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The aging marquee in downtown is set to be repaired.

Pittsfield's Capitol Marquee Bids Come In High, Council Still Supportive

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The bids to repair the Capitol Theatre marquee are higher than anticipated. But, the City Council feels it is worth it.
"In my opinion, the marquee is a jewel," said Ward 7 City Councilor Anthony Simonelli.
The City Council had approved borrowing $150,000 to repair the aging structure. But, after a closer examination of the condition, the bids ultimately led to the project increasing to $273,400. The City Council approved on Tuesday increasing its borrowing authority to $223,500, and $50,000 of the cost will be paid from federal Community Development Block Grant funds.
"The real shortfall was in the costs that exceeded estimates was in lead paint removal. It was substantially higher than anticipated," Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer said, adding that the city had learned its lesson in the past about just encapsulating lead paint instead of removing it.
Ruffer said the low bid was $249,00 for the work and $18,000 is for the design. But, with the CDBG funds and the previous authorization, the city was short. She added that because of the complexity, the city opted to create a 2.5 percent contingency in this ask just to avoid coming back to the council should there be an unexpected shortfall. If that isn't spent, then the city would borrow less.
The marquee of the former theater, which is now the Ralph Froio Senior Center, is in poor condition after water damage has taken its toll over the years. It will have to be removed, new steel installed and rewired. It dates back to 1928.
Ruffer said there is an option of trying to get historic tax credits, but that takes time and she doesn't believe it would enough to cover the deficit. 
"To do so at this point in time would require us to not award it at this time," Ruffer said. "My experience with that funding is that it will not fill this gap."
Delays in construction could just raise the price more, cautioned Simonelli.
"If it doesn't get approved and the bids go out in six months from now or a year from now, you can rest assure the cost will go up," he said.
The council had petitioned Mayor Linda Tyer to include it in the capital plan, which she did. The councilors feel that the marquee is a landmark for the downtown.
"The marquee is a historic landmark," Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said, comparing the decision to that of the former Union Station. "To take it down, that to me would be the worst thing we could do." 
The building was built in 1898 as the New Mills Block, which later became the home of Capitol Theatre. According to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the marquee is a 1922 art deco. The theater closed in the 1980s and the building was turned into the senior center
While the project, even with the increased cost, was supported by all councilors, some did question the methods to pay for it. Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell asked why free cash couldn't be used instead. Councilor at Large Melissa  Mazzeo asked about using bond premiums. But Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood said increasing the already existing capital authorization was the cleanest way to manage it. 
"We just felt the simplest and cleanest way was to increase that authorization," Kerwood said, adding that such a move is consistent with what the city has done with similar projects.
As they had when the debate was first held, Councilor Vice President John Krol and Councilor at Large Peter White voiced distaste for using CDBG funds for such a project. Those funds are limited in what they can be used for and the two councilors felt that money could have been better used for other qualifying uses.
"I don't like the fact that $50,000 of CDBG fund was used for this but we are already into it," Krol said.
White said he sits on the Human Services Advisory Council and hears a lot of programs in the community that need funding and could benefit from the CDBG funds. He'd have liked to see a fundraising campaign bring in private sector money to help the marquee restoration.
"This better could be better spent from CDBG. I wish this could have all been out of capital as well as some fundraising," White said. "I am going to vote in favor of this tonight but I would really like to see businesses or the  public step up and put in some private dollars for this."

Tags: CDBG,   historic preservation,   marquee,   North Street,   

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Pittsfield to Test Sewage For COVID-19

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city will test sewage for COVID-19 at the wastewater treatment plant.
Mayor Linda Tyer announced in her weekly update Friday that the city will utilize a new method to monitor for the novel coronavirus: sewage testing. 
"Research indicates that sewage testing analyzes epidemiological trends. We will have an early warning by detecting the resurgence of the coronavirus in the city’s sewage," she said. "We will be able to anticipate and respond rapidly and effectively to any possible new outbreaks even before positive test cases are identified." 
She said the city is utilizing a Boston-based company called Biobot Analytics and have already conducted one of the two baseline tests.
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