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Candidates debate building projects

Nick Grabbe

How should Amherst prioritize new buildings for the elementary schools, the Jones Library and the Fire and Public Works Departments?

There was a plan to creatively finance all four projects, costing over $100 million, without significant tax increases. But that plan was disrupted by Town Meeting’s unwillingness to borrow money for a school project and the subsequent loss of $34 million in state assistance.

Now what? That was the question Tuesday night for six candidates for three at-large seats on the new Town Council in the Nov. 6 election.

Jim Pistrang said he rates a new fire station in South Amherst as about equal in priority to new schools. He called the emergency response time to that part of town “dangerous” and said the current public works building is “falling apart.”

Bob Greeney said the schools should come first, and public works second, adding, “I’m a fan of roads and sidewalks.” He said he is “comfortable with the risk” posed by the lack of a fire station in South Amherst.

Alisa Brewer said that while many residents say they favor this or that project, she also hears the question, “Why are my taxes so high?” Taxpayers can’t foot the bill for all the projects, and Amherst needs “some form of development” to provide more tax revenue. The schools should be the top priority “while we try to figure out everything else,” she said.

Rob Kusner said fire insurance rates are higher in South Amherst. He said he “likes the Jones Library the way it is.”

Mandi Jo Hanneke said the town can accommodate all four projects if we seek grants (and don’t turn them down) to help pay the costs, and create new tax revenues. The library “should be updated,” she said. “We should not be afraid to ask the public for an override” of the state law limiting tax increases, she said.

Andy Steinberg said all the projects are “doable and all need to be done.” One problem is that there is so little land that isn’t preserved for conservation use or owned privately or by educational institutions.

The candidates were also asked what to do about the deteriorating Fort River and Wildwood Schools.

Steinberg said it is “questionable” whether Fort River is practical as a school site, because of nearby wetlands. He said that the building wasn’t great when his children attended 30 years ago, and the demands on it are greater now. He said Amherst can’t afford to build new school buildings without state assistance.

Hanneke said the schools should be replaced, not renovated. She suggested some options to pay for new schools, such as devoting a higher percentage of the budget to capital projects and waiting longer to replace vehicles.

Kusner, who voted against the school project at Town Meeting, said it was “a good idea, but there are better ideas.” Fort River is a central location, and planning for renovation and new construction is “very promising-looking,” he said. The cost might be higher than under the defeated plan, but he’d support it if the design is “more suitable.” The defeated plan’s “conflation of co-location and grade reconfiguration” made the difference, he said.

Brewer said, “The last plan was good enough and we need a new plan that isn’t just fiddling around the edges.” The schools should be the top priority, she said, but added, “The days of two neighborhood schools with 600 students each are long gone.” She said some Town Meeting members didn’t attend meetings at which the planning for the new schools took place.

Greeney said that the schools are his top priority, and they can be built without state funding. “I’m not going to be told it can’t be done,” he said. He asserted that new schools could have been built 12 to 15 years ago at half the cost, but the town was “held hostage” by the application for state funding.

Pistrang said he was “frustrated” at Town Meeting’s school decision, which he presided over as moderator, and said there is still “a lot of anger” over it. The challenge for the Town Council will be to “reach out to segments of the population that are not usually heard from,” including going to churches and apartment complexes to get feedback from residents.

There was general agreement among the candidates that Town Council members should listen to residents at the beginning of the process.

Brewer said the Council should pursue “multiple avenues” to get input from underrepresented groups such as young families, retirees, 9-5 workers and the less wealthy. “We need to figure out who’s not at the table,” she said.

Hanneke said the Charter Commission, on which she served as vice chair, conducted public forums from the beginning to the end of the process. She said councilors should go to where people are meeting instead of waiting for them to come to Town Hall.

Greeney said that too often officials have sought public comment after they have already made a decision. Instead, they should do it “as soon as a concept is formed,” he said.

Kusner suggested that the candidates who aren’t elected to the Town Council be asked to reach out to citizens who are interested in joining volunteer boards and committees, and then “vet and mentor” them. The committees should then be “invested with respect for their expertise and diversity,” he said.

Pistrang said that neighborhood meetings conducted by the district councilors should be synchronized with Town Council meetings and should focus on items that will be on the agenda. They could be held once a month, not twice a year, as the new charter requires. He said the new community participation officer is “critically important.”

Steinberg said citizens should be aware of the issues at the beginning and agendas should be posted promptly.

