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Pittsfield City Council Accepts Grants For Streets, Dog Park, ISP Study

Josh Landes
The view from the control room at Pittsfield's city hall as Fire Chief Tom Sammons was sworn in

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council had a full slate Tuesday night as it ends its reduced summer schedule.

With nine promotions in the city’s fire department – including the formal instatement for new permanent Fire Chief Tom Sammons – the city council chambers were in rare form, packed to the gills with vocal well-wishers for Pittsfield’s firefighters.

The council accepted a series of grants, from the $353,000 from MassDOT the city will use for its Complete Streets initiative to a state grant of $75,000 Pittsfield intends to use toward exploring what it would mean for the city to become an internet service provider.

“The city of Pittsfield believes that broadband internet access is an essential utility. Fast, reliable and affordable access to the internet is vital to all aspects of life within our city," said Michael Stebens, the city’s Chief Information Officer. “Currently we are at the mercy of large, corporate internet service providers who may or may not choose to further invest in internet infrastructure in Pittsfield. Take Verizon Fios for example. Verizon installed fiber to the premise in their Albany and Boston markets, but chose to not invest in small and midsized markets, including Pittsfield and the rest of the Berkshires. Each year, business and consumers demand more bandwidth. Continued lack of investment in internet infrastructure will leave Pittsfield at a competitive disadvantage, resulting in severe damage to the local economy.”

He told the council that the study would allow for Pittsfield to fully understand what it would take to become an ISP, citing the success of Westfield, west of Springfield.

“What they’re doing is incredible," said Stebens. "They are providing broadband to business and homeowners at a cost that is substantially less than what Spectrum is capable of offering, and at speeds 10 times that of what we’re getting in our homes.”

Whip City Fiber – the name of Westfield’s broadband service under the community-owned Westfield Gas and Electric – began as a pilot program in 2015 when the city moved to expand its municipal fiber offerings to commercial and residential customers. The WCF website says that its revenues are reinvested back into the community. Stebens said Pittsfield’s study for what the city is calling the Shire City Fiber Project is expected to take four or five months.

From high speed internet, the council then turned its attention to dogs.

“The Stanton Foundation has awarded the city of Pittsfield a $25,000 design grant," said Pittsfield’s Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager Jim McGrath. "We will contract with Berkshire Design Group. They have worked with the Stanton Foundation to design multiple dog parks across the Commonwealth. Berkshire Design Group is out of Northampton. They’ve already reviewed our selected site, and are confident that we can build a first class dog park at Burbank Park.”

The Stanton Foundation was established by former CBS president Frank Stanton in 2009. Advancing canine welfare is chief among its three major initiatives, alongside supporting First Amendment knowledge and rights and researching international nuclear security. McGrath says the city will have a design for the dog park by late winter or early spring. Then, Pittsfield will work on securing the next phase Stanton Foundation grant, a $200,000 construction grant. The city must take on the cost of the park itself to win the next round of grant funding, as per the Foundation’s requirements. McGrath says the dog park could be built as early as late summer 2020.

Lastly, continuing months of pitched debate over the city’s parking ordinances, the council voted down an amendment that would made parking in the recently finished Summer Street lot free for 90 minutes, as opposed to the current 30. Only councilors John Krol, Melissa Mazzeo, and Kevin Morandi voted yes.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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