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Springside Park Group May Suspend Cleanups After Needle Puncture

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Friends of Springside Park are considering temporarily suspending its regular park cleanups after a volunteer was punctured by a hypodermic needle during one of the events.

Esther Anderson spoke for the Springside Park Conservancy — which the friends group are members of — at last week's Parks Commission meeting when the news was announced.

"The Friends of Springside asked me to bring this forward, and they are considering temporarily suspending the cleanup for the public health and safety of their volunteers," she reported.

"One of our individuals had an incident at our cleanup two weeks ago with needles and has now been under medical care. They did everything right and they picked up trash and it was a bag of trash that had needles sticking out of it."

The needles were encountered at an abandoned encampment within the park at the Oct. 9 cleanup. Since Pittsfield's uptick in homelessness that occurred around the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many unhoused individuals have sought shelter in the park.

Anderson added that there are children who participate in the cleanups. The age of the volunteer who encountered the needles and the number of punctures were not disclosed.

"It's a scary situation," she said. "In all of the years that I've been in cleanups I found a few, but this year there was a lot."

The Friends of Springside are considering suspending the cleanups until some of the park's circumstances are addressed.

Parks, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath is determined to never have this happen again.

He said city park staff came in that afternoon and sectioned off the area where the trash containing needles was located so that nobody else tried to handle it. The bags were carefully taken out on Tuesday following the long weekend for Indigenous People's Day.

McGrath explained that in this situation, there was a pre-filled bag of trash left at a site that contained the needles.

"I think the larger issue here is that I think we've been fortunate over the years to not have had this incident happen but it has happened now so it's elevated the concern," he said. "And it's not just Springside, we have these urban issues, drug-use issues are happening in all of our parks."

When working with volunteers for cleanups, he suggested having updated procedures and understandings for when such items are encountered and how to handle them.

"We've got to figure this out and I think working collectively with the Board of Health, maybe it's something that we want to explore," he added. "But I certainly want to make certain that nothing like this happens again, the reality is, this stuff is out there and we have volunteers that want to contribute their time and talents, we've got to figure out a way to keep them safe."

Commissioner Simon Muil asked McGrath if there is a process for volunteers and the general public to follow if they encounter a needle or needles.

McGrath reported that calls of that nature will be directed to County Ambulance, which is the first responder for sharps and has appropriate training for removing them safely.

Chair Anthony DeMartino said it was discussed in previous conversations that encampments are being cleaned up by city park staff and suggested making that a clear identification to volunteers.

McGrath said that generally will be the protocol but he wants to make sure that the city is drilling into and giving good credence to this incident so it is not repeated. He wants to develop clear guidance and best management practices in the coming months for cleanups and volunteer safety.

"This is all something that we're committed to doing at the end of the season here, so I think we can spend the winter months developing this," he said. "We certainly don't want to turn away any volunteers that have a desire to help us, make certain that you know that there's another level of information that we all have to be aware of."

Tags: cleanup,   parks commission,   Springside Park,   

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Pittsfield Picks Veteran Employees as ARPA Fund Managers

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Two familiar faces will be serving as the city's special projects managers for the $41 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer and former Director of Public Health Gina Armstrong will share the one full-time position as co-managers.

Mayor Linda Tyer on Monday informed the City Council by email that Ruffer would be resigning from her current post in early to mid-February to take on this new role.

Rather than a resignation, Ruffer sees this as a transition. Armstrong resigned from her position in September, citing a need for more balance in her life and to spend more time with her family.

In the fall, the special projects manager position was created to oversee the city's allocation of ARPA funding. It will likely only be in place over the next five years, until the spending deadline in 2026, and will be paid in full through the ARPA funds.

"I am very excited to transition from the city's Community Development Director Position to co-special project manager for the City's American Rescue Plan program. This opportunity coincides with a personal desire to adjust my work-life balance to allow me to spend more time with family and pursuing personal interests," Ruffer wrote to iBerkshires in an email.

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