It had been a project more than a decade in the making and under construction for the last two years.
"Together we've built a school that tells our young people to grow and think deeply and independently, to be confident and to believe in themselves as much as this community clearly believes in them. The city of Pittsfield and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts today celebrates putting our money where our mouth is," McCandless said during the ribbon cutting.
The ribbon cutting was one of the more cheerful events in the city of Pittsfield in 2018. The year took many tones, sometimes happy with good news, sometimes sad, sometimes angry, and often intense.
The year is characterized by a significant number of hotly debated topics from the district attorney's race to trash collection to upgrades to the wastewater system.
The year didn't start with a cheerful tone. It started sad. The weather was miserable on Jan. 12, but that didn't stop nearly every member of the Police Department from marching in the pouring rain to St. Charles' Church to pay respects to Lt. Michael Winston. He was a highly decorated officer who died a week earlier while on vacation in Florida.
Law enforcement was a common theme throughout 2018 as a number of debates focused on the justice system. Most eyes were on the district attorney's office throughout the year after David Capeless announced his retirement in March.
That led to the hottest election in recent memory as Paul Caccaviello, Andrea Harrington, and Judith Knight stormed the county in bids to win the seat. Capeless had been the district attorney for 14 years and an open seat led to countywide conversations about the justice system.
Harrington ultimately won the Democratic primary but the race wasn't over. The primary was close and Caccaviello, who finished second and was the incumbent after Capeless' departure, mounted a write-in campaign. It would have been a historic accomplishment if he had succeeded.
But, he did not. Harrington, who ran as a reformer, will now step into the office on Jan. 2
Law enforcement also sits at the center of a yet to be resolved plan to create a citizens' committee to provide oversight. Talks about creating such a committee had started in late 2017 but when Mayor Linda Tyer put forth a proposal to the City Council, some of those who originally pushed for it felt the mayor had gutted the authority of such a committee.
The City Council spent a number of meetings trying to determine which form the committee will take and what type of authority it would have.
Police were again at the center of debate when neighbors of the shooting range petitioned to close it. The Police Department said it needed the location to train but neighbors felt it was too close to the residential areas, did not conform with zoning, and that a better location could be found.
Meanwhile, the nation was watching the department in a much less controversial way. Officer Darren Derby made waves when he launched his plan to purchase an ice cream truck to further ways to more closely connect with the city's youth.
The effort received significant support from the community as business and individuals donated to make it happen. In just a couple months, Derby secured the funding and purchased the truck. It rolled out to the community for the first time on the Fourth of July.
The oversight committee and shooting range were only a small part of the hours upon hours of City Council meetings this year. A number of issues led to very late night meetings, particularly early in the years, and much of the talk around town wasn't so much about the topics but about how much talking the council was doing.
But other councilors filed petitions to overhaul the system in hopes to find money. The trash plans were hotly debated among the public and changes to that system should be expected in 2019.
The City Council also had lengthy discussions about a $74 million upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant. The city was under an EPA mandate to improve the system but the sticker shock of the price led the council to want alternatives.
Those debates were taking place throughout the city, literally. The City Hall elevator broke and the council could not meet in the chambers for a few months. The issue led the city to utilize spaces throughout the city to hold meetings.
The School Committee also found itself in the middle of great debate when it agreed to change Columbus Day on the school calendar to Indigenous People's Day. The Italian community was outraged and felt insulted. It fought the issue on all fronts. But ultimately, the School Committee stuck by its decision.
The move was something Business Development Manager Michael Coakley had been working on for months. He led a team in pitching the company to come here instead of somewhere else.
It was his first big win as he had come to the city in January in the newly crafted role. The job is paid for by the city, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, and the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation.
PEDA oversees the William Stanley Business Park, where the Berkshire Innovation Center is now under construction. The space with cutting-edge technology is eyed to help businesses research and develop new products, share expensive equipment, and workforce training programs will be based there. It had been in the works for years and Gov. Charlie Baker announced $13 million in funding in March to complete the financial package.
Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito broke ground on the BIC.
