This Week in Pittsfield News

Taylor Swift, seen here holding a handmade sign she made for me

Berkshires bustling with outdoor happenings; Pittsfield “scene” hailed by Boston Globe; 3rd Thursday another success; Methadone Madness; Fun Facts about the  temp. school super; Breed bashing continues in dog bite incident; & more

It’s summer, with an extra hot solstice week to remind us, and seasonal and outdoor activities have been prominent in the news… Taylor Swift at Tanglewood, extensions added to the popular Springside Park concert series, lifeguards going on duty at Onota Lake soon, the city partnering with The Garden to promote discounted helmets for the heavy activity expected to be seen at the new skate park, and the kickoff of the new Downtown Loop on Monday.  

Oh, and there’s a press conference this coming Monday to announce WordXWord Festival number four… hard to believe it has been nearly a year since I had my mind blown at WordXWord 3!! Can’t wait to see what Jim Benson & co have in store for us this coming August.  For a broader perspective, see master cultural chronicler Jeremy Goodwin’s decisive state-of-the-union of the Pittsfield “scene,” from WordXWord to upcoming Agnostic Front and Agent Orange shows this summer, in today’s Boston Globe.

The second 3rd Thursday of the year was another fun and heavily crowded bash heralding summer, as Pittsfield had “gone country” across downtown this week.  Despite hot muggy climate (fightin’ weather, as they say), approximately doubled police presence after last month’s melee, and the wild-eyed proclamations of one ornery Stockbridge outsider, the monthly peak season street fair proceeded without significant incident, much like the 30 or so such celebrations prior to this year.  The biggest controversy I encountered that night was Megan Whilden trying to pass off as a ten gallon hat something that was clearly only about one gallon (exposed: seems there are no retail outlets for ten gallon cowboy hats here in the heart of the Berkshires!)

Gordon Noseworthy will serve as interim superintendent of schools for the coming year, it was decided by the school committee Monday.  Noseworthy was found favorable by a 6-1 vote over Basan “Buzz” Nembirkow, another retired superintendent being considered for the position.  It is likely that  initial word of application by Noseworthy, who once served as an administrator at Taconic, lead to a rumor by one discredited blogger that  longtime principal Douglass McNally had been “secretly named” interim superintendent.

Noseworthy was once featured in People magazine, when the Northampton high school he was then principal to had several boys join a previously all-girls field hockey team.  He again made national ink in 2010, when as interim superintendent of the North Brookfield school district he was forced to squash an unofficial memo from a teacher banning pencils and pens in one of its schools, in an incident that briefly went viral.

On a more somber note, the Red Cross is providing relief to 6 people left homeless from a fire on John Street last Sunday, and anyone wishing to help with donations of funds or supplies can direct it to them.

Deb Dwyer flings various accusations around at Monday’s ClinicGate rally.

More controversy over a revised plan by Spectrum Health to locate their addiction treatment clinic at a location in the Morningside neighborhood continued to rage all week, with lots of emotion and little reasoned thought or researched information.  Monday saw an impassioned crowd gathered outside Dwyer Funeral home, and more rallying at 3rd Thursday and throughout the week around an ill-conceived and badly worded new petition.  I went on Good Morning Pittsfield Wednesday [interview starts around 9 minutes in if you care to watch] and tried to inject some factual and scientific information into the mire of gut feelings and knee jerk reactions that has been swirling anew since last weekend. I doubt it will make any difference to anyone who wasn’t already open to learning more about the issue but I did get a lot of messages and calls thanking me, so there clearly is still a strong contingent in Pittsfield who realize that a new clinic is, realistically and statistically, likely to do more good for the city than harm, even at any of the locations it has sought to open at so far.  Thanks to John Krol for at least being willing to open his show to differing viewpoints.

Meanwhile, though Board of Health Chair Philip Adamo has taken a lot of heat for getting into bed with Spectrum (how dare someone associated with the board of health be associated with filling an under-served medical need in Pittsfield!) the board continues to get lots of praise for their altogether meaningless new cigarette ordinance, which accomplishes nothing except for some kind of odd symbolic blow, in the process of taking sales away from some businesses and simply handing them to different ones.

