TOWN MANAGER REPORT FOR JULY 20, 2020

Photo:amherstma.gov

Source: amherstma.gov

Editor’s note: Town Manager Paul Bockelman submits a comprehensive report to the Town Council at each of its regular meetings. The reports, usually 12 to 15 pages, provide up-to-date information on what is happening within and across Town departments. The Manager’s Report is usually one of the last items on the agenda and is often taken up late at night, leaving little time for the Manager to do more than mention a few highlights and this is usually all that gets entered into the Council minutes.

What follows is an edited version of the Town Manager’s Report. .  The original report can be found here.

Downtown and Business Reopening: 
Town staff have been aggressive in assisting restaurants to reopen. 

Restaurants open with expanded outdoor seating, most with alcohol service: 

P_u_b_l_i_c_ _W_a_y_:

Bistro 63 

Momo 

Arigato 

Taste Thai 

Amherst Coffee 

Fresh Side 

La Veracruzana 

Oriental Flavor 

The Lone Wolf 

Antonio’s (for takeout) 

P_r_i_v_a_t_e_ _P_r_o_p_e_r_t_y_:

The Hangar Pub and Grill

Johnny’s Tavern 

IYA 

Mission Cantina 

The Harp 

Jake’s at the Mill 

Restaurants who are submitting applications in the near future: 

O_t_h_e_r_ _a_c_t_i_o_n_s_:

Placed two picnic tables on the Cushman Common that are being maintained by Cushman Café 

Placed numerous picnic tables on Boltwood Walk to accommodate take out dining 

Placed picnic tables on the North Common to accommodate take out dining 

Discussing use of parking spaces in front of Johnny’s Tavern for use by the Tavern.   

This continues to be a true team effort with Inspection Services assisting businesses and expediting permitting and the Public Works Department establishing safe dining areas on our streets seemingly overnight. 

Summer Events Summary

Town Pools: Town pools opened on June 27th. Hours limited slightly. New rules require that those using the pools will need to arrive in their bathing suits, as changing spaces will not be open. Bathhouses at Mill River and War Memorial are for bathroom use only. Social distancing on the pool deck is also in place. LSSE is looking into a dedicated time for seniors to swim. 

Puffer’s Pond: Puffer’s Pond is open. To achieve social distancing on the beach, the number of parties/individuals allowed on the beach at one time is limited. Attendants are present to provide guidance and monitor usage. Much positive feedback on this new approach.

Playgrounds: Town playgrounds are open. The Town is not sanitizing equipment and surfaces between uses.

Recreation Fields and Team Sports: Recreation Fields are open to groups of 10 or fewer who may use the fields but no scrimmages or games are authorized. All summer sports programs including Adult Softball are cancelled. LSSE will be looking at offering various sports clinics during the summer that are held outside and limited to 8 children at a time. We will be releasing updated information for organized sports shortly.

Cherry Hill Golf Course: Cherry Hill Golf Course is Open. 

Reopening Committee 

Most staff from Town Hall, Bangs Center, and LSSE are back in the office. Procedures are in place for entrance to the building and Standard Operating Protocols have been reviewed with each individual to ensure a common understanding of what we all need to do to ensure each other’s safety.

T_o_w_n_ _H_a_l_l_

We are laying out plans to make Town Hall available to the public on an appointment basis only. 

There is no date set for Town Hall to reopen to the public. 

More and more services are being placed online to accommodate the public.

Senior Center

There is no date for the Senior Center to reopen. I believe the Senior Center will be closed for the rest of the calendar year. 

I do not anticipate opening buildings to publicly accessible, posted, in-person public meetings any time soon. I will reevaluate this around Labor Day.

Town Zoom Committee:

A team from I.T., Town Clerk, Town Manager, and Clerk to the Council have discussed options in response to the concerns expressed by Town Councilors and members of the public to be able to see participants in meetings. There are trade-offs between the security and being able to view all people in the audience.

Outreach

Coffee with Town Manager: 

The last Cuppa Joe was on Friday, June 5th with Finance Director Sean Mangano and Comptroller Sonia Aldrich. 

The next Cuppa Joe will be on Friday, July 24th at 8:00 a.m. Chamber of Commerce Director Claudia Pazmany and Business Improvement District Director Gabrielle Gould will be the guests. 

