Amherst proposes leisure services move to ex-school

Though there is no time line yet for when the Hilltown Community Health Center, which serves uninsured, underinsured, homeless, seasonal workers and new Americans, will open a satellite office in Amherst, Town Manager John Musante told the Select Board on Monday that the town needs to prepare for its arrival by renovating the vacant school.

“My plan is to move the Leisure Services to that location,” Musante said.

At the same time, this will create new programmatic space for Leisure Service and Supplemental Education that will benefit children and adults who participate in its offerings, Musante said. Musante and Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek recently met with LSSE Director Linda Chalfant and members of the LSSE Committee to discuss the plan.

To move forward with the renovation, the Select Board unanimously recommended $700,000 in borrowing that will come before annual Town Meeting, which begins April 28. This money is contained in the Joint Capital Planning Committee’s report and would pay for improvements and renovations that will allow LSSE to move there by September 2015.

The work will include installing a ramp to provide access to the first floor, a limited use/limited application lift that can carry people and supplies to the second floor, and handicapped accessible bathrooms

According to the report from the Joint Capital Planning Committee, the East Street School building is a valuable asset, but does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and “its roof leaks, the parking area is badly deteriorated, and the building contains asbestos that needs to be abated or encapsulated.”

Meanwhile, Musante said he is satisfied by continuing discussions with a health center planning and study group.

“The study group has suggested opening a satellite health center that is served by public transportation accessible to this area on this side of the river, and the population center here in Hampshire County” makes sense that it be in Amherst, Musante said.

Musante said he is working with this group for a lease of 2,000 square feet, or about half of what the LSSE uses in the lower level of Bangs, which would double to 4,000 square feet, or all of LSSE’s space, by the end of 2015.

“I’m very, very excited about meeting the community’s health needs and really a re-imagined community center at the Bangs,” Musante said.

But he said there is not yet a signed contract. “We don’t have a deal with them yet,” Musante said.

Once terms of a lease are agreed upon, any renovations at the Bangs would be paid for by the health center through fundraising and grants. Musante said some of these lease payments could offset the costs of renovating the East Street School.

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