Past 1st hurdle, $351K borrowing plan for North Adams public safety building fixes faces final vote

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NORTH ADAMS — Water dripping on the faces of first responders as they try to sleep during a 24-hour shift.

A bucket catching water as it drops 18 inches from a police fingerprinting machine.

City officials painted a dire portrait of the city's public safety building on Tuesday as they outlined a $351,000 borrowing request for a roof replacement to the City Council.

The council heard the message loud and clear, unanimously passing the borrowing request to the required second reading, and agreeing to schedule a Public Safety Committee meeting to take a tour the building.

The second and final vote on the borrowing proposal is now set for Nov. 27.

"This need is a wake-up call for us that we cannot continue to defer maintenance," said Mayor Thomas Bernard, who brought the proposal to council.

Water has been trickling through the decades-old roof at the city's public safety building on American Legion Drive, which houses both the police and fire departments.

Rainwater infiltration became so intense this summer that the city had to repair a section of the building's ceiling and file an insurance claim to pay for repairs to the ceiling.

"It even leaks when it's not raining — the insulation is saturated with water and it seeps through the ceiling," said North Adams Fire Director Stephen Meranti.

But without a repair to the roof above it, Bernard has said, the ceiling will continue to be soiled by the influx of moisture.

Though agreeing the building is in need of repairs, councilors stressed the need for the city to plan for a long-term solution for the public safety department.

"It's really not an ample structure for our public safety officers of any type to be using, at least for the long haul," said Councilor Benjamin Lamb.

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To design and build a public safety building typically takes 5 to 10 years, Meranti noted. "It's not something that's going to happen overnight."

Bernard stressed the need for immediate repairs "as a matter of basic respect for our first responders," but noted "this is something that we need while continuing the planning process."

The project will not solve the long-term conundrum the public safety building still presents for city officials, including Bernard, who has pledged to study whether it would be more beneficial to undergo a major rehabilitation of the aging building or find the fire and police departments a new home.

If granted final approval by City Council, the project will be put out to bid shortly and city officials expect work to be conducted early next year, weather permitting.

The borrowing order amounts to $351,000, with $291,342 estimated for repairs to the main section of roof and two alternate sections estimated at $33,863 and $25,741, respectively.

The city anticipates a 20-year borrowing plan, with an interest rate of 4.5 percent. The cost of the work would be added to the city's annual debt service payments.

The mayor also won initial approval for a $146,300 upgrade to the city's data center and phone system, which will also be heard for a second and final vote on Nov. 27.

The data center connects municipal buildings and supports city functions such as email, financial software and public safety software. It has not received an upgrade since 2011 and, like the public safety building, Bernard has said he wants to study the long-term outlook of the city's information technology systems.

Unlike the roof repair project, upgrades to the city's data center and phone system would not be borne by city taxpayers. Instead, annual debt payments would be paid for through the municipal technology fund, which is supported through contractually obligated payments from Charter Communications, parent company of Spectrum cable.

The project would be funded by a five-year borrowing plan with an estimated annual payment of $33,000 — slightly less than the roughly $36,000 Charter pays into the account annually, Bernard said.

"It preserves [the current balance] in case we ever needed to do a significant purchase or investment out of that fund," Bernard said.

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


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