Despite being schooled by heaps of criticism in online forums and Letters to the Editor, most of the local media continues to embarass itself with pit bull scare headlines.  See last week’s roundup for my full scathing rebuke of this.  As an additional historical reference, some locals may remember that the last really big dog controversy in town, that of “Barney,” a shepherd malamute that bit a police officer and others.  Throughout the extended police and court drama ensuing from the attacks, headlines in the Berk. Eagle went from “dog attack” and “vicious canine” to more endearing first name placement as some in the community fought against the animal’s execution.  Not in a single one was the breed of the dog featured. So please don’t tell me I’m imagining things.

While I’m sure the intention behind this is not malicious, and merely just the kind of opportunistic sensationalism that is the hallmark of most media outlets… but the end result is a vicious circle of negative hype and breed discrimination.  What’s embarassing is that even after being chastised and made aware of this by dozens of people, they just can’t help themselves (although it’s interesting to note that the paper version of the Eagle headline Saturday says “dogs” and the online version says “pit bulls”- suggesting some-but-not-all of their editorial staff may have successfully absorbed the points made by angry readers this week).

And if you were ever wondering which of our local elected officials have the best tennis arm, check out YNN’s report on the dedication of the new $3 million dollar (in private funds, nobody need freak out) tennis courts at BCC on Monday.

In closing for the week, while we may not see eye to eye on every point, I think we can all agree that this performance at the YMCA Pre-K Graduation Friday is ADORABLE.  

This Week in Pittsfield (History is What Happens to Us While We’re Busy Making Other Plans)

Photo Credit: 2012

William Stanley Business Park has its first real operating business tenant, with the ribbon cutting at Mountain One Financial Center on Monday.  Talk has been tough and concerns high this year on happenings at the former G.E. site and the P.E.D.A. agency which oversees it, but there are some positives to this particular project.  While I don’t know if it will turn out to be the catalyst to tenant interest it was heralded as Monday, at least A) it’s an officey-administrative building rather than a primarily retail-style bank branch;  B)a fairly green and eco-conscious model for others C) 25,000 labor hours from local firms in the Berkshires went into creating it.

What a difference a day (/600k) makes …

From Tuesday to Wednesday, the tone shifted from grim to cautiously optimistic in discussion of the anxiety-provoking losses in the 2013 public school budget which brought 150 concerned parties out last week, begging school officials to hold the line in maintaining educational advances made in the city in recent years.  Budget talk progressed from words like “agonizing” at a special meeting Tuesday, to “compromise” and “less than ideal” following a last minute crunch by Mayor Bianchi and Superintendent Eberwein to shift the budget numbers a little over 600K between nonpersonnel cuts, borrowing and an additional 300,000 in city allocation.  The City Council ok’d the deal Thursday, with councilors expressing an air of concern but also relief at the compromise made.  Council vice president Jonathan Lothrop noted that contrary to some perceptions, the total increase in city school funding this year even with the additional allocation by Mayor Bianchi is still only about a third of one percent.

In other education news, the Adult Learning Center will move from its home on Lyman Street to the Brothership Building at 141 North Street. A new lease, expected to save $105,000 in school budget funds over the next five years, was narrowly endorsed by a 7-4 vote by the City Council, with several voicing concerns about the center interfering with the ongoing retail revitalization of North Street.

Dog bites boy, man bites dog   – an unfortunate run-in with some unsupervised pets sent a 9 year old boy to the emergency room , and though it was learned that the animals in question grew up in the environment of an owner with a long history of violent charges,  some local news outlets took it as an opportunity to sensationalize and jump on a familiar bandwagon of media hype by making it about them being pit bulls. News flash: dog bite attacks are not terribly uncommon, especially in the summer month, and when it’s any other type of breed it is not reported in this manner. Pit bulls, sadly, are the most often abused breed of dog, and every sensationalized headline adds to the prejudices that cause this.  It’s unfortunate, really, because they are consistently ranked as one of the most intelligent breeds, and personally have been among some of the most affectionate animals I have ever dealt with. Props to former Eagle writer Jack Dew for writing in to school it on its shameful approach to covering this incident.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Kimball

Treatment Alternatives Face Continued Opposition Amidst Opiate Epidemic -A cadre of local officials met with the Commonwealth’s Secretary of Public Safety on Monday, presenting the problem of opiate abuse as a devastating crisis in the Berkshires.  Later in the week,  controversy raged anew after the revelation that Spectrum Health, in a revised attempt to open a new addiction treatment clinic in Pittsfield, seeks to rent space in a residential area near BMC– but unfortunately also within half a mile of two schools.  Though both methadone and suboxone treatment options already exist in residential and downtown areas in Pittsfield, the Department of Public Health has determined that local treatment demand is still under served. Nonetheless, attempts by Spectrum Health to open first on Summer Street, and now on Stoddard Ave, have provoked fierce opposition from some, resulting in the company filing suit against the city late last year and moves to create a new zoning ordinance to prohibit future attempts at such clinics in a majority of downtown.