Call-in shows: We continue our Community Chats on a weekly basis. We have had the Police Chief, Director of Senior Services, and the Emergency Management Director/Fire Chief, the Assistant Town Manager/Director of Conservation and Development, Superintendent of Public Works, Director of LSSE, Council President, School Superintendent, and Finance Director. Thursday’s Chat focused on the U.S. Census and featured Communications Manager and Town Clerk as the featured guests. These call-in shows are all available for viewing by going here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySXkNrb1J1g 

Appointments 

 I continue to seek members to serve on the Elementary School Building Committee, Agricultural Commission, Affordable Housing Trust, Cultural Council, CDBG Advisory Committee, Community Preservation Act Committee, Council on Aging, Disability Access Advisory Committee, Human Rights Commission, Leisure Services and Supplemental Education (LSSE) Commission, Public Art Commission, and Public Shade Tree Committee.

Outreach and Community Participation Officers (CPOs): 

Complete Count – United States Census: The Town’s current response rate is 62.5%. This is significantly below where we need to be to ensure a complete count. Amherst is at high risk of undercounting our young children. Promoting completion of the census by the Town Councilors would help. 

Town-Gown

 Hampshire College: 

The College will be open to its residential students beginning August 20th and the semester will run until November 20th. 

The Spring semester will run from February 2nd until May 15th. 

The College expects to be at ~50% occupancy which is about 550 students. 

The College will utilize UMass contact tracing services, have daily health monitoring, and offer Isolation and Quarantine shelters on campus. 

There will be a limitations on visitors and they have few students off campus (~25)

 Amherst College: 

The College will be open to its residential students beginning August 24th and the semester will run until November 20th. 

The Spring semester will run from February 3rd until May 23rd. 

The College expects to have 1,200 – 1, 250 students on campus (~60% capacity). 

The College conduct daily testing, have daily health monitoring, and offer Isolation and Quarantine shelters on campus or in neighboring motels. 

There will be a limitations on visitors and they have few students off campus (<50) 

Students are required to sign a “Statement of Shared Responsibility” and are expected to restrict their time to being on-campus only. 

University of Massachusetts at Amherst: 

The University will be open to its residential students beginning August 24th and the semester will run until November 20th. 

The Spring semester will run from January 19th until May 6th.  

85% of classes will be purely remote.

The University will be open to an unknown number of its residential students with significant restrictions on the campus and on the staff and students.  The University is building the capacity to conduct daily testing, have daily health monitoring, and offer Isolation and Quarantine shelters on campus but only for those students living on-campus. 

Off-campus students: We anticipate a larger than normal number of students will be in Town this summer and that many students will be living off-campus during the Fall. Staff have been discussing the impact this may have for public safety and public health and we will be meeting with the colleges and University to discuss the issues this population of students is likely to raise. We are told from large landlords that parents are seeking to rent apartments so that their students can have “a true college experience.” 

Departments 

Town Clerk: 

The Town Clerk is presenting an option for centralized voting to the Town Council at its meeting on July 20th.

Public Safety: 

The Town Council held a special meeting on Police policies, procedures, and activities on July 6th. Staff made a presentation and was available to answer questions from the Council and to listen to public comment.

Human Resources: 

Searches are being conducted for the Health Director and Human Resources Director positions. Review teams are meeting within the week to begin reviewing applications and conducting interviews. 

I have been interviewing to fill some vacant firefighter positions.

Public Works: 

Mill River Basketball Courts: With passage of the capital funds, the DPW will be repaving the basketball courts at Mill River. 

Mill River Pool: DPW installed a new filtration system at the pool which is working well. This replaced an antiquated system that was failing repeatedly. 

Paving: 

Chapter 90 funds for local road and bridge work was funded at $200 million for FY21. Both branches had increased Chapter 90 to $300 million in bills passed this spring, but ultimately reverted to the $200 million level due in large part to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on state revenues. 

Bids have been awarded for new work utilizing existing funds including a full depth reclamation with asphalt injection of Henry Street. 

DPW crews are on Old North Pleasant Street and Kendrick Park to make the changes necessary to connect the new park to the sidewalk system. 

