WILLIAMSTOWN — With 2021 fading in the rearview mirror, aspects of 2022 can be seen approaching rapidly. In the Village Beautiful, some of what’s coming down the road is getting closer.
That includes ongoing discussions about a synthetic playing field at the high school, a possible change to school start times, a new fire station and a full-time selection of a new town administrator and a permanent police chief.
Then there are two projects community members are looking forward to seeing completed: the reopening of the Store at Five Corners and the final touches to the Williamstown Bike Path, which is scheduled for completion early in 2023, but is expected to be usable in the fall of 2022.
Then there’s the possibility of two new cannabis retail stores opening later this year.
According to Andrew Hogeland, chairman of the Williamstown Select Board, there are a number of efforts underway to move the town forward.
At the top of the list is a new town manager, a search that has been underway since early in 2021 when Jason Hoch resigned from the position. The first search effort tuned up several candidates, but none of them satisfied the needs of the office, according to the results of votes by the Select Board.
Hogeland said the next search is underway, with final candidates expected to be named in late March.
Once that’s done, another search will be conducted to find a permanent police chief with input from the new town manager, Hogeland noted. The department is currently headed by Interim Police Chief Michael Ziemba.
“Chief Ziemba is doing a very good job,” Hogeland said. “If he chooses to, he would be a good candidate for the permanent position, but we need to do our due diligence and conduct a search anyway.”
In other developments, the town is expecting to embark soon on the process of shepherding an expansion of the Cable Mills housing complex. Cable Mills is planning to add 54 new units in a new building, with 27 units falling under the state classification of affordable housing.
Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity is also working on a new single-family home for lower income tenants on Maple Street, Hogeland noted. Habitat just completed a new home right next door. They hope to complete the new house in late 2022.
On the retail marijuana front, two stores are in the planning stages. A newer applicant, New England Alchemy LLC, is seeking to establish a cannabis shop in the former Taconic Restaurant at the corner of Cold Spring Road and Route 2.
Another company has been seeking to put a shop, called Elev8, in the former restaurant space adjacent to the Howard Johnsons on Main Street. They began the process a couple of years back, but were delayed by logistics and the pandemic. They hope to open this year.
During the coming year, substantial progress is expected in the effort to build a new fire station. According to Williamstown Fire District Building Committee Chairwoman Elaine Neely, the voters are likely to be asked to approve a plan for the construction of a new station on Main Street at a cost of significantly more than $10 million through bond debt in order to clear the way for construction in 2023.
In a return to the past, the Store at Five Corners could reopen this year. It closed twice during the pandemic. Now a local non-profit is soon expected to complete a sale of the property and business, and hope to open this spring. The format will largely mirror what the store has offered in the past — breakfast, lunch, prepared meals, coffee and food staples.
According to Karen Charbonneau, president of the board of the Store At Five Corners Stewardship Association, the sale is expected to close near the end of January. The board will then complete some minor building improvements and hire an operator to run the business.
The non-profit group has already raised about $700,000, and eventually hopes to reach $1.5 million to enable the business startup, the $400,000 purchase and to create an endowment to pay for building maintenance down through the years.
“It’s always been a community hub,” Charbonneau said. “So we’re hoping to open in the late spring or early summer.”
“I think this is a good chance to revive a local business and create a center of activity in South Williamstown for the public to enjoy,” Hogeland said.
Over at the Mount Greylock Regional School District, discussion of installing a synthetic turf playing field are ongoing according to Superintendent Jason “Jake” McCandless. This second effort is in the early stage, with the School Committee considering seeking a new design and cost estimate for a synthetic turf field surrounded by a new running track.
Also under serious consideration is moving back the start time of middle and high school students.
“The science has been clear that [the early start time] is not benefiting adolescents in any way,” McCandless said. And despite the logistical challenges of adjusting bus routes and the ability to fit in athletics team practices and game start times, “I’m really confident we can put our heads together and figure this out.”
The 7:25 a.m. start time would be adjusted to 8 or 8:30.
“It’s good for mental, physical and academic health,” McCandless noted.