The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council approved an $8.5 million borrowing plan at Tuesday night’s meeting. The meeting also featured a councilor sparring with the mayor.
Mayor Linda Tyer submitted a $8,470,000 borrowing request to the council for capital improvement projects for fiscal year 2021. The spending plan included big ticket items like $2.5 million on street improvements and $750,000 to replace the roof of the Berkshire Athenaeum. But the biggest slice of the pie went to school improvements, with $800,000 to overhaul Pittsfield High School’s heating controls and $3.3 million to install a new security system in schools citywide.
Director of Building Maintenance Brian Filiault said the pneumatic heating system in the school that serves almost a thousand students is archaic and riddled with holes.
“The system is breaking down and we can’t find these leaks," said Filiault. "They’re somewhere in walls. And as a result, our night system is really damaged. What would happen is, you’d come in in the morning and that building would be 110 degrees in there. And we’d kick into the day setting, we’d have a little better control. Since we’ve discovered that, we’ve actually shut down the night setting. We’re only going to be running on the day setting. But once again, we’re hobbling along with that. We’re trying to control this building, but the problem we’re running into is being the pneumatics, some units are running wide open, some units are running like they’re supposed to. It’s the Wild West. I have no controls.”
Interim district health and safety coordinator Eric Lamoureaux explained why the city needed to overhaul both the door entry systems and install and upgrade camera systems in the city’s schools.
“Currently the door system is an old Hubman system," said Lamoureaux. "Brian can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that was installed back in ’06, ’07. And they’ve been working every year over the past couple years trying to fix failing systems in certain buildings. Currently this year including the administration building, we have the administration building and three other schools that we cannot access that system to add any new staff in, that include Pittsfield Public School staff as well as anybody new on the police department or the fire department. Any new fobs cannot be added to those systems currently.”
Lamoureaux said installing the Avigilon system currently in use at Taconic High School as well as the police and fire departments would unify the city with both door access and security cameras.
“And this time it would also include the elementary schools," he said. "Currently our four secondary schools are the only schools that have camera systems, and we would look to expand that to the elementary level. And this would just be exterior cameras and then interior areas – talking about common areas, hallways and things like that.”
The borrowing will also fund the construction of a dog park and the expansion of the city’s skate park.
Later in the meeting, Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio pushed the mayor to explain her plan to care for the city’s unhoused population.
“We’re coming into the winter months," said Maffuccio. "We have 101 homeless people. 10 of them are at Barton’s Crossing. 13 of them are at Barton’s Crossing transitional, so that puts about 78, 80 people out on the streets.”
He said there is confusion about the closure of the temporary emergency shelter operated by ServiceNet at the former St. Joseph’s high school in downtown Pittsfield, and claimed Tyer hadn’t updated the council about her conversations with state legislators.
“Through the chair to the mayor, I’d like to know what the plan is for sheltering the homeless,” said Maffuccio.
“ServiceNet is the city’s licensed provider for homeless sheltering, and winter sheltering begins November 1st and goes through May 1st,” said Tyer. “There are a number of options available including St. Joseph’s high school and certainly COVID-19 is impacting the method by which ServiceNet will provide winter sheltering. That continues to be part of the challenge for ServiceNet.”
She disputed Maffuccio’s numbers.
“It’s my understanding that ServiceNet is anticipating the need to find shelter for about 50 people,” said the mayor.
Maffuccio and Tyer went back and forth on the topic before the councilor concluded by criticizing Tyer for failing to keep up with weekly updates about the unhoused, the pandemic and other subjects related to the city.
“You don’t think it’s your responsibility to inform the legislative body which we are, the city council?” asked the Maffuccio.
“I will inform you, councilor, when I have something definitive to tell you,” responded Tyer.
The council referred another petition from Maffuccio to the board of health and the mayor calling on Pittsfield to enforce mask wearing in the city during the pandemic.