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Eileen Quinn and Michele Francesconi address the Selectmen about establishing a hiker camp site on the elementary school grounds.

Cheshire Sets Special Election to Fill Out Select Board

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — The town set a special election for Tuesday, Aug. 13, to determine who will be the two new selectmen.
The Board of Selectmen made the decision Tuesday to hold a special election sooner rather than later and agreed to put both a debt exclusion vote and the selectmen seats on the same August ballot. 
"The town clerk would like the date to be set this evening so she can start the necessary paperwork," Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV said.
The increase from three to five selectmen goes back to a 2014 citizen's petition. After multiple town meetings and ballots, the legislation to allow the increase was finally accepted by the town during an election in early May.
To stagger the terms, one of the additional selectmen will be a three-year term and the other will be two. After this election, those seats will continue on the regular town election at staggered dates. 
Now with a firm date, the town clerk can determine when nomination papers can be taken out and when they are due.
In other business, the Selectmen heard from Eileen Quinn and Michele Francesconi about designating part of the Cheshire Elementary School's campus for Appalachian Trail hikers camping.
"We historically at St. Mary's for decades allowed hikers to find shelter inside of our parish hall through the hiking season," Francesconi said. "New fire codes ended up preventing us from doing that but we want to somehow continue to help."
Francesconi, the business manager of the parish, said they used to leave the doors unlocked for hikers but the diocese asked them to stop this practice because of the security risk.
Since then, they have allowed through-hikers to camp on the parish grounds but this, too, is no longer possible.
She said they did look at setting the campsite in back of the community center but noted this would cause issues with abuttors.
Francesconi said the current spot in mind is the old skating rink area on the former school grounds near the storage shed -- 100 feet from where they previously camped. 
They would like to place temporary signage directing hikers to the designated spot and use this season as a trial run.
"Just for the first year see how the site goes and then get more permanent signage," she said, adding that some people wish to volunteer their time to improve the site or donate money.
The Appalachian Mountain Club is willing to gift picnic tables for the area and a "bear box" to keep hikers' food safe from critters.
St. John said he liked the idea but still had questions and wanted to clear the concept with the town's counsel and insurance provider, and make sure there are no conflicts with sports.
"I still think there are a lot of questions the way I am looking at this," he said.
Francesconi said they were not expecting an answer that night but noted hikers have already started camping on the grounds.
Quinn added that this practice goes back quite a while before the town was an Appalachian Trail Community.
"For many years, hikers have been coming through so we really just formalized what has already been happening," she said. "The whole idea of this is to have opportunities for hikers to interact and integrate in town life."
All agreed that the town should eventually build some sort of structure for the hikers.
"I think we want to create some sort of structure so they can get off of the wet ground and sleep where there is no rain," St. John. "Eventually I would like to see some sort of structure."

Tags: Appalachian Trail,   hiking,   special election,   

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Cheshire Selectmen Raise Concerns Over Data Security With School District

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen is leery of a program being used by the Hoosac Valley Regional School District to assess students and the school community.
The board asked school officials to attend Tuesday's meeting specifically to discuss Panorama Education, a platform the district uses that provides reports that give educators individualized data they can use to inform their support for students' academic, social, and emotional learning.
"I think there are some issues that we need to work through as a community, and I think we can work together on navigating security issues that I can see being a part of the whole system and others related to software," Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi said Tuesday during the joint meeting. 
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