Saturday June 16, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Eight months after a federal judge denied its request to start work to open a methadone clinic in downtown Pittsfield, it appears the same company is interested in placing a similar facility in a residential neighborhood.

Residents of the city’s Morningside neighborhood said on Friday that Spectrum Health Systems Inc. of Worcester intends to establish a methadone clinic on Stoddard Avenue in a building owned by Dr. Philip Adamo, the chairman of the Pittsfield Board of Health. Adamo recently left his job as city physician to take a position with the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

Although Stoddard Avenue is located near Berkshire Medical Center, a city councilor and residents of the Stoddard Avenue area expressed concerns about having a methadone clinic placed in a mostly residential neighborhood in close proximity to four educational institutions and Springside, the city’s largest park.

They also expressed concerns about how the site was chosen, saying they had only recently learned of Spectrum’s plans, and had heard nothing about it from Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi’s office.

"It’s pretty low to even think that he could put a methadone clinic in someone’s neighborhood without even telling anyone," said Bob Skowron of Stoddard Avenue, referring to the mayor.


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Skowron has sent an email to Bianchi asking him to reconsider the clinic’s location.

Bianchi said he has been unable to discuss the situation publicly, due to a confidentiality agreement signed by former mayor James M. Ruberto’s administration that, Bianchi said, is part of pending litigation between Spectrum and the city.

"We’ve been bound by" the confidentiality clause, Bianchi said.

"I’m hoping that there will be an opportunity for public discussion about this," he said.

"I understand that this is a very emotional issue and that people have concerns," Bianchi said. "I share their concerns."

Spectrum, which is a private nonprofit, expressed an interest in establishing a methadone clinic last year in downtown Pittsfield at the Berkshire Nautilus building on 42 Summer St. When Spectrum was denied a building permit, the company sued the city in federal court claiming that its actions violated the American with Disabilities Act and the Dover Amendment that exempts educational corporations from certain zoning restrictions. The nonprofit company describes itself as an "educational corporation."

"They believe that they have the ability to be anywhere," Bianchi said. "They had identified numerous places. My understanding is that [Stoddard Avenue] is one that met those criteria."

Spectrum did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon said she also hoped there would be an opportunity for public comment before everything is finalized.

"I absolutely hope so," she said. "I’ve had a couple of meetings with the mayor, and when he told me, my jaw dropped."

Methadone is a drug that is used in the treatment of heroin addicts. According to Yon, the state De partment of Public Health has determined that a methadone clinic is needed in Pittsfield to serve the number of drug addicts that are here.

Once the DPH identifies such a need, the city is required to comply, she said.

"There’s nothing that the city can do about this," Yon said. "We need to accept this. It’s going to have to happen."

"My concern has been with what’s going down," she added. "On Tuesday, I was notified for the first time that they’re coming and had picked Stoddard as the location. I was notified first because it’s in Ward 1. Many of my colleagues had no idea that this was going on. It came as a surprise."

Her constituents were surprised, too. "My phone has been ringing off the hook," she said.

Yon believes the clinic should not be located in a residential neighborhood.

"I’m willing, we are all willing, to accept them into the community," Yon said. "But it would have been nice to collaborate and find a spot that would have been conducive for us as a community and a clinic that there’s a need for. Š That didn’t happen."

When asked if he thinks the clinic should be located in a residential neighborhood, Bianchi noted Stodd ard Avenue’s proximity to BMC. His understanding is that Spectrum operates methadone clinics in other areas in neighborhoods that are similar to Stoddard Avenue.

"They have a significantly impressive track record," he said.

Springside Park, Reid Middle School, the Juvenile Resource Center, Morningside Community School and the Learning Center on Charles Street are all located in the vicinity of Stoddard Avenue.

Based on what she’s been told, Yon said the clinic plans to serve 150 people between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.

"At that point the children will be walking to school," she said.

Skowron, who is the president of IBCO Local 297, said he learned the clinic was coming to Stoddard Avenue through his job at the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction.

"My biggest fear is someone doing something to my family," said Skowron, who lives across the street from the proposed clinic site. "I work at the jail. Those people know me. Drug dealers hang out by methadone clinics. We’ve taken great pains to keep the neighborhood safe."

Debbie Dwyer’s family has owned Dwyer Funeral Home on North Street for 109 years. The establishment abuts the proposed clinic site. The influx of people seeking treatment could hamper the funeral home, which is often busy in the mornings.

"I’m a great one for hoping people will be cured," said Dwyer, who is a registered nurse. "However, I’m 150 percent against this methadone clinic going into a neighborhood that’s near an elementary school.

"All it takes is one of them to mess up the whole deal," she said.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6224
On Twitter: @tonydobrow