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West County eyes broadband, new pool and more in 2018

  • Holiday lights line the Bridge of Flowers on a misty late afternoon in Shelburne Falls after a period of freezing rain on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • The Shelburne Historical Society on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017 at the Arms Academy building in Shelburne Falls. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • A dining room display at the Shelburne Historical Society in the former Arms Academy. April 27, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The Heath Elementary School building on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE



Recorder Staff
Thursday, December 28, 2017

“Out with the old, in with the new” is an idiom often heard around New Year’s Day. This year, West County towns said “goodbye” to some of the old and have raised hopes for the new.

For the last decade, West County has been praying for high-speed internet, but as 2018 approaches, it really does seem to be “right around the corner.”

For those Comcast cable towns — Buckland, Shelburne and Conway — the Cable Expansion Project is to provide at least 96 percent access to these towns by August.

For the remaining towns without broadband cable access, working with the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development has simplified the grant process for the Last Mile broadband infrastructure, and many of the towns have hired Westfield Gas & Electric’s Whip City Fiber division to design and build town-owned fiber-optic networks.

By this time next year, more of these hilltowns will be “wired.”

Ashfield

Ashfield has corrected the pole survey needed for the Last Mile broadband project and town officials feel that progress is being made. The town is also making progress on its bridges, after getting $500,000 from the state’s Small Bridge grant program.

This year, Ashfield Lake got a new dock, and is awaiting a new diving board. And the town got a new police chief — Beth Bezio — who is popular and who is working to rebuild strong ties between her department and the community.

Buckland

This year, Buckland said “goodbye” to its leaking, 54-year-old swimming pool, but, with a $500,000 anonymous donation in August, the town is making headway not only toward a new, L-shaped swimming pool, but also on infrastructure improvements at the 32-acre Recreation Area.

Also in 2017, Buckland bought Cricket Field, thanks to a $50,000 grant from TransCanada, matched by a $50,000 state Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant. Although the new swimming pool may not be in the ground by this summer, the Rec Area will have a new septic system that’s outside of the flood plain, and a new playground. The Recreation Committee has raised $18,000 for the playground and has a $32,000 grant for that project.

“There was a lot of movement in the recreation area,” said Town Administrator Andrea Llamas. “People wanted it, and they seem to support it.”

By the end of 2018, Buckland and Shelburne are looking forward to the days when at least 97 percent of their households can access high-speed internet through the Comcast Expansion Program. The cable company is under contract with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to have 50 percent of the expansion program completed by February, and the rest finished before the end of 2018. Llamas said town officials hope to be able to negotiate with Ashfield for a fiberoptic network to extend to the remaining “unserved” population in its Apple Valley region.​​​​​​

Shelburne Falls got a new restaurant — Baked! on Deerfield Avenue. And this month, Mocha Maya’s bid adieu to its live music performances, after 12 years and at least 1,500 shows. Co-owner Chris King said, in his December newsletter, that the concerts will be on hiatus so he can focus on the renovations planned for the adjoining restaurant space, where the Village Restaurant used to be. “We hope that, in the not too distant future we’ll be re-introducing live music … in a way that will be bigger and better,” he said.

Parking studies came in for both sides of the village, and it looks like under-used lots in the old Buckland railway station and on Deerfield Avenue in Shelburne will be getting user-friendly makeovers.

Colrain

Colrain will start the new year with a new highway garage, thanks to a $1.1 million Community Development Block Grant and $420,000 from the town’s Chapter 90 road money from the state. The money was used to tear down part of the old Jacksonville Road highway garage and replace it with a new, 2,500-square-foot addition.

Monroe

A collapsing, wooden mill building in Monroe that threatened to pollute the Deerfield River was taken down this year — to be replaced by a scenic lookout park in 2018. The demolition costs were expected to be $280,000, a big bill for a town of 120 residents. But along with grants from TransCanada and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ brownfield program, the state awarded $520,000 to help with demolition and replacing the structure with a lookout park. By October, the building and retaining wall beneath it was gone. About $370,000 is to be used for a new park this summer.

Heath

Saying ‘Goodbye’ to the 22-year-old Heath Elementary School was painful for many residents, but this town has a great building, with the mortgage paid off, and enough settlement money from the Mohawk Trail Regional School District to maintain it and keep the utilities on for a few years. A building committee is now exploring possible re-uses for the 25,000 square-foot school that may generate revenue or new opportunities for the town.

Shelburne

In Shelburne, the town’s Historical Society and museum in the old Arms Academy has been revitalized. This year, it has held open houses and welcomed back the Arms Academy Class of 1967 at its 50th reunion.