Franklin County faces some big moves in 2014
Franklin County courthouse Greenfield
The new train platform to be built at the John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield will extend out beyond the concrete bench at left, toward the train tracks. Visible beyond is the old train depot at the Energy Park. Recorder/Trish Crapo
Greenfield Corporate Center on Munson St is being renovated to serve as a temporary courthouse. Recorder/Paul Franz
The new train platform will be built at the back of the John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield, as seen here from across the tracks at the Energy Park. Recorder/Trish Crapo
Bank Row buildings from Main St
Bank Row buildings
Greenfield Corporate Center on Munson St. Recorder/Paul Franz
Look for 2014 to produce some major events around Franklin County, including some new beginnings as well as some endings. If all goes as planned, that is.
Most noticeable in Greenfield will be the start of major renovations on the Franklin County Courthouse, with existing functions scheduled to move in mid-February to the Greenfield Corporate Center on Munson Street.
While the $60 million project has been talked about for more than a decade and is expected to involve three years of renovations to the Main Street building, preparations for 46,000-square-foot, three-story temporary quarters into which court operations are projected to move over the long President’s Day weekend are the first tangible sign that the new courthouse, maintaining its Main Street facade but more than doubling space with a new 30,000-square-foot addition on the opposite end, will actually take place.
Expect a ribbon-cutting ceremony, as well as efforts to compensate for the expected loss of downtown activity, such as increased shuttle bus service from the temporary courthouse.
Work on passenger rail improvements are on track to be completed by the end of 2014, with preparations for a platform at the John W. Olver Regional Transportation Center, and the arrival of the first Montrealer through Greenfield sometime in 2015.
The $73 million process, which will also include new rail crossings at 13 locations around the county in addition to the 49 miles of track improvements, purchase of the track by the state, and the $1 million passenger platform at the foot of the Bank Row station, is part of a vision to expand the twice-daily Montrealer runs and begin lobbying for shuttle trains to eventually carry passengers between Greenfield and Springfield to link with other expanded rail service to ease traffic congestion.
That activity, combined with the courthouse renovation, is also expected to further additional downtown development, including efforts to build a parking garage as well as attempts by the Franklin County Community Development Corp. to redevelop its First National Bank building.
Don’t expect to see that turned into anything in the next 12 months, but the CDC plans to aggressively begin marketing the long-vacant former bank for $400,000 to recover what it’s invested to stabilize its roof and facade, with hopes of seeing it become the centerpiece of a Greenfield cultural district, says Executive Director John Waite.
“As the courthouse starts up, this is a great opportunity to get cracking on all that, so it’s going to be a grand 2014,” said Waite.
The CDC will also be moving ahead this spring with an expansion of its Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center with the addition of a new freezer as well as “blast freezing” and other equipment for the commercial kitchen, making use of $250,000 from a federal loan, along with a $80,000 in grant funding to enable the center to nearly double the $60,000 worth of produce it froze this year for Community Supported Agriculture operations and schools. The plan is to sell $100,000 worth of produce from the 2014 harvest season from eight to 10 farms around the region as a way to boost their year-round marketability and also to provide locally grown products to schools and institutions.
The kitchen, newly certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for meat processing, expects to begin producing meat pies as its first carnivorous venture that should expand later in the year to include Greenfield Community Farm soups made for sale to local schools.
Another major development expected to break ground this year will be a roughly $23 million operating facility for Baystate Franklin Medical Center. If a required determination of need is granted by the state’s Public Health Council, the two-story, 23,000-square-foot building at Beacon and North streets would provide four greatly expanded operating rooms to replace those built nearly 40 years ago, along with pre-operation and recovery rooms. Expected to open in 2015, the new operating center is part of the hospital’s efforts to recruit and retain physicians and provide space for advanced surgical technologies.
Meanwhile, Greenfield’s new $66 million high school project is expected to hit a construction milestone this fall. Teachers and students will move into the new building during the 2014-15 school year, while construction crews begin to demolish almost all of the current building (save for the auditorium).
When it comes to advanced technologies, expansion of broadband capability is coming — still — to many of the pockets of the region that depend on dial-up or satellite service. But 2014 will see one town — Leverett — build out its own gigabit-per-second network by the end of 2014. The $3.4 million project, which will provide high speed to every address in town, is the only one of its kind in the region, and likely the state, being built with a bond to be paid back by property taxpayers.
With other towns maybe less likely to follow the lead of Leverett — which sees this partially as an economic development strategy — others are waiting for the state Legislature to approve a $50 million bond to build out a “last mile” broadband in 45 unserved towns in Western Massachusetts “to develop a workable last-mile strategy,” said Executive Committee Chairwoman Monica Webb, and is also completing a lengthy application process for a federal loan that would help with the $100 million in costs. The Rural Utility Service broadband loan program’s definition is part of the Farm Bill still before Congress, and funding is subject to appropriations that need to be approved.
While the build-out won’t take place this year other than in Leverett, Webb said the hope is to have funding worked out by the fall.
Greenfield’s Eunice Williams Covered Bridge, which was knocked off its abutments by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, is scheduled to be repaired and open to vehicle and pedestrian traffic by year’s end.
While past predictions may have fallen through for the signature project of Co-Op Power, 2014 may be the year that the Northeast Biodiesel plant at the Greenfield Energy Plant gets built at the Greenfield Industrial Park.
The $2.5 million project, which will convert used cooking oil into 3.5 million gallons of home heating oil and diesel fuel annually, was originally predicted to be producing 5 million gallons a year by 2006, but has intentionally focused on local ownership, so financing has been challenging.
But with continued grant-writing and fundraising efforts by Co-op Power, the 420-member organization that owns a controlling share of the project, construction and start of operation is projected for this year.
In the realm of politics, 2014 is an election year with a rematch shaping up between two-term Second Franklin District Denise Andrews of Orange and Republican challenger Susannah Whipps Lee of Athol.
Last, but certainly not least, after more than 41 years, the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant is scheduled to end operation in Vernon, Vt., at the end of 2014. Plant owner Entergy Corp., which announced last August that it planned to permanently shut down the reactor at the end of 2014, has two years after the 620-megawatt reactor stops generating power to study how much it will actually cost to decommission the plant and to choose its course of action for going about it. Yet in a recent agreement with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, Entergy said it plans to decommission the plant sometime in the next decade, rather than wait as long as 60 years.
You can reach Richie Davis at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269