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Bond bill breathes hope into Franklin County capital projects

Heath, Greenfield, GCC, Bernardston eager to resurrect key projects

  • The Bernardston Fire Station Expansion Committee welcomed the news of a possible $1 million earmark. “It might give (the project) a ray of hope,” said Fire Chief Peter Shedd. Residents rejected a $2.6 million proposal to purchase land and construct a new fire station during an October special town meeting. Recorder file photo

  • The Greenfield Senior Center entrance at the back of the Weldon Hotel. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • MARK



Recorder Staff
Monday, December 04, 2017

Due to a $3.5 billion bond bill approved by the House of Representatives, some big-ticket Franklin County projects have been given new hope.

Though the bill, H.4018, still needs to be authorized by the Senate and it will be up to Gov. Charlie Baker to release funds, the House has allocated $1 million for the construction of a Heath Public Safety Complex, $1 million for the renovation or construction of a Bernardston Fire Station and $200,000 for Greenfield Senior Center updates, according to a press release from state Rep. Paul Mark.

The bill also reauthorizes about $9.4 million for a child care center housed within Greenfield Community College through a former 2014 bond bill, the release continues.

Mark said he was pleased to see his earmarks adopted for the benefit of Franklin County.

“There are so many worthwhile projects out there and such a great need for state assistance in our sparsely populated region,” Mark said. “Representing 16 communities makes it difficult to balance so many needs, but I do everything possible to make sure everyone is being treated fairly and getting what they need.”

News of the bond bill, which was completed by the House on Nov. 15, sparked excitement in affected communities.

Heath

“This was a complete surprise to us,” Heath Selectboard Chairwoman Sheila Litchfield said of the $1 million allocation for a public safety complex in Heath. “We are just totally appreciative of Paul Mark’s efforts.”

In 2015, the town was on track to build a $3.8 million public safety complex, using a $2 million state grant issued by former Gov. Deval Patrick. However, that grant was later canceled by the incoming Baker administration, citing lack of state money.

Meanwhile, the town has continued using two 50-year-old buildings under one metal roof for its highway and fire departments and emergency operations. There is no heat in the Fire Station’s office, nor insulation, running water or bathrooms.

“The town was left in a bad spot and I had committed to them to find a way to restore that money,” Mark said of the retracted grant. “This is the first successful step in that direction.”

“We would clearly have to see if this comes to fruition,” Litchfield said of the funding. If it does, she said, “my guess is, we would have to regroup with our (building) committee and develop some kind of building (plan) that could be done with the amount of money and resources we have.”

“But, it’s very, very nice to have been remembered,” she said of Mark.

Greenfield

Should the bond bill be approved, Greenfield’s new John Zon Community Center, expected to open in February, would receive $200,000.

Mark said he secured $100,000 in the fiscal year 2017 state budget for a new Greenfield senior center, but funding was eventually cut by Baker.

“I have been looking for a way to restore that funding as well, and this has been the first successful avenue,” Mark said.

Greenfield Council on Aging Director Hope Macary said the money will be used for furnishings, information technology and other aspects of the project that were cut when Town Council reduced the project’s budget.

“Basically, anything that isn’t the walls or the floor is furnishings and fixtures,” Macary said.

She said the project is going well, and expects the center to open early next year.

“The seniors are thrilled, I think everybody in town is thrilled. It’s a beautiful building and I can’t wait until we open,” she said. “We’re already sort of envisioning some of the programs happening there. It’s welcoming, it’s sunny, it’s just a beautiful space. Greenfield has done a really good thing in building this community center.”

Greenfield Community College

The $9.4 million for a child care center housed within Greenfield Community College is an important project because GCC is the only community college in the state without a child care center,” Mark said.

Construction on the GCC campus, coupled with lack of funding, forced the college to close its child care center in 1999 and it was never reopened.

“We’re extremely excited that this is back on the legislative agenda,” GCC President Robert Pura said. “We couldn’t be more passionate about our commitment to having child care return to the campus. It is a critical and essential element for many of our students to succeed.”

Bernardston

Mark said he’d also been following the news in Bernardston regarding construction of a new fire station. Residents overwhelmingly rejected a $2.6 million proposal to purchase land for and construct of a new fire station during an October special town meeting. The Fire Station Expansion Committee brought the proposal before voters after more than a year spent gathering figures and considering building plans.

“They are close to having a plan to move forward, but unfortunately in a small town costs can sometimes be overwhelming,” Mark said of the vote. “Since they are so far along in the process and the proposed costs are not unreasonable, even if they are out of reach for a town of roughly 2,000 people, I am hoping that $1 million from the state could be the shot in the arm they need to get their first responders a building they truly deserve.”

Bernardston Fire Chief Peter Shedd, who is also chairman of the Fire Station Expansion Committee, said he was pleased to hear the news from Bernardston Town Coordinator Hugh Campbell.

“It might give (the project) a ray of hope,” Shedd said of the $1 million earmark. “If it doesn’t cost the townspeople money, they might support it … We’ll take any help we can get, and that’s a lot of help.”

After the October vote, Shedd said the committee plans to take time off and reconvene after the holidays. However, he wants to ensure the committee has the Selectboard’s support to continue.

As for the bond bill, Shedd said perhaps the committee and other Bernardston officials will reach out to senators for their support.

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 257