Councilor Rebbecca Cohen takes the gavel when both the president and vice president had to recuse themselves from the Sullivan sale discussion.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council hit the brakes on the sale of Sullivan School on Tuesday night, saying the proposal to transform the vacant elementary school into an advanced manufacturing training center needed further discussion. Two other bids were accepted with little debate.
A locally organized group of businesses and entrepreneurs operating as Berkshire Advanced Manufacturing Training and Education Center, or BAMTEC, bid $1 for the 50-year-old building but their proposal says they will be investing $11 million into the building and another $3 million in equipment. The Kemp Avenue property is assessed at $2.1 million.
"There's an expression of raising a lot of money but I don't see anyone writing a lot of checks," said Councilor Wayne Wilkinson, recommending the proposal go to committee for review, adding, "there's a lot more information needs to be known before we move forward with this."
The City Council couldn't have voted on the bid even if it wanted to because of a lack of quorum. Councilors Marie T. Harpin and Paul Hopkins were out of town and President Keith Bona and Vice President Benjamin Lamb recused themselves. Lamb, in his position as director of economic development at 1Berkshire, has been advising BAMTEC and Bona has a business relationship with the only other bidder on the property, Eric Rudd.
Councilor Rebbecca Cohen was elected as temporary president for the item, taking the gavel for the first time as she ends her term on the council. But the council was still short one member for the two-thirds vote required.
After some discussion, the proposal was punted to Finance Committee since Lamb is also chairman of the Community Development Committee.
Councilor Eric Buddington thought the council should still take advantage of the fact that some members of BAMTEC were in the audience.
"I would like to hear more about this because I, I feel as though there's a lot of background that I haven't heard yet. And I understand, perhaps the desire was to postpone everything, but I feel that so many people here, I would just love to learn more," he said. "I believe it is going to be very controversial."
Wilkinson said his motion for referral to committee was to allow for the public to have input. Councilor Jason LaForest agreed that although Finance was perhaps not the perfect fit, "it would at least give the councilors and community an opportunity to discuss the matter a little less formally and allow more community members to speak than we would permit in this forum."
The motion was to refer to Finance Committee but bring the item back to the next meeting on Nov. 26, feeling the decision should not be delayed.
Also in the audience was Rudd, who proffered $50,000 for the school with the intention of turning it into artists studios. Rudd is an artist and real estate developer who has turned two mills into artists studio/residences and two churches into art museums, among other projects.
Councilors also unanimously approved the sale of 216-acre remnant of the Broad Brook watershed to the Massachusetts Land Conservation Trust for $175,000. The property is assessed at $378,300 but is not considered highly developable and sits on the Vermont side of the Trustees of Reservations' 180-acre Mountain Meadows Preserve. The MLCT proposes to join part of the property with Mountain Meadow and transfer the balance to another conservation group. The property would be open to the public for non-motorized recreational activities.
This isn't the first time the city has tried to sell the land; in the past, some councilors have insisted it was valuable for logging or could rise in value.
"Effectively what we get from the timbering of the land more or less equals what we pay in taxes to Pownal, Vt., it so it really is a wash," Mayor Thomas Bernard said. The taxes are around $7,000 a year.
"I'd just like to state my strong support. I feel as though putting some of this to an organization that's going to conserve it and add to the watershed protection as well as providing public recreation is just about the best-case scenario we could have for this land," Buddington said.
The council unanimously approved the sale of Johnson School to Moresi Commercial Investments for $225,000, below its assessed value of $914,300. David Moresi plans to put 20 high-end, two-bedroom apartments in the former school, with an eye toward professionals and young families.
"The building is in deplorable condition ... we do not want to maintain this building," said Wilkinson. "So if you have this contractor coming along and taking it off our hands, we're doing real good because down the road, it's going to cost us more than we'd ever dreamed. So I'm all in favor."
Lamb agreed, saying "I think this is a really great reuse of that property. It's being adapted, but it's not taking away the historic character, it's maintaining the residential zoning authority in that space. And it's not over inundating it with a lot of small units, which I think is important. ...
"I would also just note, when we talk about trying to increase our local population, this is one of those key steps and getting there, especially when we're trying to recruit young families to the area. They're looking for an elevated quality of residential housing in tight-knit units where it creates a community. And this is essentially what Mr. Moresi proposes to do on that property."
The closing is expected in August 2020 when the lease for Berkshire County Head Start terminates. The child-care agency is moving to another location.
"Moresi Associates' track record is absolutely fantastic and this RFP makes the most sense of any I've seen," said LaForest.
In other business:
• The council referred updated fee schedules to the Finance Committee with a return date of the second meeting on Dec. 26. The discussion centered around getting the schedule approved prior to the changeover in government on Jan. 1, citing the confusion and delays that can occur when the council's subcommittees are reorganized. The councilors agreed it was preferable to have the approval done by year's end but agreed it could be postponed to the first meeting in January, if necessary.
• The council approved the designation of "special municipal employees" for the city's elected members of the McCann School Committee, which will allow them exemptions of the state's conflict of interest laws in participating on other municipal boards and committees.
"I am writing to request you do so, because without that designation we will lose civically minded people who would otherwise serve as committee members," wrote McCann Superintendent James Brosnan. "The District understands all the member towns and the city of North Adams made the designation years ago but is asking each to do so again as documentation cannot be found."
• The mayor reminded the community of the annual food drive for the Al Nelson Friendship Center Food Pantry.
• Hill Side Restoration leader Roger Eurbin reported that volunteers are welcome to help pick up the American flags at Southview Cemetery on Saturday, Nov. 16, beginning at 9 a.m. He suggested bring a pair of pliers for difficult flag poles.
• Larry Burdick, a member of the restoration group who also has taken on Blackinton Cemetery, reported that 145 stones have been restored at Blackinton and 1,467 at Hill Side. He thanked the council and mayor for their support. "I just wanted to give everybody an update," he said.
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Local First-Responders Facing Shortages of Protective Gear
By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
First-responders are in dire need of appropriate masks and gloves.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Local first-responders are in dire need of personal protective gear as the number of COVID-19 cases has risen by more than 500 percent in the past week.
"The [Emergency Operations Center] has gotten nothing from the state," Amalio Jusino, communications coordinator for the North Berkshire center, said on Friday. "We've gotten local donations and we're helping each other agency to agency."
Pittsfield Fire Chief Thomas Sammons told Spectrum News last week that supplies were "critically low" putting first-responders at risk.
Jusino, co-chairman of the North Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee, said the group has submitted orders to the state to supply its operations center with masks, gloves and coverings.
The online tool developed by Buoy Health allows users to enter information about symptoms they may be feeling and directs them to resources that are available to them, like testing for the novel coronavirus, if it is recommended.
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The state has found itself bidding against other states as well as the federal government in trying to find materials, particularly personal protective equipment desperately needed by medical facilities and first-responders.
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