The Unemployment Diary," but later told the Transcript that it was a writing exercise for an obscure literary magazine.
Alcombright said the city would take the opportunity to expand and "carefully craft" the director's job description to incorporate more marketing skills. Within a couple weeks of Bunt's departure and before any job vacancy was posted, the city had received nearly three dozen resumes.
The director's post is currently an S-35, with a starting pay of $33,009. The advertisement does not give a wage estimate nor is it clear the position will be the same classification. Alcombright last year raised eyebrows when he pushed for a new classification for an administrative assistant that jumped the job's starting wage up several steps from the secretarial classification.
The city's also looking for a seasonal park security officer for Windsor Lake and the campground. The Parks & Recreation Commission discussed the post at its last meeting.
|Tags: tourism, jobs|