LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Selectman Robert Ericson has missed the deadline given to him to complete the third phase of renovations at the police station.
The retired engineer took on the project after touring it in 2014. He is part of the town's energy committee and has headed efforts with the Green Community Act. In late 2014 the town approved the installation of a new boiler system for the poorly heated 1880 building.
But it needed a lot more than a heating system and with Green Community Act grant money in hand, Ericson developed a plan to fully renovate the interior.
Renovations to the Police Station were estimated to cost $100,000 and Ericson decided he could save the town a lot of money if he did the work himself. A storage unit was brought onto the property and police spent a day moving all of the records the department legally has to keep to the unit outside.
In the southern end of the building, a new boiler was installed and Ericson, now in his 70s, insulated and built new walls behind it. That room also features an evidence storage area and lockers. The lockers were moved to what had been the garage. And Ericson has gotten to work on insulating that room.
He plans to transform the former garage space into a usable area for the officer by framing and drywalling the existing concrete shell. He's replaced the garage door with a regular-sized door through which officers can bring detainees in for booking and questioning and he plans to build a new and more private interview room.
In the next room over, he plans to renovate the officers' space, and in the fourth phase, the main entrance with a new public entryway, and a re-positioned and ADA-compliant bathroom. The chief's office will also have to be reconfigured somewhat.
But in Phase 1, there wasn't a secure location for the evidence locker. So he couldn't move that until a secure space was available in other sections of the building. In the second section, he plans to connect the furnace to baseboard heating for the former garage area. To do so, he had to move the lockers into the unfinished boiler room area in Phase 1 and start working on Phase 2.
Currently, most of the insulation work in Phase 2 has been completed. The new floors, however, are only partially built. Ericson said he has to lay down a few more 2-by-3s on top of the concrete floor, insulate, and then seal up with plywood. Then he can build out the interview room, connect the electricity and heat, and be able to move the contents of the area eyed for Phase 3 there to be able to work on that phase and circle back to the first phase.
It is a project Ericson has taken pride in. The station was originally built by volunteers and Ericson sees his time and effort to continue that tradition as a way to give back to the community.
But Massachusetts Coalition of Police Local 390, the Lanesborough Police Officers Association, is growing impatient and questions if Ericson alone can handle the amount of work that needs to be done.
The union has voiced concerns about the condition of the station for years. It filed a complaint a few years back about air quality and mold that was somewhat rectified by the installation of an air purification system.
Earlier this year, the union officials sent a letter to the board saying there are holes in the walls that officers have stuffed with towels to keep out the cold and that the smell of mold has returned despite the air purification system. There are few electrical outlets and power is strung together by way of power strips, they said, and there is exposed wiring and malfunctioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Earlier this year, the union again sent a letter to town officials saying that while Ericson's work is appreciated, it questioned whether he had taken on too much of a project. The $20,000 Ericson had in Green Communities money allocated for the project is a third less than what the union's own engineer estimated for that amount of work.
Ericson explained at that time that the project had gotten off to a slow start when he was securing money, getting an architect to sign off on the plans, and getting accounts set up to purchase material. He recruited Joe Trybus to help him out and Ericson said the project should move along more quickly. He said he'd be able to complete all of the first three phases by Aug. 1.
On Monday, Town Manager Kelli Robbins received another letter from the union.
"The deadline has passed by almost two weeks and not only is Phase 3 not done but Phase 2 has been not been met nor has been close to completion. It should be noted that Phase 1 hasn't been completed either. The union is concerned is that the construction timeline is unreasonable and unable to be met but the current manpower," the letter reads.
"The officers represented by the union continue to work in an unsafe and unprofessional environment."
The officers have been walking through what appears to be a construction zone to get to and from their lockers and the evidence closet for months now. The union is asking for that work to be expedited.
Robbins has raised another concern -- money. She said the Green Community funds will only pay for the weatherization aspects. There is no additional money in the budget allocated for the project and materials for flooring, door locks, ventilation and a dumpster to get rid of old construction material, and the work of electricians to add outlet strips and plumbers are likely also outside of the scope of the grant.