The Amherst Education Foundation was the sponsor of Tuesday’s forum.

Comments 39

  1. I agree with the idea that strategic development is needed to expand the tax base. I think the town government (council, planning board and department) need to propose a model, with specific criteria, that we are seeking developers to respond to. The form and function should include what many are saying: not too tall (I say 3 stories), setback that invites socializing on sidewalk, designed for families and working adults (dorm-like design will attract students, not families), include affordable housing, contribute towards a parking solution (either spots or funding new parking), show how it’s reasonably profitable (real numbers). Not “if you build it they will come” but “if you pre-approve a better mousetrap, better mousetrap builders will respond.” I’ve been told by those who know that waivers and variances are granted willy-nilly, because we don’t “begin with the end in mind.”

    This kills 2 birds w 1 stone: a downtown that maintains character and creates new tax revenues, that can be used on our crumbling infrastructure.

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      Sounds good, but the reality is that if we had had a three-story limit, Kendrick Place and 1 East Pleasant probably wouldn’t have been built, and without the extra tax revenue to pay for the unanticipated health care expense, we would have had to severely cut the budget. What would you have cut? Teachers? Police? Firefighters? (And let’s not forget that it was Town Meeting that approved five stories.) As for parking, do you have evidence that 1 East Pleasant has made the parking situation worse (Kendrick Place hasn’t)? And why the disdain for students? They are the economic lifeblood of our community. If it’s disturbances you’re afraid of, the police chief confirms that they are down by 20-25 percent and virtually nil at Kendrick Place. There are in fact working adults at both Kendrick Place and 1 East Pleasant, and if the market dictated devoting all the units to them, I’m sure that’s what the developer would have sought out. And what about public/private partnerships that build student housing on UMass land and provide tax revenues to provide relief to Amherst single-family homeowners? Don’t forget that. I’m all for more affordable housing, even though we’re above the state standard of 10 percent, and bigger setbacks for large buildings

  2. HI NICK – PLEASE EXCUSE THE CAPS:

    if we had had a three-story limit, Kendrick Place and 1 East Pleasant probably wouldn’t have been built, and without the extra tax revenue to pay for the unanticipated health care expense, we would have had to severely cut the budget.

    I THINK MOST AMHERST RESIDENTS WOULD NOT MIND IF KENDRICK PLACE AND ONE EAST PLEASANT HADN’T BEEN BUILT. IT’S NOT A GOOD ENOUGH REASON TO HAVE THOSE, THAT THEY PROVIDED SOME TAX REVENUE (REMINDS ME OF WOODY ALLEN’S “MY WIFE THINKS SHE’S A CHICKEN // WHY DON’T YOU BRING HER TO A PSYCHIATRIST? // BECAUSE I NEED THE EGGS”

    AND IF MY IDEA HAD BEEN DONE A FEW YEARS AGO, WE MIGHT HAVE TAX REVENUE FROM SEVERAL MORE ATTRACTIVE BUILDINGS WITH OWNER-OCCUPIED UNITS WITH YOUNG FAMILIES

    (And let’s not forget that it was Town Meeting that approved five stories.)

    BASED ON MISINFORMATION, THAT THE HEIGHT WAS NEEDED FOR A PEAKED ROOF. PROOF OF THIS IS AVAILABLE ON VIDEO.

    As for parking, do you have evidence that 1 East Pleasant has made the parking situation worse (Kendrick Place hasn’t)?

    YES, THERE HAS BEEN EVIDENCE PRESENTED OF THE NUMBER OF OCCUPANTS THERE THAT HAVE BOUGHT PARKING PERMITS.

    And why the disdain for students?

    I HAVE NO DISDAIN FOR STUDENTS. AS I’VE SAID MANY TIMES, I PURPOSELY MOVED TO A COLLEGE TOWN, ETC. BUT THERE’S A BALANCE REQUIRED, AND WE ARE OFF BALANCE. WE ARE A GREAT COLLEGE TOWN NOT JUST BECAUSE THERE’S SO MANY STUDENTS, BUT BECAUSE WE ARE A GREAT TOWN FOR FAMILIES AND STUDENTS. BALANCE.

    There are in fact working adults at both Kendrick Place and 1 East Pleasant, and if the market dictated devoting all the units to them, I’m sure that’s what the developer would have sought out.

