Upgrades to municipal facilities, bridges among plans for West County in 2023

By VIRGINIA RAY

For the Recorder

Published: 01-15-2023 1:00 PM

Editor’s note: The Greenfield Recorder has been publishing stories about what Franklin County residents can likely expect to see happening in their towns in 2023. Details about projects in the western part of the county were shared in two parts. This is the last installment.

Completing a long-awaited community pool, improving roads and bridges, and upgrading town facilities are among the projects in the works for western Franklin County towns in 2023.

Buckland

Town Administrator Heather Butler said Buckland is looking forward to “a year of progress” that will include improvements to infrastructure, “especially our road surfaces.” In particular, work will wrap up on the Conway Road reconstruction project that includes “minor widening, sidewalks, drainage, and new water and sewer piping along Conway, Summer and South streets and Conway Road.”

Butler mentioned plans to install solar panels at the wastewater treatment plant, as well as other energy efficiencies “designed to reduce costs and the facilities impact on the environment.”

The Buckland Selectboard continues to work with colleagues in Shelburne to find a means to share policing services, with guidance from the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management. The two towns were awarded $200,000 through the Efficiency and Regionalization grant program to take steps toward a shared department.

“Within the scope of this initiative the town will look at the future of the Police Station building on Conway Street and determine what its next best use might be,” Butler said.

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Buckland is also looking to move its sand and salt operations from the current location on Conway Street to the Highway Garage on Sears Street.

“As with the Police Station, this will give the town the option to look at future uses and perhaps ownership of the old Highway Garage building,” Butler explained.

Still, the most exciting change coming in 2023, Butler said, will be the completion of the nearly $2.1 million community swimming pool and accompanying pool house at the Buckland Recreation Area. She noted contractors have been working steadily since September to meet a June 30 completion date.

Charlemont

Valentine Reid, who is being joined by William Harker and Jared Bellows on the Selectboard following a special election last week, said he and fellow town officials will explore ways to use $500,000 in state recreation infrastructure grant money and explore ways to lower the tax rate.

A series of public meetings about how to use the grant money have been held but options, such as buying real estate to build some sort of recreational facility, are still being explored, Reid said.

“The outcome we’re looking for is building something that the town and visitors will both be able to use and enjoy,” he said, noting the need to address a lack of parking.

The deadline to use the grant is the end of 2026, Reid said, giving the town time to “move in a positive direction without having to rush into a decision.” He hopes an ideal project can be identified and agreed upon this year.

For Reid, “our No. 1 priority as a Selectboard” is to rein in the tax rate, which was last set at $20.73 per $1,000 valuation.

“Of course, the school assessments are a large portion of the town budget,” Reid said, noting the importance of keeping Hawlemont Regional School open and finding sustainable ways to pay for it. “I think it would be a tragedy to lose it. I think it’s a draw for residents who move here with families. The alternatives would be a lot of busing.”

Two other areas of concern in the coming year, said Reid, are “housing development and housing in general.”

“Making Charlemont a destination for families to move to — whether it’s affordable housing or housing in general — is important, and certainly a priority for myself,” said Reid, who moved to town with his family three years ago.

Other items of importance include the town’s numerous bridges. The largest project on the horizon, Reid said, is replacing the Route 8A bridge heading toward Hawley. Additionally, the Highway Department is laying out road repairs and priority repairs on the dirt roads that are difficult to navigate during mud season.

The Police, Fire and Highway departments all have buildings and equipment in an established floodplain.

“The risk has been identified, but the solution has not been,” Reid said, noting possible next steps include securing property for a new municipal complex and finding grants to relocate equipment.

Town Hall also faces several challenges, including its general condition, an unusable second floor, an aging heating and cooling system, and general lack of space.

Additionally, Reid said, town bylaws “are in need of grooming,” the master plan is in need of review and technology should be upgraded.

Heath

Perhaps Heath’s biggest project during the coming year will be “how to keep our tax rate down,” said Town Coordinator Hilma Sumner.

In starting to prepare the town’s fiscal year 2024 budget, the Selectboard is looking at several capital projects.

For one, Sumner said, the salt shed is in “urgent need” of replacement.

“There are numerous broken roof truss components and a broken supporting column on one wall,” a Selectboard report reads. “The concrete slab has been undermined by sub-surface drainage to the point where part of it has broken and sunken down below the floor level.”

The Selectboard has solicited cost estimates for replacement options and has received estimates for a feasibility study to rebuild on the same site versus relocating to the Bray Road site that was previously acquired by the town for a future Highway Garage and Fire Station.

“It is our goal to have a bid-ready project to present to the town by the next Annual Town Meeting,” the Selectboard’s report reads.

Other town building issues are being addressed as well. While most municipal offices and departments have been moved to the former elementary school on Jacobs Road, determining the suitability of using Sawyer Hall amid accessibility, parking and space concerns is in the works.

Community Hall was insulated last year with money from a Green Communities grant. The Selectboard has been researching state grant programs that would help refurbish windows and replace wood flooring. Other budgeted projects that have yet to be completed include stair fixes and replacing the front doors.

Rowe

Executive Secretary Janice Boudreau said roads and bridges, and open space are on the front burner this year.

Rebuilding the Ford Hill Road culvert for which Rowe received a $500,000 grant through the state’s Municipal Small Bridge Program and an additional $90,671 to cover the rising costs of materials is planned for this summer.

“Another project in the works is rebuilding the road leading to the former Yankee nuclear power plant site’s cask storage facility for spent fuel rods,” Boudreau said. “Road design is currently being finalized for the rebuild of the road to the facility. Additionally, Cyrus Stage Road Bridge rebuild designs are being finalized for construction to start next year.”

Boudreau said the town is borrowing $1.2 million to pave a large number of roads in town “in great need of work.”

“With costs of materials rising, road paving projects are extremely expensive,” she said.

Additionally, Rowe continues to work with Charlemont to finalize a plan to replace the shared fire chief, who will be reaching mandatory retirement age in May.

Finally, the town’s Open Space and Recreation Committee is working to finalize a new Open Space and Recreation Plan with help from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments that includes a climate-resiliency aspect.

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