"We don't have any money allocated for it. There is nothing in the budget to cover the cost of the project the way it is currently scheduled. That's an issue with the way the project is currently going," Robbins said.
Police Chief Timothy Sorrell added that a department credit card has been charged $175 a month for the storage unit since the records were moved in June 2017. But he doesn't have that money in his budget. He's been submitting the invoices to the treasurer's office but he doesn't know what budget the money for that unit is coming from.
Time is running short because soon enough the building will need to be heated and the new boiler isn't set up.
The Selectmen have now given Ericson another deadline and are calling in for some additional help. The board is leaning on what has become its go-to in recent years, the Highway Department. The Selectmen will be asking the department to have one of its guys help Ericson get the insulation portion of the project completed by Sept. 21.
"These guys shouldn't have to keep dealing with this. It should have been finished," Chairman John Goerlach said.
One of the problems has been that fixing one problem has often led to exposing another so the scope grows as the project moves along. Union President Ben Garner characterized it as "an onion of issues" and questions the ability for one person to tackle it all. Ericson gave an example of how he purchased a nail gun for the project only to find the concrete was so close that the nails fish hooked. He had get a hammer drill and that added time to the project.
He added that the condition of the building reflects poorly on the department and the town.
Union officials on Monday agreed to the new timeline.
Ericson conceded he could use some help but that the small space limits the number of people who can work there. Trybus had helped out at least once but the pair had scheduling conflicts limiting the time he was able to be on site. Ericson said he thought he'd be able to recruit more help from townspeople on the project.
"I've been trying to do it on the cheap because I am a volunteer and I am not trying to add to the budget woes on the town. I am dismayed additional people haven't come forward to help," Ericson said.
The other selectmen, however, were also concerned about the liability of bringing in volunteers. The other board members were OK with Trybus because he is a contractor with experience and his own liability insurance. But other volunteers could put the town at risk.
The Selectmen will be reaching out to Trybus again and sending a Highway Department worker to help Ericson finish the first three phases and at that point, the board is asking Ericson to put a halt on the project until a funding source for the rest is figured out.
"We really can't go forward without money," Goerlach said.
Following the union's February letter, state Sen. Adam Hinds took a tour of the building and agreed that it was in bad shape. He is supportive of helping the town find funding for either a new station or for a full renovation. Sorrell said there is town land right next to the current station where a new facility could be constructed. Hinds' interest nearly put a halt on Ericson's work as the Selectmen worried that the $20,000 worth of effort could all be for nothing if a new station was going to be constructed, but ultimately decided that no matter what that building will still serve a role in Lanesborough and needed repairs.
Goerlach is suggesting the town get more serious in working with the state and federal partners to find funding.
Sorrell said the department has been looking for grant funds to supplement the work but have come up short. The chief said there is a possibility of a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture but that will also need upfront money from the town for design and engineering work. Sorrell is now looking to reach out to Patrick Carnevale, who heads Gov. Charlie Baker's Western Massachusetts office, and representatives from U.S. Rep. Richard Neal's office to talk about funding.
Town officials, and so does the union, recognize that Ericson has the best intentions with the project but also feel he could use some help and money before patience runs out and the union takes its concerns to a higher level.
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Pittsfield Airport to Serve as Hub For Disaster Preparedness
By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
Thomas Grady, left, Robert Czerwinski, and Lucy Britton at Wednesday's Central Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee meeting.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Berkshire County has received a total of $71,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a "point of distribution," or POD, training grant to aid residents in the event of a public disaster or emergency.
The Central Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee announced the grants at its meeting Wednesday morning in Lanesborough.
Central Berkshire received $25,000 while the Northern and Southern Berkshire committees each were awarded $23,000 from the highly competitive grant program.
Bruce Augusti from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency's regional office in Agawam was in attendance to break the news and give credit to the parties involved.
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