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Union President Ben Garner, Engineer Bill Cook, and Chief Timothy Sorrell said the station needs a lot more work than what is currently planned. They'd like the town to pursue a new station.

Lanesborough Considers Police Station's Future, Hinds Looking For Funds

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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The Lanesborough Police Station dates back 150 years.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — More than a century ago, volunteers built the Police Station.
Over time, volunteers also stepped up to renovate it. Now, Selectmen Robert Ericson has been working toward doing that again, especially in the face of the officers' union issuing multiple formal complaints about the building.
But others in town are questioning whether the time has just gotten too far away from it. State Sen. Adam Hinds has joined the conversation and is now working to find the town money to build a new station and many town officials are suggesting building new rather than following through with Ericson's project.
"It is not a police station. There are a lot of things lacking. I think it has outdone its purpose," Building Inspector Rick Reid said.
Reid said with the building the way it is, there are likely problems that the town doesn't know about — doesn't even want to know about — that would need extensive fixes. 
Ericson is in the second phase of $20,000 worth of renovations but getting even to this point has taken a long time. 
The officers have been working in what is essentially a construction site and the town has been storing police records in a storage unit on the property. The union has again expressed frustration both with the condition of the building and the time it is taking to get the planned work done.
"It just seems to us that you are way over your head," Union President Ben Garner told Ericson Monday night. "We'd hate to get Bob in there, spend $20,000 and not have everything done."
Garner said the union has brought in its own architect to price out what renovations would cost and came to $60,000 — a quote he said was conservative. 
Ericson is working through the state's Green Communities program and has $20,000 allocated to the project — a third of the quote the union got for renovations. Last month, the union issued a letter highlighting significant issues it has with the building.
"There are multiple holes in the walls of the station, some of which have towels stuffed inside of them to prevent cold air from penetrating the small and cramped workspace. The integrity of our locker room is suspect at best. Black mold has been found on the walls and other surfaces of the building. The corrective action was to provide a simple air purifier," the letter given to the Selectmen reads.
The union has concerns with electrical outlets, the structure, the size, the use of the building, a lack of privacy, exposed wiring, non-working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. 
"The brick structure is significantly deteriorated and visible damage can be seen behind the broken drywall. The front entry door is badly rusted, corroded, and at times can't be secured," the letter reads. "The windows are inefficient with the locks broken or missing altogether. These are obvious security concerns for the officers working in the building."
The union says not only is the small station lacking the privacy for interviews but that electrical outlets are "dangerously overloaded with additional power strips to support equipment." There is exposed wiring over door casings and stapled to the walls. 
The morning after issuing the letter to the Board of Selectmen, Hinds read about it and immediately reached out to Police Chief Timothy Sorrell. Last weekend, the senator toured the station and his staff has been in contact with town officials looking to help find a solution.
 "I heard the station was in rough condition but when I visited recently I was stunned. It raised concerns about possible health implications for officers and about ensuring they operate in an environment where they can be at the top of their game," Hinds said on Monday.
 "I will be working with the town to explore options for addressing needs for public safety."
Sorrell said the building has just gotten worse during his 30 years at the station but at the same time, other departments in the county have gotten new police stations. He believes after his conversation with the senator that funds could be made available for the town to get a new station. 
The chief said the town owns enough property on site for a new building and is not looking for a "Taj Mahal." He said a small, 2,000 square-foot station would suffice.
When Board of Selectmen Chairman John Goerlach heard that there could be a way to get funds for a new station, he halted Ericson's work. His thoughts were that since the station needs more work than the funds allocated and there is a chance to do a new station, then the Green Communities money could then get shifted to window replacement at the elementary school while the town waits for funding for a new station.
"My thought would be to let Joe [Trybus] finish up closing up, and then pull back, and see if Senator Hinds can come through with funds," Goerlach said.
That suggestion, however, upset Ericson who has labored over the project for years -- getting an architect to craft and sign off on plans, filing a year's worth of paperwork to get the money, opening accounts to purchase material and physically doing an insulation project and prep work to do the next phase. He recruited Trybus to help him and the next round of construction was expected to start Monday.
"We've got the paperwork, we've foot the drawings, we've got the Green Communities online, lining up people to work, and now we are going to stop? I put a year of effort into this thing and I'm having the rug pulled out from under me," Ericson said.
Later he added, "All I wanted to do was to get to work on this thing. All I wanted to do was continue the tradition of Lanesborough volunteers who built this building, who renovated it."
There is no guarantee that any money can be found for a new station, Ericson said, and he believes his project will at least make the structure workable for now.
At the same time, Sorrell has pressure from two sides. The union is still raising severe concerns with the structure while the town is paying $180 a month to pay for the storage container to the dislike of Town Manager Paul Sieloff. That container has police records that must be secured and can't be just destroyed without written approval from the state for each document. 
He said the department has been in "limbo" for three years as Ericson worked on the project, nearly all on his own.
"It is way too big of a job. We are running into issues," Sorrell said.
Ultimately, the Selectmen agreed to let Ericson finish up what he's started, provided he can finish these next two phases by August, but to still push for a new station. The Selectmen said that even if the money does come through for a new station, the current station could be repurposed some other way.
"The building has been there for 150 years, we are not going to tear it down," Ericson said.
Reid added that it is difficult to do the work Ericson has undertaken while people are working inside the building. He suggests finding another location for the officers to work while the work is being done. 
"It is almost virtually impossible to do this kind of work with people working there 24 hours," Reid said. "If you can relocate for a few months, that would get a lot done."
Sorrell said the department is limited in other locations to work out of because any site would need the proper connections for communications. He specifically eliminated space at the Berkshire Mall, which had been suggested as a temporary home during renovations, for that reason. Reid also suggested possibly asking the sheriff's department for not only space but maybe help with the renovation work through work-release programs.
To solve the storage situation, Sorrell and Sieloff had agreed to look at using space at Town Hall.
Reid also added that the work cannot be done by just any volunteer because of liability. Architect Jeffrey Collingwood drew the plans and pulled the permit so any liability for injuries would fall on him. Ericson said he signed an agreement waiving his rights if he gets hurt and Trybus would be working under his own insurance. Reid suggested that before having any other volunteers, Collingwood should be consulted.

Tags: police station,   volunteers,   

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Children Learn About Wildlife at Richmond Free Library

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

Children pet Chili the chinchilla. 

RICHMOND, Mass. — There were some furry and feathery guests of honor at the Richmond Free Library this weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, founder of Nature Matters Jennifer Leahey wowed local children and parents  with a presentation of live animals.

This event was sponsored by the Richmond Cultural Council, said Library Director Kristin Smith. "We are grateful for their continued support."

Though this is not the first time the library has hosted an animal event, it was Nature Matter's first time here. The event was at full capacity, and each of the socially distanced chairs placed in a semi-circle full of eager animal lovers.

The presentation was aimed at families and children of all ages.  Leahey was chosen by the library because her programs are about connecting people with animals, because she rescues animals and turns those that cannot be released into animal educators, and because she is from Berkshire County, Smith said.

Additionally, this presentation was a safe, socially distanced event where all attendees wore masks.

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