    THE MARKET DICTATES SEVERAL THINGS AT ONCE. THERE IS A MARKET FOR WORKING FAMILIES IN OWNER OCCUPIED CONDOS, TOO. PLUS, READ THE QUOTE FROM THE CORNELL ECONOMICS PROFESSOR (IN ANOTHER RESPONSE ON THIS WEBSITE) WHERE HE DESCRIBES HOW ITHACA SUSTAINED NEIGHBORHOODS FOR FAMILIES, AND ACHIEVED A BALANCE; AND ALSO HOW THERE IS NO “INVISIBLE HAND” GUIDING AMHERST OR ANYWHERE TO THE PROPER CONDITIONS. SHIT HAPPENS.

    And what about public/private partnerships that build student housing on UMass land and provide tax revenues to provide relief to Amherst single-family homeowners?

    YES, THAT WOULD BE GOOD. IF THE STATE DECIDES THAT THOSE DEVELOPMENTS ARE TAXABLE- NOT CLEAR CUT, ACCORDING TO GAZETTE STORY. BUT YES, A MAJOR STATE UNIVERSITY IN A SMALL NEW ENGLAND TOWN SHOULD HOUSE EVEN MORE STUDENTS THAN THEY DO.

    I’m all for more affordable housing, even though we’re above the state standard of 10 percent

    AND THE MOST EXPENSIVE, UNAFFORDABLE TOWN OUTSIDE OF 495– PRICIER THAN LONGMEADOW.

    and bigger setbacks for large buildings

    CITY PLANNING GURU WILLIAM H WHYTE SAID THAT THE CITY STREET IS “the river of life…where we come together.” PLANNING DOWNTOWN AMHERST OF THE FUTURE SHOULD INCLUDE A HIGH ENOUGH BAR THAT WE DON’T SELL OURSELVES DOWN THE RIVER – more about William H White and the Street Life Program at pps.org/article/wwhyte

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      If you asked people who don’t like the appearance of the two buildings whether they would prefer not to have them there, even if it meant giving up the $500,000+ in property taxes, they would say “Sure.” But then if you ask them what part of the budget they would like to cut as a consequence, or whether they would vote for higher taxes, I wonder what they would say. You didn’t answer that question. And that’s not “some” tax revenue; it was key to balancing the budget this year. I’ve checked with three people with knowledge of the budget on that one.
      That’s helpful information you provided about parking permits.
      With respect to Town Meeting being supplied with “misinformation” about the fifth stories, I have thoroughly investigated this and concluded that , at most, members didn’t understand what they were voting on (which wouldn’t have been the first or last time). I suggest you check with Chris Brestrup, a neutral observer, about this.
      Where’s the evidence that there’s a market for condos for working families who want to live downtown?

      1. I don’t think it’s worth $500,000 to put 2 gigantic dorms downtown.

        Also, I didn’t think Woody Harrelson should have said yes, in the movie Indecent Proposal, when Robert Redford offered $1 million dollars to sleep with Woody’s wife, Demi Moore.

        In addition, despite your thorough investigation, I think the reason that “members didn’t understand what they were voting on” was that they were fed misinformation. It “wouldn’t have been the first time” and the town council needs to be just as vigilant in their bullshit detection.

        As far as the info that yes, occupants of the 2 new buildings are, indeed, bringing cars, disputing another claim of the developer, it’s not just “helpful information.” It’s a real life demonstration of the old “Promise her anything, but give her Arpege.” But there’s just enough Arpege to cover the smell of bullshit.

        You didn’t answer my question either, Nick: would you rather have several 3 story buildings, with the top 2 floors being owner occupied by working families and adults, with setback, parking solutions, affordable units, attractive design, that are reasonably profitable for the developer; or the 2 giant dorms, with at least another couple to follow?

        You say you’re in favor of more public/private dorms on campus- the reason for doing that is to maintain the town for higher and better uses. and help families compete for houses in neighborhoods. That creates a supply, where there is demand. If you create that supply downtown, you’re defeating your own purpose.

        I am glad that you and I can have a reasonable discussion. I am discouraged when neighbors in our small town are unnecessarily nasty, no matter where they are on the spectrum.