Downtown: DPW placed picnic benches in the Boltwood Garage area and we are seeking additional seating areas in Sweetser Park and on the North Common. DPW has been fast in establishing outdoor dining areas on North Pleasant Street, South Pleasant Street, Main Street, and Amity Street.
 

Finance: 

Budget: The Finance Committee completed an intensive effort to review the budget paying close attention to the areas of concern raised during the public hearing. 

COVID-19: The finance department has secured the Town’s first reimbursement for extraordinary expenses related to COVID-19. 

Health Insurance: The MIIA Health Benefits Trust voted to offer a relief package to its members in the form of a premium holiday which will be shared proportionately between the employers and the employees. 

Sustainability: 

Community Choice Aggregation: The Town is working on the development of an aggregation plan that will be submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities and the creation of a legal Joint Powers Agreement that would be entered into by the Towns of Amherst and Pelham and the City of Northampton. The purpose of the Aggregation is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency and the development of local renewable distributed energy resources. 

The Municipal Vulnerabilities Preparedness (MVP) Action Grant: The Energy and Climate Action Committee is holding a series of subcommittee meetings with Community Leaders and stakeholders. There are four Task Groups holding a series of three meetings each through September. 

Climate Action Plan: A flyer for the Town’s adaptation and resiliency plan is attached to this report.

ValleyBike: ValleyBike has reopened the bike share locations in Amherst.

Community Services: 

Leisure Services: Staff have been reallocated to work at Cherry Hill, Puffers Pond, and Groff Park. 

Senior Center: 

The Director of Senior Services has redirected, with the grantor’s permission, a grant to provide food tokens to the Amherst Farmers Market to seniors in need. 

The Senior Center received a bequest from a loyal participant as part of her will. 

Health Department: 

The Health Director has received a very nice letter from the Board of Trustees of Cooley Dickinson Health Care expressing gratitude to the Health team in Amherst during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The State Department of Public Health announced that a statewide outbreak of hepatitis A is over. Weekly case counts have decreased to a pre-outbreak baseline, and that trend has been sustained for several months. However, the populations that were impacted most by this outbreak, people experiencing homelessness or substance use disorder, continue to be very vulnerable populations who are at risk from hepatitis A. The Town will continue to maintain vigilance for clusters of hepatitis A cases and will continue promoting vaccination of all vulnerable populations in accordance with recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

The Health Director continues to guide all of our work with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. She has been working closely with the School Superintendent and providing guidance to Amherst College when requested.

Conservation and Development: 

Housing Choice Community: 

The Town was designated a “Housing Choice Community in 2020” by the State which recognizes the Town’s efforts to support housing production over the last five years. The designation qualifies the Town to apply for an exclusive capital grant of up to $250,000.

The designation provides an advantage to the Town in nine other state grant programs including MassWorks, Complete Streets, and Green Communities funding.

There are 74 designated communities in the State. The Town and these other communities account for 70% of the new housing in the Commonwealth in the last five years.

Solomon Grant: The Planning Department secured a $10,000 grant from the Solomon Foundation to support the changes to the public way downtown. This grant is in conjunction with the Business Improvement District which is using the funds to purchase umbrellas and shade structures for the outdoor dining areas.

DOT Grant: The Town applied for funds from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for temporary changes.

CDBG-CARES Act Funding: The Town was awarded $321,577 in CDBG-CARES Act funding from the Department of Housing and Community Development. This is less than was requested and we are reviewing the award to determine next steps.

Supportive Housing at 132 Northampton Road: A public hearing began on June 25th on Valley CDC’s Comprehensive Permit application to the Zoning Board of Appeals for the supportive studio apartment project, including 28 units for low income individuals, proposed to be constructed at 132 Northampton Road. The ZBA will take numerous meetings listening to public comment and reviewing this proposal which has received significant Town financial support.

Emergency Rental Assistance program: The Town is moving quickly to set up this program.

ADA Transition Plan: Consultants were in Town surveying all Town buildings to identify the barriers to full accessibility to those who are disabled. 

Information Technology (I.T.): 

I-Net: I.T. is moving forward on a contract to construct a replacement I-Net loop to replace the current Comcast loop which the Town must abandon in compliance with the contract we have with Comcast. This project will extend the Town’s I-Net to more municipal facilities, upgrade the fiber to state-of-the-art capacity fiber, and retain ownership for the future. 

