|Mayor Bernard Feels 'Positive Momentum' on Decrepit Public Safety Building|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff |
04:04AM / Wednesday, October 13, 2021
Mayor Thomas Bernard updates the council on possible assistance with the public safety building.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The mayor is feeling optimistic about the future of the deteriorating public safety building.
Mayor Thomas Bernard on Tuesday night acknowledged that the 1955 structure is "at the endpoint of a deferred maintenance challenge that has been decades in the making," despite a number of "expensive Band-Aids over the years."
The city has been pushing for the release of $1.2 million earmarked three years ago in a state bond bill by state Sen. Adam Hinds for design and engineering for a new public safety building.
A District Local Technical Assistance through the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission was used for a local working group to narrow down a possible nine to 10 sites to three or four suitable for a new public safety building.
"We're still reviewing the information and the next steps, based on the conversation we had last week, I look forward to bringing forward some of that information to you at an upcoming meeting," he told the City Council during mayor's concerns at the regular council meeting. "There's a good sense that we may be able to do a preliminary feasibility analysis with some additional funds that could become available."
Bernard said he was updating the council because he was "feeling a sense of positive momentum around the building and around the project." Last month, he said, there was a legislative hearing to promote a shared investment in public safety facilities locally at the state level and, last week, State Auditor Suzanne Bump released a study on how Western Massachusetts' small communities have been shortchanged in terms of state funding for infrastructure.
The capital funding the former Great Barrington resident was championing were what she called "the lifeblood of community life." In addition to roads, bridges and internet, Bernard has been insisting that public safety also plays a role in the healthy economic life of a community — a belief he made sure to articulate to Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito when she visited the city a few weeks ago.
"The auditor's report says the message is clear; investment in infrastructure is an important and necessary step to allow Western Massachusetts to fully become part of the growth and prosperity experienced by the commonwealth" since the end of the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic, the mayor said.
He invited the auditor to tour the police station if she needed an example of capital projects (she had actually used the Pittsfield police station, another structure failing to meet modern policing needs) and state Rep. Paul Mark visited it last week — the lastest of a long line of public officials to walk through the public safety structure.
There was also a legislative hearing last week focusing on shared investment in public safety buildings at the state level.
The deficiencies of the 66-year-old public safety building are well documented. Tours of the building over the years by the public safety commissioner and later the police and fire chiefs have pointed out the urgent need for a new building. The city has been under a consent decree from the U.S. Department of Justice for more than a decade to make the building handicapped accessible. The building also suffers from leaks, mildew and mold, lack of space, nonfunctional cells and bathrooms and locker rooms built before female police officers were common. The local police union
has said it's lost faith that the depressing and dangerous conditions will be fixed.
Bernard, however, thought there could be a light at the end of the tunnel with the major federal "Build Back Better" bill offering $3.2 billion for modifying and modernizing facilities including public safety.
"We have been doing our part to unlock the the bond funding that is available, as well as to be, if not shovel ready when federal money starts to flow to be shovel suitable or shovel appropriate," he said. "In addition to what we've already done through DLTA, a there's a good sense that we may be able to do a preliminary feasibility analysis with some additional funds that could become available."
The departing mayor also had news on some "cleanup" work before he leaves office. In this case, it was a breach of contract suit filed against Spectrum for failing to abide by its contract with the city by moving channels around without proper notification and the cost of fiber lines.
The settlement was $23,000, all of which went to Northern Berkshire Community Television Corp. as the injured party in the case. Bernard said the key provisions were that the funds were not to be treated as in-kind donations, considered part of the franchise fee or passed on to the consumers.
"This is a this is a small win but it is a win," he said. "It doesn't address issues of quality of service, responsiveness or cost, however, the payment addressed and corrected those areas where clear violations of contract have occurred."
In other business during the brief council meeting, the council declined to exercise its right of first refusal for a former Crane Stationery building in Hardman Industrial Park.
The vote related to 1526 Curran Highway which is being purchased by John Duquette for use as a lumberyard
. The right of first refusal for the sale of any property in the Hardman Industrial Park is part of a long list of restrictive covenants dating to 1980 when the park was conveyed to the city by the Northern Berkshire Industrial Development Commission.
Councilor Wayne Wilkinson noted that the city would have to match whatever Duquette was offering if it wanted the building.
"I don't know what they're paying for the property," he said. "I'm sure they city doesn't want to buy it for that price ... It's on the market for over a million. We don't have a million."
The council also waived the right of first refusal
on a neighboring structure, also a Crane building, being purchased by Temescal Wellness for $3.1 million for use as a cannabis cultivation space.
• Sandra Thomas was appointed to the Board of Registrar of Voters for a term to expire April 1, 2023, to fill the unexpired term of Mary Beth Kennedy.
• The general election was set for Tuesday, Nov. 2, from 9 to 7 p.m. with all wards voting at St. Elizabeth's Parish Center.
• Resident Robert Cardimino expressed his concerns of the proliferation of rats in the city from trash left at roadsides and residences. He asked that the problem be referred to committee for discussion on how to solve the problem, suggesting temporary or permanent help in cracking down on scofflaws.