        1. To answer your other question, what proof I have that there is a demand for owner occupied condos for working families: I have not commissioned a study, it is my guess. Based on reported frustration about families that want to live in Amherst, but can’t outbid the buying power of 4++ college students (and their supportive families) in a house; my assumption that many UMass employees who live in distant towns would live in Amherst, if affordable; that the un-affordability is largely based on the housing bubble created by the student housing market (corroborated by a renowned Cornell economist, whose reporting of Ithaca solving that problem I reported elsewhere on this site). Plus, the report that the condo behind Judie’s filled up quickly with that demographic. Plus, other small towns with major universities that have had even retiring alums settling back in their college town, ie: Penn State (where I attended for awhile) that has condos near by their football stadium (so I wouldn’t mind having a fair share of retirees living downtown, either). Plus, the many reports from demographers and sociologists, about both young families and retiring couples preferring to live downtown, moving there from suburbs, desiring all the culture and amenities of living where the action is.

          Our disagreements are the ingredients of what makes a robust discussion. Those same ingredients create the conditions for “other-ing” and paranoia. I hope that Amherst citizens will try more to talk with instead of talk at. When I read hostile arguments on this site, I have to admit, I take off points from what you’re trying to communicate.

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          I’m also glad that we can have a reasonable discussion of this, also. I hope the Town Council campaign, and the council itself, will promote this kind of fact-based and rational debate.
          To answer your question, I am not offended by the five stories, and I think the buildings’ attractiveness is a matter of opinion. I would like to see more setback and affordable units, and based on your research I’ll have to reconsider my opinion of the impact on parking. I too have heard that it’s difficult for working families and adults to afford living in Amherst, and that speculators buying up houses and renting them to students contributes to this problem.
          But I’m not sure that what you or I would prefer matters in this case. The fact is that a developer saw a market niche for the type of housing he built, bought up the land, and the Planning Board was limited in its review powers. We can (and should) change the setback and parking rules, and we can offer incentives for affordable units, as was done with the Beacon development in North Amherst, but I don’t think we can dictate what type of tenant a developer chooses to appeal to.
          So I think the question is different from the one you pose. Would you rather have the budget-saving $500,000 in tax revenue, with buildings that many people don’t like, or continue to have a vacant lot at the intersection of North Pleasant and Triangle and a former motel at the 1 East Pleasant site. Yes, I’ll take the money and the buildings.
          With respect to Town Meeting and the five stories, I wasn’t there when it happened. I urge you to ask Chris Brestrup, our widely respected and non-partisan planning director, for her take on it.

  3. Ira, I appreciate your thoughtfulness on this topic, and I think there are win-wins to be found. But I do take issue with one of your claims – that Amherst is pricier than Longmeadow. You can find average tax bills (and average home costs) at this very useful MA DoR site:
    https://dlsgateway.dor.state.ma.us/reports/rdPage.aspx?rdReport=AverageSingleTaxBill.SingleFamTaxBill

    For 2017, the average single-family home cost $349,573 in Longmeadow and $334,614 in Amherst. And the average tax bill was $8,243 in Longmeadow and $7,305 in Amherst. Same result in every year shown (starting in 2012) – Longmeadow is more expensive.

    1. ok, I stand corrected, and my info could very well be pre-2012 — But I also contend that Longmeadow’s housing prices are based on owner occupied, where Amherst’s “almost as high as Longmeadow” includes a housing bubble created by student landlords, who are willing to pay more to have 4+ students outbidding families

  4. As at Sept 27th, for the permit season that began on 9/1/18, the following downtown parking permits had been sold to residents of the new buildings:
    57 E Pleasant St (Kendrick Place) – 53 permits sold
    One East Pleasant St- 36 permits sold

  5. As far as I’m concerned, any at-large candidate who point to ‘renovating’ Fort River and/or Wildwood as a solution to the infrastructure problems at Fort River and Wildwood has not been paying enough attention.

    The school committee explored renovating these fundamentally flawed and failing buildings. They rejected renovation for a number of reasons.

    And it seems irresponsible to me for candidates to go back to an idea that was so thoroughly rejected by our elected officials who explored that issue diligently.

    1. Johanna, The language and phrasing of your first and third paragraphs inject a disturbing tone into this important discourse. There are less arrogant ways of stating and backing up your point, ways that avoid insinuations and characterizations of your opponents.

      I hope that candidates and their supporters will speak directly to the issues and clam up about the perceived diligence and motivation of all the good people who have stepped up to run for the council.

