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Design work is continuing on streetscape improvements to the Ashland Street corridor. The entire project is expected to take four to five years.

Ashland Street Improvements Next Big Project in North Adams

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The 'quintessential project' for fiscal 2018's block grant program was the splash park at Noel Field. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city's next major improvement project will be rejuvenating the Ashland Street corridor from Davenport to Summer Street. 
 
The street's seen significant improvements over the past decade with public/private investment such as building renovations, the Clark Biscuit residential project and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' new facilities building.  
 
A Downtown Initiative grant from MassDevelopment in fiscal 2015 of about $15,000 was used for a "visionary study" of the entire street, the Community Development Office's Michael Nuvallie told the Community & Economic Development Advisory Board last week. 
 
"We took a serious look at trying to jazz that up. And what we mean by a 'complete streets look' is trying to harmoniously look at landscaping, pedestrians and bicyclists cars, other modes of transportation, bus stops all those things that you want to look at if you're going to jump onto the street and improve it," he said. 
 
The city used $85,000 in fiscal 2018 Community Development Block Grant funding for the first round of engineering. Nuvallie that was to get to 25 percent but it looks like it will be closer to 18 percent. The firm of Tighe & Bond of Westfield was hired for the work.
 
"And they've done quite a bit of beginning work up until the end of June, because June was the end of our last quarterly period," he said.
 
The engineers have been working with the state Department of Transportation and the Police Department to get traffic and crash data and been in communication with District 1 and Boston. Funding from the fiscal 2019 CDBG monies will be used to get the project to 100 percent design. 
 
"This is probably going to be two to three years worth of design work, it's going to take a long time, because the Massachusetts standards for doing major roadway work is very, very long and laborious, make no mistake about it," Nuvallie explained. "You're looking at probably a four- to five-year horizon before that project is done."
 
Nuvallie's report was a regular update on the status of projects and the closing out process of the fiscal 2018 CDBG funding. 
 
CDBG is a federal grant program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. North Adams applies annually and has been getting $825,000 annually in recent years. The 18-month program runs from July 1 to Dec. 31 in the following year but communities often don't get the funding until several months in the new grant round. 
 
Of those funds, $123,750 goes to administration — salaries, expenses and overhead — with the balance going to designated projects. 
 
"The quintessential project" for FY18 was the recently opened splash park and other improvements at Noel Field Athletic Complex, Nuvallie said. That project used a $400,000 state Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant and matched it with $378,100 CDBG funds.
 
The second is the first phase of improvements at Brayton Hill Playground, with $100,100 toward design and construction for a small piece of the project, essentially the playground equipment. 
 
"On the heels of that, we decided to go after a big park grant in the FY19 year to do the similar kind of recipe that we did with the splash park ... to combine PARC and CDBG together to get one bigger project," he said. 
 
That project was expected to awarded and begin construction before fall and then completed in the spring. 
 
Other CDGB projects included feasibility studies for Eagle Street and for a outdoor performance space. 
 
Some $30,000 was spent with Berkshire Regional Planning Commission for concepts to turn Eagle Street into a "woonerf" or shared pedestrian/motor vehicle way. 
 
Nuvallie described the study as some "nifty ideas." "The work right now is probably 75 percent complete, it's slated to be wrapped up by mid September," he said. "And one of the final pieces of their work is to make a formal presentation to the City Council."
 
BRPC is also working on the feasibility study for the outdoor theater, on which it gave a public presentation last month. Some $20,000 in grant funding was used for that project, which will also be presented to the City Council. 
 
Another $30,000 was provided for social service programs and $58,150 toward demolitions — enough for one large building or two small ones. Some preliminary work has been done on two buildings, 176 Ashland St. and 110-112 Furnace St., but the city is now evaluating a large apartment house at Brooklyn and Houghton heavily damaged by fire.
 
Also being wrapped up is the repairs to the stones steps at the Armory that had to be done in stages. The steps had been done a number of years ago but the work failed and CDBG funds, used for the building's restoration over the past decade, were used to have the work redone. 
 
"So FY18 overall, is in excellent, excellent shape, and unlike other years having seven activities," Nuvallie said. "Typically, you've heard of most times, you do two or three activities. We tend to like to punish ourselves by doing what is not typical."

Tags: CDBG,   fiscal 2018,   

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North Adams' Helme Named Woman of Achievement


Helme last year receiving the PopCares Community Partner Award for her efforts on behalf of local nonprofits and other groups. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city's director of tourism has been named the 2019-20 Woman of Achievement by the Northern Berkshire Business and Professional Women's Club.
 
Suzy Helme began as the part-time events coordinator in 2015, later becoming the full-time director of tourism and community events. In her role, she organizes much of the city's annual events such as the Downtown Celebration and the concert series at Windsor Lake, as well as coordinating with organizations and institutions such as the Massachusetts  Museum of Contemporary Arts and local charities on affiliated activities within the city.
 
The club will make the award at its monthly meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at Bounti-Fare Restaurant
in Adams. Networking will begin at 5:30 p.m. and dinner at 6.
 
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