The Fire Department is in the middle of welcoming many new hires. There are a significant number of retirees and the department has been regularly filling those jobs. That is also leading to promotions and recently the Department brought back pinning ceremonies. In September, nine officers were pinned during a ceremony.
The Police Department saw the Fire Department's ceremonies and decided it, too, would recognize promoted officers. In December, the Police Department had its first pinning ceremony in years to recognize seven officers who took on new roles.
Meanwhile, at Berkshire Medical Center, 2018 started with a standoff between the local bargaining unit of the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the hospital. In February, the nurses called for a second strike when terms on a contract could not be settled. But, just before the second strike, the two sides were able to hammer out a deal.
The year also started with controversy over the Berkshire Museum's decision to sell pieces of art. It was fought in courtrooms and in the court of public opinion. In February, Attorney General Maura Healey's office reached an agreement that allowed the sale to go forward. In November, the auctions were complete.
The museum is one of the anchors in the city's downtown and it wasn't the only one struggling. The Beacon Cinema was nearly foreclosed on in December.
But, a consortium of banks agreed to write off a significant amount of debt on the property to facilitate a sale. That also meant the City Council would need to approve forgiving $1,050,000 of state and federal grants that were packaged as loans a decade ago to help complete the financing package. The council would also be asked to forgive $1.5 million the city had put into the property from the GE Economic Development funds at a rate of 10 percent a year provided the cinema remains open.
Residents were fuming. For many, the city forgiving the loans seemed unfair to other businesses that aren't afforded such a chance.
Yet, the City Council was in a position in which those funds wouldn't be recovered in any way. The city's loans were subordinate to the bank's loans and if the sale didn't happen, the banks would foreclose and the city's loans would essentially be erased. The council's question was whether to forgive the loans and keep the cinema open under new ownership or let it go dark and close. The council approved the forgiveness.
The city's downtown did see some other changes. The Shipton Building was sold to Stephen Oakes. The Wright Building was sold to Allegrone. Both are being renovated. The Crown Plaza became a Holiday Inn.
In March, some 200 people crowded into the Berkshire Athenaeum for an airing of grievances with the company. Something similar happened in North Adams as well with frustration with the company grew. The city's federal representative joined the fight. But there was no luck.
A change in leadership was seen at Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. Nathaniel "Nat" Karns retired as the executive director after serving in the role for 23 years. After a search, Thomas Matuszko, who had been with the organization for 21 years, was appointed to take over.
The city also changed who handles stray animals. In dramatic fashion, the city ended its contract with the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini and evicted them from the city-owned building. The city's animal control officer then took over for the care of strays for a period of time but later the city agreed to a contract with the Berkshire Humane Society. Sonsini would later find a new home on Crane Avenue.
At Berkshire Community College, the nursing program came under threat. The program, which is one of the most important ones for the college, dropped a level in its accreditation and officials have been working through a checklist to get back into good graces. The director of that program stepped down and an interim director was named.
BCC celebrated the groundbreaking and then ribbon cutting on the new turf sporting facility. It was named after Gene Dellea and provides a new place for youth sports to be played.
The city's parks saw a bit of a shift in policy when the Parks Commission agreed to guidelines for for-profit ventures to operate. That started with a coffee kiosk opening at the Common.
Andrea Harrington celebrates with supporters when she fended off a write-in campaign by Paul Caccaviello for district attorney.
The city was left reeling in October with the murder of 34-year-old William Catalano on Robbins Avenue. That is when people's frustration with crime boiled over and those who live on the West Side pushed for more to be done at a community meeting about the issues at Morningside School. Three individuals were ultimately arrested for the crime.
That had come a few months after another shocking crime happened just outside of the city's borders. Nick Carnavale, 19,was shot on October Mountain. Carnevale suffered significant injuries and has been recovering since. His recovery has been closely followed on Facebook by most of the community and fundraisers were held throughout the area to help the family. A number of individuals were charged with the crime and resolutions in court are pending.
Familiarity came back in December when WTBR returned to the air. The community radio station had been at Taconic High School but with the construction project was shut down. Pittsfield Community Television took it over and in December, the radio station returned to the airwaves after being silent most of the year.
While much has changed for Pittsfield in 2018, much has also stayed the same.
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