      1. Hi Betsy. Thanks and you’re right. I apologize for my tone. (As a reason, perhaps not an excuse, seeing renovation continue to be positioned as a solution to the state of the school my kids are in kind of triggers me. The same way climate activists get aggravated when they have to explain why carbon sequestration isn’t the best solution for dealing with global warming). Please accept this rephrasing:

        The school committee explored renovating Fort River and Wildwood. They rejected renovation of these fundamentally flawed and failing buildings for a number of reasons. I’ll detail some below and the section starting on page 58 of this packet prepared in advance of the Jan 2017 special town meeting lays out the reasons in more detail: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxiGVSssK_KscEFIbS05TF9LNXc/view

        FINANCIAL COST (Jan 2016 estimates):

        $38 million to just achieve ADA compliance in both buildings

        $69.2 million to renovate both buildings

        $76 million to replace both buildings

        NON-FINANCIAL:

        Here’s an email from local architect Chris Riddle, that was part of an email thread from Jan 6, 2016:

        “These renovation figures don’t adequately reflect the cost of a deep energy retrofit, which will clearly be required, not just because Amherst is concerned about energy conservation and reducing atmospheric carbon, but because it will be required to meet the Massachusetts stretch energy code.

        I’ve sent Anastasia a piece about the abysmal insulation standards in these buildings. The exterior walls and floor slab are un-insulated and the windows are single-glazed. A gut renovation and building-wide window replacement is necessary to bring the exterior walls up to code, but at least those things can be done. The floor slab can’t realistically or cost-efffectively be removed, insulated and replaced. Kids spend a lot of time on the floor in school buildings, a health issue, but, equally important, condensation is a chronic problem with an un-insulated floor slab, when warm, moist interior air condenses on the cold floor. My guess is that the sick building problem is largely due to this condensation, and less due to wet site conditions.

        Chris”

        There are myriad other benefits of co-located schools that I won’t get into here.

        In sum, I hope that candidates for council will build off committee work that has already been done. I believe part of the job of a public official is to clarify issues for the public, not to continue to ask questions that have already been answered.

    2. Johanna, you said what you said perfectly so you just keep on saying things.

      And the last thing this town needs is people to “clam up” about any issue that has to do with our children’s schools. Too many people are “clamming up” now that they are being called out for their parts in denying our children that badly needed new elementary school. Opposing something that majority of the town’s voters voted for twice, the entire town select board, 4 out of 5 school committee persons and numerous other town boards all supported and recognized the need for is a consequence those candidates will have to live with.

      The candidates don’t need protecting… our children need protecting. And they don’t need anyone “clamming up”.

      1. My daughter clammed up when the heater in her first-grade class at Fort River spewed sparks at her and her classmates on one of our first chilly days this fall, and the class had to evacuate.

        Fortunately, her teacher was one of many who chose not to clam up at last Tuesday’s School Committee meeting and spoke with amazing calmness about what they’re experiencing in their classrooms. It’s a must-view video for anyone running for Town Council. Skip to 1:32: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5626&v=8ZEy6SsacC4

        As of today it only has 35 views.

        I hope these appalling anecdotes don’t offend anyone’s sensibilities.

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          I’d like to know if the Inspections Department would tolerate conditions like those at Fort River in another building that’s heavily used by the public.

        2. Thank you for posting this, Bennett and I’m so sorry your daughter and the other kids had to have something like that happen in a place where every kid has a right to expect to feel safe. Fire is just one of many fears parents of school children have these days. And this is one fear that could have been dealt with if not for the people who so skillfully opposed and killed the new school.

          Things like THIS…. THIS… are the consequences for the know-it-all opponents of the new school. And are those know-it-alls having to suffer with the consequences of their mean-spirited, selfish decisions to ignore the will of the majority of the town’s voters TWICE? They are not.

          The children are the ones who are suffering.

          And you have to ask yourself, why would anyone who cares about children and is a fair-minded person vote for any candidate for town council who did that to our kids?

          Why in the world would anyone think they would do the right thing now?

    1. The existence of the Fort River Building Committee is no evidence of progress or momentum.

      I want to know what happens when the architects come back in spring to report that a) the low-lying Fort River building site is not recommended for major new construction, or b) it can be done! At an exorbitant price! That may not be approved by the MSBA!

      This is not a dig at the members of this committee. I appreciate their time and commitment. But we know how this one is going to end. In the meantime I cringe every time I hear a town council candidate point to the Committee for the “great, important work it’s doing.” That’s a dodge, intentional or not.

  6. Rob Kusner, the candidate who spoke of “renovating Fort River and Wildwood schools” apparently voted against the badly needed new elementary school when he had the chance to help our children as a Town Meeting member.

