This tarp, from a picture taken in 2012, is still protecting turnout gear from leaks.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Firefighters are trying to sleep with water dripping into their faces. A bucket catches a leak next to a $30,000 fingerprint scanner. Giant blue tarps have covered areas inside the Public Safety building for more than a decade.
The City Council took a deep breath on Tuesday and voted to borrow $351,000 to put a new roof on the deteriorating 63-year-old structure on American Legion Drive.
The approval came with some reservations over putting significant amounts of money into a building that city officials have wanted to replace for years. But the current facility's poor condition requires some investment — especially since a new building is years away.
"This is not a strategic investment this is a deferred maintenance need," said Mayor Thomas Bernard, adding later that "It's a matter of necessity but also as a matter of basic respect to our first-responders. This something that we need to tackle while continuing to go through the planning process. ...
"If we wait, we'll be getting older and the building will continue to have issues."
Fire Director Stephen Meranti said there's plenty of problems with the building — the boiler's old and the windows rattle — but the leaking roof has risen to the top. The water seeps through the roof and soaks the insulation, dripping into the building. A tarp's been hanging over the firefighter's turnout gear for a decade. Police Director Michael Cozzaglio said one tarp is situated so the water flows out a window and added that the city is also responsible for the regional dispatch that operates out of the police station.
Mold has also gotten into the building because of the leaks but insurance took care of the demolition and mold remediation and will pay to fix the ceilings, which Meranti estimated at close to $100,000.
"If we don't fix the roof it's going to happen all again," he said. "It's like having a screen for your roofing."
The funds, taken out over 20 years at 4.5 percent, would cover the cost of replacing the entire roof with decking, insulation, roof board, roofing and edging, according to specs drawn up by Bradley Architects. The main roof has a cost of $291,342 as the base bid with the alternates of far south one-story bay at $33,$63 and the Fire Department's office/meeting room roof at $25,741, for a total of $350,946.
Bernard said construction could start as soon as January, weather permitting.
The city has been in need of new public safety facility for years. In 2011, then U.S. Sen. Scott Brown heard a litany of problems — from the leaking roof to undersized rooms to drafty single-pane windows Duct-taped into their 1955 steel frames. The structure had been at the top of former Mayor Richard Alcombright's list but opportunities for the renovated Colegrove Park Elementary School and a new Department of Public Works building came first.
Councilors questioned the process for replacing the outdated structure. Bernard said there is $1.2 million in approved but not appropriated funds sitting in a state capital facilities bond bill that could be used for a feasibility study for a new building.
A couple weeks ago, Secretary of Public Safety and Security Daniel Bennett came out to tour the building with the public safety directors and state Sen. Adam Hinds, and later the outdated Pittsfield police station.
"[He] saw the building and really got an understanding of the need," the mayor said. "The hard part about that is he doesn't have money for those investments. But what we can do is start a study process, even independent of money, of what are the possible solutions."
A major question would be whether to separate police and fire and possibly retain the Public Safety building as a fire station only.
"It baffles me we're at a point where we're discussing replacing the building and putting a new roof on the building we hope to replace ... I hope also at some point we need to draw a line in the sand here in the city and stop deferring maintenance on everything," said City Councilor Jason LaForest. "I know the mayor's attempting to do that. It's chasing good money after bad to shore up a building for our police and firefighters. They probably should have had a new building many years ago."
He asked if the matter could be referred to the Public Safety Committee so councilors could tour the structure, which the mayor said he would encourage councilors to do. Councilor Benjamin Lamb said the council didn't have to refer and that the committee could call its own meeting. Other councilors wanted to make sure that any referral would not slow down approval of the borrowing.
The council voted unanimously to pass the borrowing to a second reading and publication and there was a consensus that the Public Safety Committee should schedule a tour of the building.
President Keith Bona questioned if approving the roof could halt efforts to find a solution.
Fire Director Stephen Meranti explains the condition of the roof to the City Council on Tuesday.
"I feel like putting the roof on it gives us a little comfort that now we can wait longer," he said.
Bernard said that would not be the case.
"This need is a wakeup call for all of us that we cannot defer maintenance and we cannot defer decisions," he said.
The council also approved with less discussion borrowing $146,300 to upgrade the city's communications and data system. The payments will be drawn from the Municipal Technology Fund, which is replenished at $36,000 a year.
"This hardware was last updated in 2011 and includes both physical and virtualized servers, network area storage, switches and firewalls," Management Information Systems Director Kathleen Wall wrote in her communique to the mayor.
The infrastructure connects all the city's facilities including police, fire, the water treatment plant, the library and even the North Adams Housing Authority. The School Department also shares some of the financial software and backup servers, for which it is billed, but not the phone system.
The funds will be spent on a data center upgrade including servers at $90,000; the Cisco phone system upgrade at $43,000; and a contingency of 10 percent at $13,300.
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Be Alert for Opportunities When Preparing for College Costs
Now that summer is winding down, it will soon be "back-to-school" time. When children are young, your logistics for the new academic year may involve little more than a trip to buy school supplies.
But if you would like to send your kids (or grandkids) to college someday, you need to plan far ahead to meet the financial demands. And, as part of your planning, you also need to be on the lookout for all opportunities to help pay those sizable college bills.
Specifically, you will need to be ready to take action in these areas:
Financial aid: You should start thinking about financial aid at least a year before your child heads off to college. For example, you can begin submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on Oct. 1, 2019, for the 2020-21 academic year. And if the past is any guide, you will always need to remember that Oct. 1 date for the next school year. The FAFSA helps colleges and the U.S. Department of Education evaluate your financial need and determine how much financial support your child requires. And since a lot of financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it's a good idea to submit your forms as soon as possible once the application period opens.
Kevin Strahle traveled all the way from his home in New Jersey to compete in the Jack's Hot Dog Stand eating contest on Eagle Street on a sweltering Saturday.
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