Pittsfield OKs More Funds For McKay Street Garage

By Joe DurwinSpecial to iBerkshires
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council authorized Tuesday the borrowing of $1.5 million to pay additional costs of reconstruction at the ailing McKay Street parking garage.

Comprehensive repairs of the 25-year-old garage, which has suffered severe deterioration, will now cost an estimated $6.5 million in total, of which $3.6 million in state funding has been secured and another $2 million approved by the city last year.

About $560,000 will go into the project's contingency fund and though approved, will not be borrowed unless necessary .

Level by level renovations, conducted by Boston-based Chapman Waterproofing, are expected to commence this spring.

Mayor Daniel Bianchi and Department of Community Development Director Deanna Ruffer spoke in support of the benefits of funding the entire repair project at once rather than postponing phases which would only become more expensive later.

"It's a large project, but it's much less complex, in that we know what we're dealing with here," said Bianchi contrasting it to the recent demolition of the former Grossmans building, the handling of which provoked heavy criticism earlier in the council meeting.  "It's all definable. Everything that has to be worked on we can see. So it's a known entity."

State funding for this project comes with the understanding that the city gravitate toward a fee structure that will create generate the revenue for downtown parking accommodations to be more self-sustaining.

"We began looking at the various components of the financing and structure of fees for downtown parking about three years ago," said Ruffer.  "The state has been aware of that and has not made it as a hard condition, but as a soft condition that they expect the city to continue to move toward a paid parking system downtown and a financially sustainable parking structure."

Ruffer said that her office and other departments would begin "working on the next steps" of paid parking once the garage project was underway.

At a meeting of the council's Finance Committee a week prior, members examined the question of why the structure needed such extensive reconstruction a quarter century after it's initial construction.  At March 27's council meeting, members of the public including former Councilor Joseph Nichols had suggested that the city study the reasons for its deterioration to see if the company that built it should be held accountable. It was determined in the subcommittee that wear and tear, combined with a lack of sufficient maintenance and upkeep by the city, and not faulty construction were to blame.

"If you buy a house brand new from a contractor and they build it, 25 years later do you expect them to put a new roof on, would you expect a new boiler?" said Councilor Barry Clairmont. "Things need maintenance and imagine your roof if you threw salt on it, every winter, day after day."

"We can build things, we can build high schools, buildings, brand new, but we have to maintain them. I think we need to have a better maintenance plan in place, not only for the garage but for anything from now on that we're building," he said.

Ruffer said the city is planning on increasing line items for maintenance on a regular basis, in particular, a rubberized sealant coating should be applied every five years.

Enhanced safety features will also be a feature of the renovated McKay Street garage, according to Superintendent of Building Maintenance Frank Anello, including the brighter LED lights used in the new Berkshire Medical Center parking garage. He also hopes to have security cameras installed by next next year.

The Council also voted on Tuesday to postpone appropriation of $238,636 for unanticipated additional costs of the recent demolition at 1277 East Street, the site of the former Berkshire Scenic Street Railway Co. and Grossman's Lumber. The abandoned building had been a source of frequent controversy in recent years with the city repeatedly citing owner Kevin Pennell for code violations, unpaid taxes and other infractions, and continues to be a point of contention.

Some councilors opined that the contractor responsible for the demolition had disregarded instructions in the demolition and acted disingenuously with the city. The more than two hundred thousand dollars in additional costs were incurred partly because the contractors said they were forced to undertake efforts not in the original bid but doubts remain as to why deviations from the stated demolition plan occurred.

"In my gut, I feel like they knew what they were doing," said Councilor Melissa Mazzeo, asking the council to hold off on authorizing the payment.

"Clearly, they saw an opportunity to make more money," agreed Clairmont.

While City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan counseled that the city's legal case for not paying the bill was not very strong, because of the lack of a proper contract obtained in the job, it was determined that there is no immediately enforced timetable for payment. Given no urgent imperative for appropriating the money, the council unanimously agreed to table the item while more research can be done to see if the city can avoid having to pay the entire amount. 

"I'm still not sure we've done enough due diligence into this entire project to figure out how much are we really liable," said Mazzeo.

Some form of negotiation between the mayor and the Connecticut-based firm is expected. 

"Whether or not you approve this tonight or don't, I intend to have a conversation with the contractor," Bianchi said prior to the vote to table.

Tags: capital projects,   McKay Garage,   

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Silver Brewers Win Sandlot Title

Community submission
PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- The Silver Brewers captured the 2019 Papa Gino's Sandlot Championship on Sunday, Oct 13, at  Springside Park.
The league consists of 13 teams of Little League-aged players from throughout the county.
Team members, seen here, include: coach Jack Chevalier, Maxx Ferguson, manager Jason Walker, JJ Walker, Aidan Cohan, James Smith, Erik Adler, Jackson Almeida, Aidan Underdown, Luke Ferguson, Izick Wilkes, Chase Cook, Coach Bob Smith, Kevin Smith, coach Jermaine Sistrunk and coach David Ferguson.
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