    Rob Kusner had the chance and the power and the responsibility to help our children and he did NOT help them. He turned his back on them and used his vote to selfishly please himself.

    It sounds like he’s still pretty interested in pleasing himself.

    Why on earth would anyone vote to give him the chance to ignore our children’s needs again? If we elect people like this and put them in charge now that we have a chance at good, caring representation in our town government we can’t blame Rob Kusner for ignoring our children again. We have to blame ourselves this time because we know what we are getting. This time it’ll be OUR fault.

    You know, for a town with 5 colleges and where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Professor, some awfully stupid things have happened.

    Let’s hope that we aren’t going to screw up this amazing chance to change the way Amherst has treated our children in the past. It’s really up to us. Please use your vote to help the kids get the elementary school that was taken away from them.

    Please don’t vote for the ones who stole it from them.

  7. One thing that infuriated me were candidates who said we need to listen earlier and better. The School Committee listened very early and very well to lots and lots of people, starting over a year before we finally voted on the building plan. At least one candidate said we needed to reach into communities who can’t come to meetings. We did! For example, we went to the low income housing complexes and had meetings there. As Larry Kelley used to like to say: “pay attention!”.

    There is a big difference between listening to, and agreeing with. It’s a classic move for people who don’t get what they want to say “they were not listening”. I was listening, hearing and understanding, as I think the entire SC was. I just didn’t agree with those who thought we should stick with 3 school buildings.

    And again I will used the closing of Marks Meadow as an example. The opposition to that was more than for the new school building plan. Had Town Meeting voted on that, I bet would have voted it down, and we would be stuck with $800,000 more in annual costs. Did that School Committee back then not “listen”?

    1. Thanks for remembering our outreach, Rick. I was also struck by candidates’ comments about outreach, last night. For the previous building project the school committee held almost 40 public meetings including 7 public forums. We had a designated Facebook page, newspaper columns, visioning sessions in all 3 elementary schools, attended multiple PGO meetings and had events at the apartment complexes. We started this process more than a year before school committee voted on the building. The community engaged when we were close to a decision. It’s hard to hear that we didn’t listen or try to inform the community about the building plan. That’s all we tried to do, knowing how important community engagement would be to the success of the project. Besides coming out with a different outcome, I’m not sure how else we might have “listened” to the community. How else would our listening have been demonstrated?

  8. May I remind you that the voters, in a fair and legal evection, accepted a 6% override in the amount of $68 million for two co-located schools. Period. The question is not should we build one or two schools but who ove turned a fair and illegal election? The voters accepted the plan put forward from our elected school committee. They did not elect town meeting to dictate educational policy, and override our elected school committee. Would you really vote into office someone who helped overturn an election by the voters? Or thinks that it’s a good idea? Really?

  9. Thanks for posting the link to the school committee meeting, Bennett. I couldn’t attend that night and just watched some of the videos. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5626&v=8ZEy6SsacC4

    The testimony of my son’s former1st grade teacher, Laurie Hixson, starts at 1 hour 42 minutes. I saw Laurie on the morning that we lost the colocated schools proposal. That morning, holding back tears, she said to me “After 30 years, all I wanted before I retired was a classroom with windows.” Now the heater in her windowless classroom is catching fire. Laurie’s testimony is followed by the testimony of my son’s current 3rd grade teacher, Kristine Griswold. O has made such leaps and bounds under her tutelage. She hides how much she is suffering every day from her students.

    Their stories break my heart.

    In an alternate reality where a handful of town meeting members switched their votes, our teachers would be eagerly looking forward to moving into new classrooms in a beautiful efficient building at the start of next school year.

    Instead we have this.

    As a community, we must rectify this wrong. And do it as quickly as possible.

  10. I agree with Johanna that the SC meeting was both heartbreaking and a wake-up call. These buildings are literally falling apart. One teacher recounted the amount of asthma and allergy medication she has to take EVERY DAY just to come to work.

    The other sad fact is that many of these teachers and other professional educators wrote an amazing educational plan for our new schools that will not be realized -at least any time soon-. The MSBA rightly requires that any building is designed around an educational plan developed by educators. The goal of new school buildings is to support teaching and learning.

    Right now our teachers, staff and students are trying to work and learn in wholly subpar buildings with open classrooms, noise, rodents, leaks, mold and faulty sparking heaters and, are not ADA compliant.

    Every year that we wait to build a new school building construction costs go up at least 3 1/2 % and for Amherst, it will also be plus the cost of the new net zero bylaw.

