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Areas where modifications will be made to enhance foot traffic and outdoor dining.

North Adams Gains $44K MassDOT Grant to Expand Outdoor Dining

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Joseph and Kathy Arabia speak to the City Council  over Zoom on childhood cancer. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city has received a $44,483 grant from the state's Shared Streets and Spaces Program to promote outdoor dining in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
 
The City Council on Tuesday accepted the funds from the state Department of Transportation for use in making modifications on Center, Eagle, Main and North Church streets to develop more outside dining options. The vote was 8-1 with Councilor Keith Bona voting against.
 
"This is one of many state responses to the COVID-19 pandemic," said Mayor Thomas Bernard. "This one's specifically focused on how we support businesses in our downtown, and specifically pilot and and test ideas that we've talked about or that may be on the books, to use streets and sidewalks and public spaces to promote commerce, outdoor dining and other other amenities for a temporary term, this being through November."
 
The grant was the work of Zachery Feury and Michael Nuvallie in the Office of Community Development, along with plans developed by Stantec engineers. 
 
"These are ideas that are intended to be temporary flexible, low-cost, using basic materials so nothing heavily engineered no major construction," Bernard said. "But one of the reasons that I like this program, and this is noted in Zach's memo as well, is that it takes some of the ideas that we've talked about through Community Development, through other projects, through [Community Development Block Grant] funding for downtown and gives us a chance to pilot them on a temporary basis."
 
Feury said the projects have to be completed within 30 days of the award. Some elements will be completed sooner than others that will have to be bid to outside contractors. 
 
The grant will be focused on four areas: 
  • The removal of several parking spots in front of Ramuntos on Main Street.
  • The closure of the central portion of west end of Center Street (which has already occured).
  • Making the east end of Center Street one-way and adding four parking spots.
  • Reducing parking spaces and adding traffic calming elements on Eagle Street. 
  • Making North Church Street two-way and adding in medians and crosswalks around Monument Square. 
These changes have been the subject of an informational hearing and a presentation to the Traffic Commission
 
Feury said the temporary measures will be in place by early October and the mayor said the expectation was they would be removed around Nov. 1, but based on the governor's measures related to indoor dining.
 
"In talking to some other communities that have done outdoor seating arrangements for this season, they're already actually planning on doing that again next year," said Councilor Benjamin Lamb. "Because they found that it actually does create new customer bases that they hadn't seen historically who are more interested in eating outdoors than indoors in the summer months."
 
Bernard said the grant will allow the city to try out some ideas on a temporary basis with the possibility of restoring some or all of it again in the spring.
 
"The things that we're purchasing are temporary and can be can be stored so that we can reconsider them again in the future," the mayor said. "But again, part of this is the funding serves as a proof of concept so we think that this is a good approach."
 
Bona, who operates a gift and antiques store on Main Street, said he couldn't support it because it did not really take into account other businesses and only focused on restaurants. 
 
"I'm gonna vote against this. It's rare that I vote against a grant like this but at this point, with my other hat of being downtown often I can tell you that besides restaurants, there was very few surveyed, as an other businesses and residents."
 
Though he did not attend Tuesday's remote meeting of the City Council, local developer and artist Eric Rudd also registered opposition to the plans in writing to the Office of Community Development. Rudd, who founded the Berkshire Art Museum at North Church and East Main streets, thinks making North Church two-way will cause safety issues by diverting more traffic into a residential area near a school, among other issues he had. 
 
"It's a poorly thought-out plan," he wrote. "I think having some grant money is rushing the city to make bad decisions and actions."
 
Councilor Lisa Blackmer thought the focus on restaurants was merited because of their ability to draw foot traffic to downtowns. 
 
"Economic development studies have shown that ... first people come to eat, and then they stay to shop, or they see the opportunities so I think it's easier to attract a restaurant than a store," she said. "We're building up a walkable city or downtown area so I think it's worth the time and investment. I'm really disappointed that it we're so far behind the ball on this compared to some of the other communities."
 
She hoped for a mild fall and maybe some portable heaters. Councilor Marie Harpin thought fall was a good time to be launching this. 
 
"Our autumns here are absolutely gorgeous. And we do have some some Indian summer so it could be worthwhile pursuing this for sure in the next few months," she said. 
 
In other business:
 
• The mayor read two proclamations, one in support of Start with Hello Week, a program of the Sandy Hook Promise to foster safer and more inclusive schools, one for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
 
Each year, Kathy and Joseph Arabia speak on behalf of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and some of their efforts on behalf of brain cancer in children. A child is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes; five children a day die in the United States from cancer. For those who survive, 95 percent develop chronic health problems. The survival rate for children with brain cancer is less than 1 percent. 
 
The Arabias founded the AYJ Fund in honor of their daughter Anna Yan Ji Arabia, a Drury High School student who was diagnosed with gliomatosis cerebri at age 13 in 2009; she died four years later.
 
"With the impact of COVID, these kids have even more difficult to fight," Kathy Arabia said. "It's impacted research some but we are happy to say that we have been in touch with researchers, and they have returned to the labs in very unique scheduling structures to help to continue their work, and their support of, like they said, these kids makes a tremendous difference."
 
She said they have met with a number of new families affected by cancer in the North Adams and Pittsfield areas since they came before the council last year. 
 
Her husband said they work very closely with researchers and "we are impressed by the work that they're doing and they continue to enter commitment."
 
They both thanked the city of North Adams and the local community for its support as well. "The businesses in this community have done a tremendous amount of support so thank you very much," they said.  
 
The council passed several traffic ordinances to a second reading, accepted a donation of $11,000 from Ocean State Job Lot for personal protective equipment for the Public Safety Department, and approved the transfer of $450 from the Tinker Fund for repair and maintenance work at Hill Side Cemetery by the Hill Side Restoration. The fund currently has $41,160.56.

Tags: COVID-19,   outdoor seating,   parking,   restaurants,   


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Letter: Standouts to Support Public Higher Education

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

During this time in which many of our day to day activities have been affected by Covid-19, one thing has not changed: the value of our public higher education institutions. Here in Berkshire County, MCLA and Berkshire Community College continue to serve our students, many of them local residents and the majority residents of this Commonwealth. While the modalities we are using to teach, counsel, advise, and provide all types services have widened to include more online and hybrid as well as in person delivery when it can be safely done, BCC and MCLA are open to our students. We remain the most affordable and accessible institutions in the county. Together with our colleagues at the University of Massachusetts campuses, we continue to educate our citizens.

It is for these reasons that we wish to express our opinion that public higher education campuses deserve level funding at the very least. Our students deserve and should have access to the range of programs, courses, and support services of all kinds; during this pandemic, students have more needs to be met, not fewer. Public higher education has suffered through many years of underfunding. Although the work done at public institutions of higher education is often praised, such lip service doesn’t pay the salaries and other fixed costs on our campuses. Praise has never funded a scholarship or kept tuition and fees from the increases necessary when state aid is insufficient. If ever there was a time to turn praise into line items of the budget, this is that time.

Our public colleges and universities provide the workers that are needed in our communities. From nurses to teachers, from scientists to computer specialists, from professors to hospitality workers, from writers to public servants of all kinds, how many of us were educated at least in part at our public colleges? Workforce development and adult basic education also takes place on our campuses. We provide those who cannot or choose not to leave the area with quality education that is relatively affordable. Those employed by the colleges are able to invest in the community as well, buying homes, raising families, and supporting local businesses.

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