Major Capital Projects 

DPW/Fire: No developments 

Schools: I am interviewing applicants for the resident members of the School Building Committee and will forward the appointees to the TSO Committee within the next week or so.

Library: 

Since 2010, the Library Trustees and staff have been identifying the needs and planning for improvements to the Jones Library. 

The Trustees presented analysis and costs for fixing the building’s major problems to the Town Council and the public. 

A leak in the Jones Library occurred last week causing damage in the Special Collections Department: 710 books and 12 manuscript boxes had to be removed from the shelves

Of those, 157 books are water damaged. It is too soon to tell whether or not we’ll be able to save them all. 

For the manuscripts, parts of the Kinsey Garden scrapbooks and records of the First National Bank of Amherst are badly water damaged. 

Other manuscripts affected were the Henry Jackson photograph albums (one of our only collections documenting the Black community of Amherst in the 19th century), Ira Chafee Goodell correspondence, early 18th century documents relating to Amherst long before its incorporation, and Garden Club records. 

Books receiving the most damage were the Amherst Authors and Imprints, including Noah Webster, Helen Hunt Jackson, Julius Lester, Edward Hitchcock, and very rare imprints from the early 19th century. 

A ceiling tile also fell on one of our Fine Arts frames, causing some minor damage

Tarps are covering the books remaining on the shelves because water is still dripping from the ceiling. 

Project Updates 

Groff Park:  We held a Grand Opening Ribbon Cutting on July 8th Thanks to those of you who were able to attend. The new park is getting rave reviews from the toughest critics…the kids! 

The electrical work for the spray park is expected to be completed by the first of August. 

Project funding: 

$300,000 – State Land Water Conservation Fund Grant 

$550,000 – Town CPA funds (cash, FY17) 

$500,000 – Town CPA funds (borrowing, FY18) 

$100,000 – Town CPA funds (cash, FY20) 

Timeline: 

2017: concept design and grant application

2018: grant awarded. Design team selected, Design

2018-2019: Permitting through Conservation Commission and Planning Board

2019-2020 – construction by JL Construction with oversight by DPW, Planning and Conservation 

2020: Park opens on July 8

Boards/Committees who played a role: 

LSSE Commission

Conservation Commission 

Planning Board

Destination: Amherst! 

Kendrick Park Playground: The project is expected to be bid this summer and construction is expected to start in late summer or early fall. 

Performing Arts Shell on the Town Common: No developments. 

Parking Structure on Town Land at North Pleasant Street Parking Lot: No developments.

North Common Restoration/Main Street Parking Lot: No developments. 

Hickory Ridge: Staff continue to actively work toward a conclusion on this project conducting the required due diligence on behalf of the Town.

East Street School: No developments

North Amherst Library: We are working with procurement and the anonymous donor to move to the next phase for this project.

Solar on the Landfill: Slow, steady progress continues to be made as we work through the permitting and interconnection approvals. We are projecting construction to begin in November of 2021 and operation to begin in April of 2022.

Dog Park:  

The Amherst Dog Park Committee has created a superb website that you can find here: www.amherstdogpark.wordpress.com 

There will be a Ground Breaking ceremony on July 22nd with a rain date of July 23rd at 10:00 a.m. I hope you are available to attend.

The project has been bid and construction will being soon. It will take 2-3 months to complete construction and then there will be a season of rest to allow for the grass to grow. 

Upcoming Meetings and Events: 

July 20th – Town Council meeting 

July 21st – Town Council meeting (cancelled)

July 28th – Town Council and School Committee joint meeting 

August 3rd – Town Council meeting 

August 17th – Town Council meeting 

August 31st – Town Council meeting 

Other events: 

July 22nd – 10:00 a.m. – Dog Park Ground Breaking 

July 23rd – 12:00 noon – Community Chat 

July 24th – 8:00 a.m. – Virtual Cuppa Joe with Paul 

July 30th – 12:00 noon – Community Chat 

August 6th – 12:00 noon – Community Chat 

August 13th – 12:00 noon – Community Chat 

August 14th – 8:00 a.m. – Virtual Cuppa Joe with Paul 

August 27th – 12:00 noon – Community Chat 

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