Marilyn Honig's inquiries on Facebook on how to help the victims resulted in the formation of Northern Berkshire Helping Hands, a community resource that's not only linking up people with needs to those with solutions but is trying to tackle the larger issue of homelessness in the area.
The year also ushered in new Police Chief Jason Wood, a city native who'd worked his way up through the department and beat out two outside candidates for the job, becoming the first police chief hired under the new public safety structure. Wood was ceremonially sworn in May 3, promising "stronger commitment and community engagement." Mayor Thomas Bernard stated that his choice of police chief would likely be the most important of his tenure.
Wood replaced Michael Cozzaglio, who had announced at the end of 2018 his intention to stepped down after 32 years on the force, nearly half that as police director (though he would retire as chief of police). But while Cozzaglio entered into happy retirement, the city bid a more sorrowful farewell to E. John Morocco, the city's last commissioner of public safety.
Morocco served the city for more than four decades under five administrations, beginning as a park police officer at Windsor Lake in 1966 and 16 years as public safety commissioner. He died in September at the age of 74 after a long illness and was laid to rest with honors in Southview Cemetery.
The library got a new director with Sarah Sanfilippo, who had been Southern Vermont College's director of library services until the college announced its abrupt closure. She replaced Mindy Hackner, who had let the trustees know the year before of her decision to retire.
And, in November, a third of the City Council turned over when Eric Buddington, Rebbecca Cohen and Joshua Moran decided not to run for re-election; in their place, Lisa Blackmer, Robert Moulton Jr. and Jessica Sweeney were elected to join the incumbents returned to office.
Mayor Thomas Bernard won a second term in a landslide and Moulton will join the incumbents on the School Committee after winning a seat left vacant by Nicholas Fahey. Another newcomer elected was Peter Breen to the McCann School Committee.
Real Estate & Investment
The newest additions to the city's parks and recreational facilities opened with a splash in July.
A fire on Houghton Street left nearly a dozen people homeless and sparked the founding of Helping Hands, a resource for people in emergency need.
The splash park also marked the end — at least for the moment — of the major improvements made at Noel Field over the past few years that have made it a greenspace jewel for all ages right in the city center. It joined the skate park that opened a couple years ago, new sports courts and the existing Joe Wolfe Field, a playground and walking path.
Over on the western side of the city, the next big project is Brayton Park, which is also getting a makeover thanks the Community Development Block Grant funds that have fueled much of the city's recreational renaissance. This project has already begun and will complemented by a state Department of Transportation reconstruction of the shared driveway between Brayton School and the Northern Berkshire Family YMCA.
The downtown has gotten a towering piece of art in "Big Bling," thanks to Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which also marked its 20th anniversary in 2019.
The 40-foot-tall installation by award-winning artist Martin Puryear had been stored in crates in the corner of the parking lot behind Big Y for the last couple years after being on display in Philadelphia and New York City.
It's finally found a home for the next few years at the corner of Main and Marshall Streets. The installation is part of a plan by Mass MoCA to turn that corner property it owns into a park (for now) as a way to entice some of its 250,000 visitors a year to the city's downtown.
Within sight of "Big Bling," the former Sleepy's mattress store at the corner of the L-shaped mall has had a dramatic and contemporary makeover to house the offices for the planned Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum. The large windows purposefully allow a peek inside at the designs as a way to attract attention to the project and draw visitors downtown.
Also hoping to get some of the Tourist overflow is the North Adams Museum of Science and History that has moved into the ground floor at the Holiday Inn after being displaced by plans to sell Western Gateway Heritage State Park, which will be part of the model railroad museum complex.
And over on Union Street, the former Quinn's Paint & Paper building that's been hosted a number of establishments over the past couple decades — from bar to antiques store to dog museum — is being completely renovated into mixed-use development. HiLo, a black box nightclub with a variety of beverages on tap, opened there in late summer offering a mix of music, comedy and performance in the revamped main room.
Apartments were also approved this year for the former Wall-Streeter mill across the streets owned by David Moresi, who is planning high-end units on the top two floors and keeping the commercial office space on the bottom. The two projects, along with the already renovated car dealership on the corner, mark significant investment along one of the city's main corridors.
While there's been significant investment in the city, a few projects didn't move forward during 2019. Plans are approved for a boutique hotel in the Porter Block on historic Eagle Street but while there's been some demolition, there hasn't been much other work.
And other than final closure of the City Yard sale after more than a year, other city properties haven't moved on the real estate market.
The sale of the Notre Dame church property for use as a high-end hotel has also been at a standstill although there are expectations that a purchase and sale agreement will finally be signed in 2020. Other city property sales haven't moved forward and the City Council pushed back hard on the mayor's proposal to put out requests for proposals for the Mohawk Theater over fears Main Street would lose its landmark marquee. After much debate, councilors agreed to declare the 1938 theater surplus property with the caveat any sale include language on maintaining its historic integrity.
Mayor Thomas Bernard demonstrates how the new splash pad works.
A proposal for Sullivan School was kicked to the incoming council after much debate on the proposal to put a manufacturing training facility into the vacant school.
The city has found a buyer for Johnson School in Moresi, who operates Moresi & Associates, a development and property management company. Moresi's bid of $250,000 for the former school has been accepted but the sale won't close until next August when tenant Berkshire County Headstart moves to a new location.
Less visible have been the renovations at Child Care of the Berkshires, in the city-owned Sarah T. Haskins School. The $1.75 million renovation began in 2019 with upgrades in the interior and with more work, including the installation of an elevator, beginning in the new year.
The biggest move was at Harriman & West Airport as a former medical building gifted to the city was renovated into a terminal. The 8,700-square-foot building was lifted and moved back 500 feet onto the airport campus with a motorized trailer in mid-January. The structure is largely complete and is expected to open with a restaurant later in 2020.
But 2019 also brought an end to popular Persnickety on Eagle Street. The independent toy store ran for 19 years, and even had a short-lived spin off in Pittsfield. But online competition and the loss of customers because of the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital, combined with personal tragedy, made it hard to go on, owner Monique Suters said.
The two superintendents in North Adams were recognized, with North Adams Public Schools' Barbara Malkas earning the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents' 2019 President's Award and James Brosnan of Northern Berkshire Vocational School District being presented with the Richard J. Bradley Endowment Fund Award.
Veterans Services assistant Tina Samson was named Veterans Administrator of the Year by the state Department of Veterans Services and Suzy Helme, director of events and tourism, was named the 2019-20 Woman of Achievement by the Northern Berkshire Business and Professional Women's Club. And Ricco Fruscio, coordinator for the North Adams Chamber of Commerce, was honored by the PGA for his golf club handle camera device. Dr. Len Radin, longtime director of the Drury Drama Team, was named the grand marshal of 64th annual Fall Foliage Parade that was themed for the "Wizard of Oz."
The memorial gift to the North Adams Public Library was unveiled by the family of Jody Gottwald.
The year ended, unfortunately, with another fire, although this time in Adams. The difference was that this time, there was a Helping Hands group ready to communicate the needs of the victims and offer a helping hand.
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