|Williamstown Community Preservation Committee Faces Shortfall|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
06:30AM / Saturday, January 28, 2023
|First Congregational Church is expected to need more than $6 million in work. Its preservation committee is focusing on the roof and has asked for $50,000 from the CPA, half of its original ask.|
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Community Preservation Committee on Wednesday determined that five of the six applications for funds in the fiscal 2024 cycle meet the qualifications for funding under the Community Preservation Act.
In a hybrid meeting at Town Hall, six of the committee's eight members heard presentations from five of the six applicants.
Town Manager Robert Menicocci, who is both a voting member of the CPC and the representative for a $100,000 Town Hall request for CPA funds to address overruns in a bicycle/pedestrian trail project, did not attend the committee's first meeting of the calendar year.
Although all five of the requests reviewed Wednesday passed the committee's first test, eligibility under the act, more deliberation is needed to decide how much, if any, CPA funding the committee will recommend to May's annual town meeting for each of the applicants.
One thing is known: The town does not have enough available CPA funds to cover all six.
At Wednesday's meeting, the CPC discussed more precisely how much it has available to fund new requests in FY24.
After accounting for continued commitments to the Cable Mills housing development on Water Street, including a payment toward the 2022 annual town meeting commitment of $400,000 to support 27 units of income-restricted housing at the Water Street site, the committee determined that it has $329,830 to allocate in the coming fiscal year.
Of that $329,000, the committee agreed Wednesday to reserve about 10 percent, or $30,000 to move forward to FY25, meaning that roughly $300,000 would be available for CPA grants in this funding cycle.
As drafted and received by the town this winter, the six applications represented a combined ask of about $515,000
, or 170 percent of the total funds available.
On Wednesday, one of the applicants helped the committee come a little closer to closing the $215,000 gap.
The president of the Williamstown Meetinghouse Preservation Fund asked the committee to reduce the value of its application by $100,000 toward efforts to renovate the historic 906 Main St. structure.
"I would request that we reduce our ask because I think it's appropriate, given the quality of the other applications," Susan Yates told the committee. "I think it's more reasonable to make the ask in the $50,000 range, like we got last year. I think it's only fair to the other qualified applicants here."
The Meetinghouse Preservation Fund is a non-profit created to address the historic building itself and divorce that effort from the building's current best-known occupant, First Congregational Church. The WMPF is a nonreligious entity that qualifies for state and local funding without running afoul of prohibitions on using taxpayer money to support sectarian groups.
Yates told the CPC that First Congregational Church has begun looking for partners to fill space in the building that the church does not need in order to generate revenue to support what is now projected to be a $6.4 million restoration effort.
The now-$50,000 request for CPA funds would go toward an area of critical need, Yates said. The WMPF has estimates ranging from $475,000 to $600,000 to replace the 19th-century structure's roof with a composite material that, she said, is virtually indistinguishable from its current slate roof to a layman's eye.
"The original design called for all of the parts to be replaced with slate," she said. "The problem with that is it's very expensive. The material is expensive, and the labor is expensive. So those numbers came out to over a million dollars to replace the roof."
Addressing the roof and stopping current water infiltration is a high priority for the WMPF, Yates said.
"I feel like, if we're going to have a building to do [additional restoration], we've got to stop the water from coming in," she said. "This icon, I'd hate to see something really catastrophic happen and then not be able to have it available for the kind of funds that could make it usable by the rest of the town and community."
Roger Lawrence, who occupies the Planning Board's seat on the CPC, agreed.
"It makes sense to me the roof would be prioritized above all else," Lawrence said. "If you do not address the roof, I think in the foreseeable future, there will not be a building to worry about spending $5 million on."
Like the WMPF, the Williamstown Historical Museum is seeking additional funds to support projects previously approved by town meeting for CPA funding. The museum is asking for $35,000 to support the restoration of the historic Dolan-Jenks Barn on the institution's South Williamstown campus near the Five Corners intersection.
Historic preservation is one of three main categories under the act; community housing and open space and recreation are the other two. As it happens, the committee has two requests in each of the three categories on this year's agenda.
The Williamstown Housing Authority is seeking $10,000, mostly to install an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant door with keypad entry for the community room at 35 Adams Road. The town's Affordable Housing Trust seeks $120,000 in unrestricted CPA funds to support its continuing effort to help income-eligible residents move to and remain in town.
The bike/pedestrian path from Syndicate Road to the Spruces Park falls under the open space and recreation category, as does a $100,000 request from the Mount Greylock Regional School District to support a multi-million field and track project at the middle-high school.
District Business Manager Joe Bergeron and School Committee member Carrie Greene represented the district at Wednesday's meeting. Bergeron walked the CPC members through the other funding mechanisms that the district plans to use for the project and emphasized that community members would have access to the completed track seven days a week when it was not reserved for a special event, like a track meet.
On Thursday morning, Superintendent Jake McCandless said the district has sought and obtained a legal opinion that CPA funding from one of its member towns is an appropriate funding stream for the project. Generally, operating and capital costs for the regional school district are shared by Williamstown and Lanesborough, with Williamstown generally paying about two-thirds of cost based on its relative size.
Even though Community Preservation Act funds are tax dollars that would come from just one of the member towns — if approved by town meeting — the district believes it would be OK to accept them. McCandless said the district has no plans to seek a matching, proportional donation from Lanesborough taxpayers.
The Community Preservation Committee will meet again in February to hear a presentation about the request to address the trail funding and begin its process of deciding how to allocate funds in FY24.