Library executive order sparks questions from councilor

  • ALLIS

  • MARTIN

Staff Writer
Published: 10/17/2019 10:35:33 PM
Modified: 10/17/2019 10:35:23 PM

GREENFIELD — Brickett Allis, Precinct 3 councilor and write-in mayoral candidate, submitted questions concerning the timing and intent of an executive order that restricts usage at the Greenfield Public Library, and the cost of an occupancy study.

Mayor William Martin responded the same day.

Allis said following the City Council meeting Wednesday he had “a very disturbing feeling that the administration is making decisions and potentially spending taxpayer money to campaign for a measure that is before the voters on the November ballot, which is a violation of state campaign finance laws,” in a Facebook post on the Elect Brickett Allis Mayor page.

Activities of public officials in support or opposition of ballot questions were addressed in a bulletin by the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance, which provides general guidance.

“A public official may take certain actions regarding a ballot question, if the actions are consistent with his/her official responsibilities,” according to the bulletin sent to the Greenfield Recorder by the mayor’s office.

The Office of Campaign and Political Finance also added, “Officials may not use public resources in an attempt to promote or oppose a ballot question, e.g. by placing an advertisement in a newspaper urging a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on the question, or by conducting a mass mailing of flyers using a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on a question, or by distributing such a flyer through students at a public school.”

Martin tapped the unrestricted mayor’s fund to pay for the $4,800 occupancy study.

Eight questions were posed by Allis, who requested Martin’s office respond by Monday, Oct. 21. The questions were answered by the mayor and sent to the City Council, including Allis, on Thursday.

Allis said in an interview he was surprised the mayor responded so quickly. As of Thursday evening, he hadn’t reviewed the answers.

In his response to Allis’ questions, the mayor said he did not conduct the occupancy study to sway voters.

Martin said in an interview that upon receiving the report from engineer Michael Rainville, he “felt an immediate obligation to notify others” and take action in the form of an executive order.

“It was a reaction to the possibility that the city would not vote for a new library and therefore the city would need to know how to proceed with the ADA and code issues of the current library,” Martin wrote in an email to Allis and the council. “As I said in my Sept. 17 memo to the council, ‘While I understand that the library vote on the November ballot makes any action on the library seem political, the professional staff is providing information that is factual for the mayor to make an informed decision about important facility issues.’”

In one question, Allis asks if there is a plan in place to re-open the areas that were closed within the library prior to either a) the new library being constructed or b) the expenditure of the $8 million to $9 million the mayor stated it would take to bring the building up to code.

Martin’s response was: “Per the executive order, ... these areas are ‘closed to the public until a usage and occupancy plan is submitted and approved by the structural engineer.’ This should happen prior to either of those options, however we are mindful of the 30 percent valuation threshold that triggers sprinkler systems, code and ADA compliance. There are discretionary powers available to the fire chief and building inspector as indicated in the licensed structural engineer report. We cannot guess the result or project our wish for the outcome, but must merely wait for this process to unfold and respect the advice of experts in their particular discipline.”

Martin also addressed how long the areas will be closed.

“The results (of the election) will determine the use of the building,” Martin wrote in his answer. “There are several modifying factors, to include but not limited to, egress, occupancy load, bathrooms, improvement costs triggered by regulations and expenditures. The City Council will be responsible for providing funds for the expected costs once presented by the mayor and staff.”

Martin was also asked when and why the study of the building was done.

“After the library vote in May, there were claims the library could be brought up-to-date by an expenditure of $64,000, as stated by some councilors, and the information that the professionals and volunteers who have been working on fixing this building had alleged conflicts with the estimates,” Martin wrote in his response to Allis. “Councilors doubted the approximately $8 million figure that had been cited as a minimum for bringing the library to conform with the current building code. Professionals were consulted, including the Massachusetts Office of Disability, to inform the process.”

On Aug. 5, the mayor’s office and the City Council received documents from the Massachusetts Office of Disability, the architect on the library project and the chair of the library board of trustees, prompting further review by city staff.

During tours of the building and discussions about the operations of the library, information came to light that while the building is “grandfathered” to use, there were some important safety issues that couldn’t be ignored, Martin said. One of the big concerns raised was the lack of a second exit during after-hours meetings in the basement meeting rooms.

On Aug. 22, Martin ordered a report on the next steps to remedy these issues, an order discussed at the Aug. 21 City Council meeting.

On Aug. 23, Martin sent an update on the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission ADA assessment, which had the quoted $64,000 fix.

“If an Architectural Barrier Removal (ABR) design and construction process were to proceed on the existing library, construction costs would be many times higher than the estimate of the elements involved, and would also definitely need to include figuring Massachusetts prevailing wage rates, as well as David Bacon Wage Monitoring into construction costs if any amount of federal funds were to be involved,” Martin wrote. “Based on other municipal ABR design projects I have been involved in, I doubt that you could even procure a qualified architect for less than $100,000 to design the required study and design work. When you consider that design is usually at least 10 percent of total construction cost, that should give you some idea of the potential cost of construction.”

Reach Melina Bourdeau at 413-772-0261, ext. 263 or mbourdeau@recorder.com.




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