Williamstown Fire District Moving to Acquire New OPM for Station Project

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — More than two years after choosing an owner's project manager for its new station project, the Fire District is set to move forward with a new OPM.
Prudential Committee Chair David Moresi mentioned the move during his report to the annual Fire District meeting on Tuesday at Williamstown Elementary School.
"We are very pleased with the most recent [construction cost] estimates projected, as well as what we consider to be a significant cost savings by soliciting for a new OPM," Moresi said during his address to the meeting.
After the half-hour meeting concluded, Moresi confirmed that the protracted negotiations with Colliers International on a final contract for management services were a sign that things might not work out with the firm.
"As I've said from Day 1, it's our goal to do this project in a fiscally responsible way," Moresi said. "We felt [the negotiations] were not heading in the direction of our best interest."
The good news is that the five-member Prudential Committee could select a new OPM as soon as Wednesday.
Moresi said the district's Building Committee received four responses from its Request for Qualifications, vetted those proposals and voted to recommend the Prudential Committee enter negotiations with Skanska Construction, which has a regional office in Boston.
"They're a known entity in the area," Moresi said of Skanska. "They've been involved in a lot of quality projects."
Skanska was recently selected as OPM for the Wahconah Park project and oversaw the construction of the new Taconic High School in Pittsfield.
The Fire District's project was a focus throughout Tuesday's annual meeting.
Moresi opened his remarks by quipping that it had been a "pretty quiet" year for the district, before "reminding" himself that, in fact, it was an eventful 12 months indeed.
"We received overwhelming town voter approval for our new station," he said. "It was truly a historic year for the district, and the town made it clear it wants the district to continue meeting the needs of the town for many years to come."
Building Committee Chair K. Elaine Neely told the meeting that her panel remains hard at work at achieving its three goals: "a facility that provides for the operating needs of the district for 50 years," meets the town's net-zero carbon emissions goal and does it all "at the lowest possible cost."
The meeting members breezed through the 12-article meeting warrant with hardly a question and no dissenting votes as it approved the district's operating budget and one-time expenditures for fiscal year 2024.
Prior to the meeting, the district held its annual election. Twenty-eight voters cast ballots in the two uncontested races. John Notsley won another three years on the Prudential Committee by a vote of 28-0, and Paul Harsch was returned as district moderator for three years by a vote of 23-0 with five blank ballots.
"Congratulations to Mr. Notsley and Mr. Harsch," Harsch joked before moving on to the main business of the evening.
In addition to hearing reports from Moresi and Neely, the meeting heard from the district's recently appointed treasurer, Billie Jo Sawyer, who reported that the district's free cash for FY22 has been certified by the commonwealth and its audit report once again came back clean.
Jeffrey Thomas, the chair of a public advisory panel he created with Notsley in 2019 for the district, addressed the small crowd to encourage the Fire District to continue spreading the word about its benefit to residents.
"There isn't sufficient awareness in this community for what the Fire District does and all the sacrifices volunteers make to keep our community safe," Thomas said. "[Awareness has] improved, and the turnout at the special district meeting was proof of that. But don't rest on your laurels. Don't let up in getting the word out about what you do.
"People have short memories. People come in and out of town. Far too many of us are aware of you only when we need you. That's important to change, especially when the property tax bills come in in a few years."
Moresi's remarks indicated that higher awareness of the district may be paying off in other ways, beyond the vote on the building.
"The district has witnessed positive improvements, seeing our numbers grow," Moresi said, noting that more call-volunteer firefighters were recruited both from town residents and the student population at Williams College. "As Chief [Craig] Pedercini put it recently, 'It is great to show up at a scene and see more personnel at the scene.'
"I am confident, with the coming of a new station, this upward trend will continue."

Tags: annual meeting,   fire district,   fiscal 2024,   

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GET LOUD: A Celebration of Banned Books

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — On Sunday, Oct. 1, the Williamstown League of Women Voters in collaboration with the David and Joyce Milne Public Library and the Friends of the Milne Library are presenting Get Loud: A Celebration of Banned Books.
A group of nine authors, performers, teachers, and local individuals will read aloud selections from books currently or previously banned in US libraries and schools. Introducing them will be authors Karen Shepard and Jim Shepard, both on the English faculty of Williams College.
This performance was initiated by the Williamstown League of Women Voters with the goal of bringing together organizations and individuals with a strong interest in the importance of free speech and artistic freedom. 
The event is intended to raise awareness of the history and practice of government censorship, and to give the community an opportunity to experience firsthand the power and joy of good writing.
"One of our goals is to dramatize the importance of the books that have come under attack historically and also recently in some schools and public libraries," said League representative Jane Nicholls. "We hope bringing together an impressive group of artists will help remind us all that the freedom to write and to read is crucial to all other freedoms."
Participants selected their readings from a list supplied by Milne Library Director Pat MacLeod, which cataloged books being  banned from some school libraries and reading lists. The selections include passages from "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison, "Bridge to Terabitha" by Katherine Paterson, "Ceremony" by Leslie Marmon Silko, "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker, and "Dear Martin" by Nic Stone.
Mt. Greylock Regional High School teacher Rebecca Tucker-Smith will read from "The Color Purple," and also recite excerpts from her students’ responses to the book.
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