Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Cost Of Art

 Should $65 million Wildwood Building Project divert $650,000 for art?

If the Amherst Arts Commission gets their way the two new building projects currently in the pipeline would be tapped 1% of their budget with that money redirected for public art.

We already know the cost of the new school -- $65 million -- so that comes to $650,000, and the Jones Library expansion renovation could easily be another $35 million total for another $350,000 to the fledgling art fund, or a cool million for both projects.

 What else could Jones Library buy with $350,000?

Of course you have to wonder what the state, who is reimbursing about half the cost for both projects, is going to think about 1% of their money being used for "art." 

The Select Board will decided Monday night whether to sponsor the 1% for art warrant article and it only requires a simple majority vote.

But anyone can get anything on the warrant with just ten signatures, so even if the Select Board refuses to endorse it safe bet it will still make the warrant for upcoming Town Meeting.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Fire In The Sky!

The Evergreens is owned by Amherst College and is part of the Dickinson Museum Complex

While in overly educated Amherst you don’t really have to worry about “some stupid with a flare gun” burning an important building to the ground, fire is by its very nature a devastating creature born of surprise:

A pot left unattended on a stove, a cigarette disposed of in the wrong way or the spark from a plumber’s torch, and before you know it the ravenous beast is in full feeding frenzy. 

 First Congregational Church is located in the Dickinson Historic District

Yes AFD Central Station is less than a mile away from either The Evergreens or the First Congregational Church, but these days chances are the first engine on the scene of a box alarm may not have enough staff aboard to actually start fighting the fire.

So in mere minutes hundreds of years of history could be lost ... forever.

The Community Preservation Act Committee heard both fires suppression proposals last Tuesday night -- a $358,000 request from the First Congregational Church and $200,000 for The Evergreens.  

Amherst College plans to match the CPA grant so that is why their request is comparatively low, although CPA Chair Mary Streeter wondered why the College was not paying more.

Another member pointed out the CPA Committee has less than $2 million to fund all the requests before them while Amherst College has $2 billion in its endowment. 

The First Congregational Church packed the meeting with supporters but the CPA Committee was not overly receptive, wondering why for instance the Amherst Historical Commission ranked their request last in a recent recommendation letter to them even after suggesting the amount be reduced to $200,000 for "parity" with The Evergreens request.

Church supporters point out that in addtion to the "dramatic gothic presense" it provides the building is also used by Not Bread Alone,  Alcoholics Anonymous as well as the presence of a pre-school.  

 More than half the room cleared out after First Congregational Church hearing

And the Church is know for taking public stands on sometimes controversial social issues like gay rights, race issues or taking an anti-war stance.  A cowardly thief stole both their rainbow flag and an anti racism banner last summer demonstrating not everyone in Amherst is a tolerant progressive.

Some on the CPA Committee worry that by giving these two privately owned buildings expensive fire suppression systems it would open up the floodgates for others to apply.  And at the age of 257, Amherst has a bevy of historical buildings.  

 Henry Hills & Son matching mansions would probably love a new fire suppression system

The CPA Committee will make their final report to Town Meeting by the begining of March.  A positive recommendation is not 100% guarantee that an item will be funded,   but a negative recommendation is certain death.

Grace Church in town center.  Not asking for CPA money (yet)

Friday, February 5, 2016

Pot Battle Brewing

55 University Drive formerly The Hanger (who moved across the street)

Even before the Amherst Select Board took up discussion of a letter of support/non opposition for a medical marijuana facility at 85 University Drive, Chair Alisa Brewer mentioned another request had come in that morning for yet another facility.

 55 U drive circled, 85 U drive far right

Since they did not disclose the location -- 55 University Drive -- until this morning this request will not be voted on at Monday night's regularly scheduled meeting since Open Meeting Law requres an agenda item must be posted 48 hours in advance.

And yes, the proposed location is only a snowball throw away from 85 University Drive (currently just a concrete slab), the location approved by the Select Board at Monday night's meeting.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Little Library Expansion Looms Large

Jones Library may purchase land behind them from Amherst Historical Society

Last week Jones Library Director Sharon Sharry updated the Finance Committee about plans for the Library expansion/renovation, and this morning added the Joint Capital Planning Committee to the list.

