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Mass. Lt. Gov. Talks Economics, Education With Berkshire Leaders

Jim Levulis
From left to right: Mass. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito meets with Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi, Berkshire County Sheriff Tom Bowler and others in Pittsfield City Hall.

In a continuation of her statewide community tour, Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito met with Berkshires leaders today to learn more about the needs of the region.Polito met with political, economic and educational leaders during stops in Great Barrington, Pittsfield and North Adams. They were the latest visits on the lieutenant governor’s “Building Stronger Communities” tour, which started in January. The Republican has been making her way across the state leading the administration’s Community Compact Cabinet, created to ensure close municipal ties with areas like Pittsfield.

“We talked about a brownfield site here, the former GE plant, as being a potential site that can bring further economic development to the downtown,” Polito said. “We also discussed opportunities to make sure that young professionals and people can afford to live in this community and have a good job to be able to earn income for their future.”

Using a nearly $10 million state grant, groundbreaking for the Berkshire Innovation Center at the city’s former General Electric site is expected in October according to Mayor Dan Bianchi. Polito says the city’s new Taconic High School, recently approved for $74 million in state reimbursement for the city’s borrowing cap of $121 million, can create a vocational pipeline of workers.

“The ability for this community to have transitioned from the former GE presence here in Berkshire County to the current-day advanced polymers and advanced manufacturing, creating a pipeline of workers for those jobs, being available for the life science research and development that’s going on in Kendall Square as an area here in the state that can manufacturing the products that need to be made is a real asset,” said Polito.

Realizing federal monies will most likely be needed, Bianchi also spoke with Polito about replacing the city’s 1938 police station —  seen by city leaders as outdated and unsafe.

“It’s seen its better days,” Bianchi said. “It just cannot be configured. Even if we were to reconfigure it, it would take probably $20 million to do, which is about the cost of a new police station.”

Bianchi, a Democrat, spoke with Polito about state funding to replace a downtown parking garage, summer youth job programs and the Pittsfield Community Connection anti-gang and youth violence initiative run through the Shannon Grant. Pittsfield just received a $45,000 state grant for those efforts. Bianchi says education and its costs remain top priorities. With about 19,000 students spread across more than 15 county school systems, he says there is potential for more efficiency, an effort that fits in nicely with the community compact initiative.

“I think joining some services, sharing curriculums, transportation issues and I can see down the road consolidations,” said Bianchi.

During a broader discussion on opiate abuse, Democratic State Representative Paul Mark of Peru says he encouraged Polito to consider releasing money previously set aside for a pre-release treatment center on the Berkshire County House of Corrections’ campus.

“Get that site up and running sooner rather than later,” Mark said. “For now they’re working over at the Second St. jail. Obviously we’d rather have a center like that not in the middle of neighborhood, but on campus with the rest of the house of corrections’ activities.”

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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