Infrastructure improvements on tap for Montague in 2020

  • A new building at 38 Avenue A is set to be built where there is now an old, long-empty cinderblock building. STAFF File PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • The 5th Street pedestrian bridge in Turners Falls is set to be totally rebuilt this summer and complete before the end of the year. STAFF File PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/7/2020 5:26:57 PM
Modified: 1/7/2020 5:26:24 PM

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series regarding what residents should expect in their communities in 2020. Look for stories from Franklin County’s other geographic territories throughout the week.

Developments in Montague’s business community and in its municipal infrastructure are expected to make noticeable differences to the town this year.

Regarding the major projects in the town’s foreseeable future, Town Administrator Steve Ellis pointed to improvements to roads and sidewalks in Turners Falls and Montague Center; the completion of the in-construction Public Works building; a new building on Avenue A that is expected to at least begin its planning and approvals this year; and the replacement of the 5th Street pedestrian bridge in the Canal District.

“We’re a relatively small town with somewhat limited staff capacity,” Ellis said, “but we are presented with an array of projects that will not only keep us busy, but will keep us excited as we move through 2020.”

Turners Falls will get new sidewalks on 1st Street and in the area around Scotty’s Convenience Store, bike lanes along Montague City Road and Avenue A, and road features to slow traffic coming into town from the bridge to Gill.

In Montague Center, changes are planned for Main Street that are designed to slow traffic, and new sidewalks and crossings at the S-curve between town center and The Montague Bookmill are being added for safety.

All these projects are funded by state grants, except for some portions of the work in Montague Center, which are being handled by the town Department of Public Works, Ellis said.

“When we talk about trying to create this highly walkable downtown in Montague Center and in Turners Falls, these projects are critical to delivering on that promise,” Ellis said.

Construction of the new Public Works building, which began this summer, is expected to be finished and ready for employees to move in this summer, Ellis said. The new building is at the corner of Turners Falls Road and Turnpike Road, next to the Public Safety building.

The relocation of the Department of Public Works will open up the department’s present building at 500 Avenue A. The town hopes to soon put the building into reuse. A request for proposals will likely be publicized this summer or fall, Ellis said.

The new building at 38 Avenue A is set to be built where there is now an old, long-empty cinderblock building.

The Montague Economic Development and Industrial Corporation, the organization that legally owns the lot, accepted a proposal in October to redevelop the space into a new building, four stories high and 40,000 square feet in its footprint, and styled after the Grand Trunk Hotel that was in that space until 1968. The building will be mixed use, with storefronts on the first floor and offices and apartments on the upper floors.

“It’s a very active, very alive proposal,” Ellis said. “We are extremely excited that there is interest in redeveloping this lot, and in redeveloping it in a manner that would be consistent with the historical architecture and character of the village center.”

The developer is New England Wound Care, a medical clinic at 7 Burnham St. that will be expanding into the new building. The news this year will be in the public presentations of the final design, which the developer is working on, Ellis said. Whether construction begins this year will depend on the pace of the developer’s planning work.

The 5th Street pedestrian bridge is set to be totally rebuilt this summer and complete before the end of the year. The work is funded by a $2.17 million state grant, and will include a new sewer line along the bridge, and new sidewalks on the surrounding streets. The new bridge is expected to drastically improve the business viability of the former Southworth building, which was recently bought by a developer, and of the adjacent 42 Canal Road, which houses Buckingham Rabbits Vintage and the Local Yoga Joint.

Gill — FirstLight, internet

The installation of a new fiber-optic internet line and ongoing discussion regarding the FirstLight Hydro Generating Co. will likely be the major orders of business for Gill in 2020.

The new internet line is being proposed by Access Plus, the company that provides internet to Northfield Mount Hermon School. Basically, the company is offering to build the line, give it to the town, then lease part of it for the school’s use and leave the rest for the town’s use. Access Plus wants it up and running by September, in time for the start of the school year.

The town has not formally agreed to it yet, but the Selectboard is leaning toward accepting the deal, said Town Administrator Ray Purington.

“We haven’t found any show-stopping reasons (not to accept it),” he said.

The other major item for the Selectboard is the town’s dealings with the FirstLight power company. The board has repeatedly stated its concerns about the company’s plan to restructure into two smaller companies owned by a single parent company, wondering specifically how it may affect the town’s tax base and how it may change the company’s legal responsibility to maintain the river.

This summer, another stakeholder attempted to appeal the decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (commonly called FERC) to allow the restructure. The Selectboard had hoped this would open an opportunity to ask its questions, but the appeal was dismissed on procedural grounds.

Now, Purington expects the next chance will be when FirstLight formally files its application to renew its licenses with FERC. But he said there is no indication of when that will happen.

Erving — Library, senior housing, master plan

The most exciting news in Erving may be the new library on Care Drive, next to the Senior Center, which is expected to open in March after beginning construction this past spring.

But other changes this year will matter just as much. Preliminary work is underway on the redevelopment of the former International Paper mill and a new senior housing complex, according to Administrative Coordinator Bryan Smith. Additionally, a new master plan to reflect the state of Erving Center will be created this spring.

The mill building has been empty since 2001. Due to unpaid taxes, the town took ownership in 2014. Since then, a handful of possibilities for redeveloping the space have been considered, including turning it into housing and demolishing the whole thing, Smith said.

In 2019, the town began hazardous material abatements, and expects to be finished by the end of June, Smith said. Meanwhile, options for redevelopment are being considered

“The goal is to get it into the private sector,” Smith said. “The town itself doesn’t necessarily want to be the long-term owner of this property.”

The most viable options are probably either a total demolition, or a partial demolition that would leave one of the complex’s especially re-usable buildings, Smith said.

A senior housing complex on Care Drive has been about 10 years in the making and has been put on hold from time to time. Construction is likely still at least a year or two away, Smith said, but the town expects to find a developer for the project this year.

A new master plan to reflect new priorities for Erving Center is scheduled to be developed this spring, starting with a community forum in February, Smith said. The final document will be ready in May or June.

Developing Erving Center involves several constraints, Smith said: it’s an old area, it’s right next to a river and it has no public water.

“We’re now walking into 2020 going, ‘What’s the future of Erving Center?’” Smith said. “How do you attract business owners, how do you attract residents, when you have those constraints?”

The process will take community input into account, but the grunt work will mostly be done by students with the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s architecture department, Smith said. Working with town Planning Assistant Mariah Kurtz, the students will consider the features of the area and make recommendations for how the town should approach future development.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.




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