NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A nearly $600,000 state grant is going to make it safer for children to cross from Brayton Hill Apartments to Brayton School.
The city was recently awarded $598,255 through the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School program to make infrastructure improvements at the entrance to the Northern Berkshire Family YMCA and install sidewalks in the area of the school. The City Council accepted the grant on Tuesday.
"This grant is an incredible opportunity for the Brayton Elementary School neighborhood and will help support pedestrian and bike safety," said Barbara Malkas, superintendent of North Adams Public Schools. "The end result of the project will facilitate behaviors that promote health and wellness in a world that can be focused on our electronic devices. We're thrilled to be a recipient of this grant and the positive effects it will have on the children and families in our community."
The steep driveway into the parking lot of the YMCA, which is attached to the school, and a problematic crosswalk were a focus of the City Council earlier this year. No one is sure when the crosswalk was first painted but it's never been in compliance because it doesn't run between sidewalks but rather cuts across Brickyard Court between a dirt pathway through private land and the corner of the driveway. There is also a visibility factor because of the incline of both the road and the driveway.
Some councilors had not initially been supportive of removing the crosswalk but finally agreed that it was illegal and unsafe; then the administration lagged in covering over the paint, which led the council to order it removed within set date.
School officials said they were working to redirect children along a longer but safer path, though that hasn't stopped people from cutting through the long-established shortcut.
Options for the crosswalk had been discussed a year ago when Boston design firm Payette visited the site to envision some possibilities. Administrative Officer Michael Canales at the time said it would make more sense to shift the crossing and the entrance farther up Brickyard Court to a spot where it would be almost level to enter.
And that's what the state Department of Transportation is leaning toward, he says.
"They're redoing the crosswalks to the school and the entrances on the Brayton Hill side to go slightly up the hill," he said. But rather than the city doing the design, everything is being done by the state, he said, and was included in the grant that has a maximum of $1 million. "They came back and said based on the design, this is what it would cost."
The application is based on a collaboration of the city, school system and Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's Mass in Motion; the YMCA was brought in afterward. The city owns the entire property.
North Adams is one of 14 municipalities chosen for the competitive grant. All of the grant-funded projects will include creating some form of pedestrian/bicycle improvements such as sidewalk reconstruction, sidewalk infill, intersection and crossing improvements, Americans With Disabilities Act accessibility improvements, signage and striping, traffic calming, shared-use paths, or bicycle accommodations.
The Brayton project will include sidewalks and crossings to the new park being constructed below the school as well. The playground and sports areas are being updated at a cost of $455,000 and is being funded through a state parks grant and Community Development Block Grants.
More than a $1 million in infrastructure and recreational improvements is being invested in the immediate area of Brayton School.
"We felt that this area was the optimal one to look at for some some streetscape safety, and some sidewalk, some traffic management and some crosswalk improvements," said Mayor Thomas Bernard. "That's the case that we made to MassDOT. And they accepted our case and our rationale."
The mayor said Canales, Mass in Motion's Amanda Chilson and the public schools Community Outreach Coordinator Emily Schiavoni were instrumental in making the case for the grant.
The selected projects will be scheduled for construction through the State Transportation Improvement Program. The federally funded program has $15 million in funds for projects in fiscal years 2022, 2023 and 2024.
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Guest Column: Statement on Sentencing in Steele-Knudslien Murder
As the region's longest-serving LGBTQ organization, Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition has closely followed the case of the murder of Christa Steele-Knudslien, the North Adams resident and founder of the Miss Trans New England Pageant.
Today [Thursday], her murderer has been sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for parole after serving 25 years. In the two years since we lost Christa, the community has rallied around her memory and inspiration. In North Adams, a grassroots task force was founded in reaction to her death and those of other residents killed by their partners. This led to the Berkshire County Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force, a coalition of community agencies such as Elizabeth Freeman Center, law enforcement, and the court system, currently working to end domestic violence in Berkshire County for good.
On the brighter side, over the past two years the Berkshire Pride Festival has grown to be a major event, celebrating and uplifting the trans community that Christa cared about so much. An annual award for local LGBTQ leaders has been established in her name and with her spirit. Clothing swaps have happened where Berkshire residents shared the joy and beauty of being trans, the same goal Christa had in mind when founding her pageant. Rainbow Seniors and the Berkshire Trans Group expanded their meetings, providing support and connection from Williamstown to Great Barrington.
Politically, a local contingent spent hours organizing and fighting to pass the state ballot measure last year that made Massachusetts the first state to successfully defend an attack on a trans rights bill, setting a strong precedent for human rights across the nation. And we mourned, as a community, at each Trans Day of Remembrance, a national event that struck home when we read Christa's name amongst those murdered.
Mark Steele-Knudslien, 49, pleaded guilty on Thursday in Berkshire Superior Court to second-degree murder in the death of his wife. Judge John Agostini sentenced him to life in state prison, with parole eligibility in 25 years.
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After a few days in the icebox, temperatures will be turning above freezing going into the weekend and there's a chance of snow — or more likely rain, as a storm system moves north of the Berkshires.
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The Finance Committee took a tour of the building on Tuesday afternoon to get a better sense of the condition of the J. Stanley Sullivan Elementary School as the City Council has been weighing an offer on the property made more than two months ago.
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Food insecurity, housing, child care, education, financial literacy, and substance abuse were among the subjects of the poverty forum sponsored by the Berkshire Community Action Council and hosted at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on Friday morning.
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