    There are currently no good alternative spaces for 2/3rds of our elementary students. The urgency is very real.
    .

  11. The next time one of these Town Council wannabe politicians says something like they opposed the new elementary school for the kids because of “grade re-configuration” or “environmental issues” or “green architecture” or the old standby, to save Amherst’s “small neighborhood schools”, ask them then why after they voted to kill the new school they didn’t IMMEDIATELY demand repairs for Fort River and Wildwood Schools to protect the children that they doomed to stay in those schools.

    I’ll tell you why… because they didn’t give a damn.

    And they still don’t.

  12. I will ask Christine about it, but the videos are pretty clear. Nobody corrected many town meeting members when they said “I’ll support the building height so that an attractive peaked roof can sit atop 4 stories.” That is known, in my tradition, as sin of omission.

    My question, that you didn’t answer, is “would you prefer many 3 story handsome owner occupied condos (with all the criteria I’ve listed) or several more 5 story dorms?” The former is designed to attract families. The latter is designed to attract students.

    When you build a better mousetrap, it includes design elements that will attract mice. If it’s true that you can’t mandate use, you still can design the form that leads to the desired function. The 5 story buildings are designed as dorms, so they attracted students.

    Please say more about what you know about the families that are living in those buildings. I’d love to hear why they chose it, and if they actually exist. And if they do exist, would they have chosen their current residence over a 3 story building, filled with working adults and young families, with all the “form based” elements I keep repeating?

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      My answer to your question is that I don’t really care whether these buildings are “three-story handsome owner-occupied condos” or “five-story dorms” (though I think “dorms” is a loaded word here). That is, as long as the tax relief for homeowners is the same, and there are minimal problems with noise and traffic.
      But I think my preference is irrelevant. Town officials don’t choose the types of tenants in private housing; developers do, based on their perceptions of the market. Town officials can tweak the proposals and insist that they conform to the Zoning Bylaw, but I don’t think they can dictate the type of housing.
      Let’s presume that the town wanted to ensure that downtown development was the type you would prefer. How would we go about doing that? We could (and probably will) enact form-based zoning, but could we insist that the housing be condos instead of rentals? In any event, many condos get bought up by investors and rented out.

      1. Whatever could be done to mandate, reward, encourage owner occupied condos (the owner lives there) that are designed for families (ie: nothing like each room has a separate lease) with all the aforementioned criteria, that is what I support.

        As far as “dorm” being a loaded word: it has been said that the only private, off campus “dorms” that exist are in the small zone that allows them (Olympia Drive) is to ignore the fact that if you quack like a duck, you may be a duck. To say that all ducks are in the duck pond is to deny reality.

        I have been in quite a few “55 and over” communities and rarely see people under 55 who care to live there. They are designed for their desired customer. I could list 10,000 more examples of form follows function.

        Nick: I think we have both made our points in this particular discussion. I move we end it, and debate about other stuff.

        1. Post
          Author

          OK, you can have the last word. Thank you for engaging with me in this discussion. It has broadened my perspective on your viewpoint. We need more fact-based and respectful disagreement in our town.

        2. My 65+ year old friends just moved into one of the 5-story buildings in downtown. They definitely are not ducks.

          1. I would love to meet some of the families and couples that live there, and welcome them to town. There hasn’t been much transparency about who is living there, which hasn’t helped with everyone’s best thinking.

          2. Ira
            I totally agree with you. I would love to welcome all the residents of those buildings–couples, larger families, unrelated roommates–to our community.
            Steve

  13. I’d also like to know if they realized they were moving into a building that “functions like a dorm” as is politically correct to say.

    1. Yes, they have lived in Amherst for decades and are builders. He showed us his apartment. I’m a little envious.

  14. And their thinking about a building downtown with a target market of over 55 or senior co-housing.

  15. I sat for several hours downtown last night while my daughter, a high-school freshman, participated in an interactive theater production. It was very dark, and I found the presence of 1 East Pleasant surprisingly cosy, with its lights and activity inside the building. I tried to imagine what it would look like without it, and I found myself enjoying its existence. I don’t like change much, and I was amused at my reaction. My high-school-aged children think the apartments are exciting as new parts of the town. One of the benefits I get from parenting is to keep me from becoming too stuck in my ways. I am looking for candidates that can balance new with old, growth with preservation, practicality with nostalgia. I am looking to see what candidates are advocating, not what they find objectionable.

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