The Library project is maybe just a step behind the $65 million Wildwood School Building Renovation project. Fortunately both the Schools and Jones Library have the advantage of state money covering half the costs.

The ornate bank building next door, owned by Barry Roberts, is off the table as an acquisition for the expansion as is Central Fire Station. The bank building, with an assessed value of $2.3 million, would be cost prohibitive and taking it off the tax rolls would only add to that cost year after year.

And the Fire Station will hopefully be sold to a private developer to help finance the new South Fire Station with an expanded mixed use building springing up in its place.

 Cramped Central Station opened in 1930 when emergency equipment was a tad smaller

Knowing that four major building projects totaling upwards of $100 million in town money are now being talked about, the Library Director assured the JCPC,  "We will renovate as much as possible, expand as little as possible, to keep the price as low as possible."

Sharry said the Library is also seeking Historic State Tax Credits that could result in a few million towards the construction costs.

 CVS lot behind Jones Library could become site for new parking garage, which would solve library parking concerns

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

High Cost Of Another Possible Temp Position

Temporary Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner, SB Chair Alisa Brewer

Happy headhunter Bernie Lynch suggested the Select Board set the pay scale for a permanent new Town Manager at $155,000+, a tad higher than the $151,000 or so John Musante was making at the time of his untimely death. 

Peter Hechenbleikner, at his first meeting as Temporary Town Manager, suggested that it was actually kind of low by eastern side of the state standards.  Although certainly high enough to generate interest and bring in resumes.

Bernie Lynch tells SB he's had about a dozen responses of interest thus far

Applicants will need ten years experience in overseeing a municipal operation as a minimum qualifier and there was some discussion about the use of the term "seasoned" vs "tested," which they later went with.   Apparently "seasoned" is a term that favors middle aged white males.

Because the 9 member Charter Commission will form this March 29 and could very well create a government minus a Town Manager, the Select Board thought it wise not to require residency as part of the job requirement.

Buying a house in Amherst is of course more expensive than, say, Hadley; and even renting an apartment in town is a lot higher than our neighboring communities. 

Of course that alone would give the new Town Manager an insight into one of the larger problems facing Amherst:  affordable housing.

And with Amherst being in the top ten statewide for property tax rates, all our residential housing has onerous annual overhead costs.

Timeline to a new Town Manager

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Mega School W12 It Is

The Wildwood School Building Committee voted unanimously (with 2 abstentions) to support the W12 phased in construction plan to replace both Wildwood and Fort River in one fell swoop with the state picking up 53% of the costs.  

 Nick Yaffe made the motion to support W12

The motion to support this one of final four plans was made by current Wildwood principal Nick Yaffe, seconded by Superintendent Maria Geryk and then quickly supported by the vast majority of the large committee via a show of hands.

 Wildwood Building Committee raises their hands for W12

A major attraction of W12 is its phased construction process that does not require "swing space" aka temporary classroom space for children displaced by construction.

A new building is constructed next to the current Wildwood and then all the children are moved into the new building.  Wildwood is then demolished and the other half of the project is completed.


Amherst Town Meeting (by a two thirds vote) will need to approve a debt exclusion Override this coming fall to fund the project, then the Select Board has to vote to place it on the 2017 annual ballot where the voters have the final say.

Let Us (Safely) Cross!

 Applewood is on south side of West Bay Road, across from Eric Carle Museum

Residents of Applewood, an upscale retirement community in South Amherst, have petitioned the Amherst Planning Board for a couple of crosswalks to connect them to Hampshire College, The Eric Carle Museum and the Yiddish Book Center just across the street.

 Atkins and double rotaries are also on south side of West Bay Road

West Bay Road has certainly gotten busier since the creation of the double roundabouts in front of Atkins Country Market five years ago, located on the same side of the road just below Applewood.

Hampshire College is installing a solar array just below the Eric Carle Museum on the north side of West Bay Road starting any day now, so maybe the town can talk them into doing the crosswalks. 

 This field on north side of West Bay Road will become large solar array

Especially since they pay the town nothing in Payment In Lieu Of Taxes for AFD emergency services, unlike that other private college who pays us $120,000 per year.