UPDATE: The town, in consultation with the Chamber of Commerce, has decided not to attempt the street closure on Saturday, July 18.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Despite the vagaries of Mother Nature and the voices of those who raised concerns about the plan, the town plans to temporarily close Spring Street to vehicles the next two Saturday evenings to allow outdoor dining.
The initiative to help downtown restaurants that do not otherwise have outdoor space to set up tables was first tried on June 27.
Although the weather did not entirely cooperate that night, people who did have a chance to take advantage of the opportunity reacted positively on social media.
Organizers also got positive reactions, according to Jane Patton, the chair of the town's Select Board and vice president of the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce.
"The feedback I heard was mostly positive, even from some folks who had expressed concern in advance,” Patton said. "The restaurants felt like it did bring them business.
"We keep researching ways to do this in the most and least impactful ways possible, if that makes sense -- the most positive and the least negative impacts.”
Spring Street will be closed to cars for driving and parking on July 11 and 18 from 4 to 10 p.m. This will allow businesses one hour for setup from 4 to 5 p.m. and breakdown from 9 to 10 p.m.
Businesses were told in an email from the Chamber to limit their set-up to "the parking areas in front of your business.”
Staff and patrons will be expected to observe social distancing and face covering guidelines from the commonwealth; for diners, that means face coverings should be worn unless seated at a table.
When the idea of closing the road to vehicles was first pitched in the spring, the reaction both on Facebook and in the comments section on iBerkshires.com was mixed, with several residents strongly objecting to the idea that people who live in apartments upstairs from the Spring Street businesses might be cut off because there are no alternate roads to reach some buildings.
Patton said she understands that there will be some people who continue to oppose the plan.
"It's tough to come up with something that every single person is going to feel good about,” she said. "I don't take those feelings lightly, but I also know that streets all over the world, even ones with similar limitations to Spring Street, have managed to get there.
"I think lots of dialogue will help. My philosophy lately has been to listen to with an open mind and open heart, and we'll continue to tweak it until we get it right for most people if not all. That would be the goal.”
Organizers did weigh the option of maintaining one lane for vehicle travel during the outdoor dining period but ultimately decided the risk of a catastrophic accident outweighed the benefit, Patton said. One lane will be kept open during the closure for emergency vehicles only.
One tweak to the plan since June 27 (the road closure was not tried on July 4) is that organizers will make the call on whether to cancel because of weather by noon on Saturday.
Patton said if the hourly forecast during the closure period shows a 50 percent or better chance of rain for any of the hours involved, the street closure and outdoor dining will be canceled. Any cancellation will be announced on the websites for the town and Chamber of Commerce and community-oriented Facebook pages with large local followings.
As she spoke at midday on Thursday, the forecast was calling for a 60 percent chance of rain and possibly heavy downfalls. But a lot can change in 48 hours.
"Truth be told, this Saturday doesn't look great right now, either, but ever since I started working at the [Taconic] golf course, I've become almost immune to weather forecasts,” Patton said. "Today, I was worried about rain, so I put the top up on my car. And it's gorgeous out.”
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Mount Greylock Interim Superintendent Proposing Fully Remote Start to School Year
By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mount Greylock Regional School District's interim superintendent Tuesday told the community he will propose the district start the year with fully remote learning for general education students.
In a virtual town hall, Robert Putnam previewed the proposal for the start of school that he will present to the School Committee for a vote on Thursday evening. Districts throughout the commonwealth must present their reopening plans, approved by school committees, to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by Friday.
Putnam emphasized throughout his presentation that all of his plans for the preK-12, three school district are still subject to negotiation with the district's teachers union. He mentioned "bargaining" at least four times in his half-hour presentation before addressing attendees' questions.
As he has throughout his six-week tenure as interim superintendent, Putnam said remote learning will be the cornerstone of the district's planning for the 2020-21 school year. And when classes resume in mid-September, Putnam expects remote learning to be the only mode of instruction.
Putnam said that, depending in part on the levels of COVID-19 infection in the area, the district will, at some point, offer families the option of keeping their child or children home for remote learning or sending the children to school for part of the week in a hybrid model.
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The college's vice president for finance and administration told the board in a virtual meeting that the impact on the community is something that is discussed every day by the school as it prepares for the beginning of students' arrival on Aug. 24.
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The committee did not disclose a starting date for McCandless, who currently is the superintendent of the Pittsfield Public Schools. Pittsfield has voted to hold McCandless to the 90-day notice in his contract.
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