Officials urged residents to speak up about elderly abuse as part of the 7th annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.  At a press conference at the Senior Center, it was learned that elderly abuse incidents may run as high as about 100,000 per year in Massachusetts, most unreported.  A real problem for Berkshire County, which has the highest per capita rate of senior citizens in the Commonwealth

Arts Offerings Continue in a Still Evolving Creative Economy 

In the sphere of cultural news this week…  Jeremy Goodwin explores keeping Fiddler on the Roof fresh at Barrington Stage with Tony nominee Brad Oscar, Carrie Saldo reports on gritty contemporary theatre at New Stage Performing Arts Center, Larry Murray gives us a preview of next week’s country-themed 3rd Thursday, and  I crouched into a finished wigwam in front of the Berkshire Museum as it was dedicated in a touching ceremony Monday by members of the Wampanoag nation.  Word has it Raekwon killed it at the Colonial Wednesday night…. and the Pittsfield Parade Committee announced that the newly designated “Upstreet Arts District,” rather than a person, will serve as Grand Marshall of this year’s 4th of July parade.  With just a scant three weeks left, the District is scrambling to get its designer “Streetscape” outfit together for a look befitting a Grand Marshall.

It’s an everyday challenge out there for our arts organizations, though, lest we forget. Inventing programming, collaborating with others, fundraising, promotion, and all of the crazy unforeseen issues that arise from a) dealing with artistic people, egos and all, and b) trying to repurpose a post-industrial   physical infrastructure to the needs of a creative economy.

A now-spaceless Alchemy Initiative has lost no time adapting itself into a variety of innovative  new summer projects since it parted with former Notre Dame church owner Crispina Ffrench; meanwhile, ongoing Town Players strife from limitations of its new South Street storefront (the same space in which SAP bottomed out last year) helped contribute to such a rift on its board that its President has resigned in frustration.  TP VP Laura Gardner now helms America’s second oldest theatre troupe as it looks to try to negotiate its way out of a disastrous lease at 31 South Street.

Keep in mind, though, that the subtle sociological factors that fuel the creative industry are different than those encountered in other arenas of the economy, and headaches and strife that would be detrimental to some businesses can actually enrich the end product in this sector.  Case in point, amidst all this upheaval Town Players’ recent Cabaret gala was said to have been a wonderful show and a significant financial success.

Special designations from the state can only go so far in creating a true art scene, the rest depends on many intangibles, a dizzying interplay of drama and egos and conflicts and fascinating, colorful phoenixes ever cycling up from the ashes of a previous incarnation or venture.

Skate Park Paying Off for Downtown  – On a sort of parallel note, as the city’s recently constructed new skate park on East Street enters its first summer, all the hard work put in to make it happen seems to be yielding a variety of benefits.  The cacophony of complaints about bikes and skateboards from North Street businesses last summer has shrunk to a peep.  Its presence also allows for all new events and instructional programming, such as an upcoming week long skate camp run by The Garden.  The site has even become such a popular hub of wheeled sport enthusiasts that another business, Greylock Outdoor, has been drawn in from Lanesboro by it, and along with a new Subway will revitalize the site once occupied by Rye Bakery, which has been vacant for three years, and largely a dead spot in a key high-traffic area since the bakery’s storefront cafe addition was destroyed more than a decade ago.

While stopping to recognize the success of the new skate park, it is appropriate to acknowledge the recent passing of the man whose handiwork it was.  Tom Noble, of Who Skates, designer and contractor for the project, died last month at age 46 after a short battle with colon cancer. Pittsfield’s skate park was one of the last projects Tom ever worked on, and as he told us at December’s ribbon-cutting, one of his proudest.  We close this week’s roundup with a belated virtual moment of silence for this jovial Maine native, reflecting in gratitude on his enthusiastic role in helping bring a good thing to life here.