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Town, Amherst Media ink 10-year contract

  • Jim Lescault stands outside the building that has housed Amherst Media, of which he is executive director, since 1991. The nonprofit and the town recently reached a 10-year deal. GAzette file photo



Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 08, 2017

AMHERST — A new 10-year contract between the town and Amherst Media will ensure the nonprofit continues to provide public access service, including live coverage of public meetings, community programming on three cable channels and digital video production training.

The deal, signed Oct. 20, extends a partnership that dates to 1976, but was at risk earlier this year when Town Manager Paul Bockelman considered issuing a request for proposal for handling the public, education and government channels, or PEG access. Bockelman said the new deal ensures that residents will continue to receive high-quality programming.

Jim Lescault, executive director of Amherst Media, said in a statement that the nonprofit remains focused on expanding opportunities for individuals and organizations to tell their stories and voice their opinions about local, national and international matters.

“We see Amherst Media as the hub for government transparency, community media and meaningful civic dialogue,” Lescault said.

“After many hours of diligent negotiations, we have arrived at a contract that meets the needs of both Amherst Media and the town and acknowledges the challenges we each face now and in the future,” Select Board Chairman Douglas Slaughter said.

The contract was signed after successful negotiations between the town and Comcast. Comcast agreed to collect around $300,000 a year in gross annual revenues to support the PEG channels, and also included $1.125 million in capital funding that will be used to purchase new equipment.

Lescault said Amherst Media will receive $675,000 of this capital funding, up from the $450,000 in the prior contract.

Amherst Media, Lescault added, has already purchased a server that will increase the quality of cablecasting and provide video on demand. This is expected to be installed by early December.

There is also a plan for eventual replacement of the current institutional network, or I-net, which carries the town phone system, email and security camera feeds. Comcast has promised to maintain the I-net for the next four years.

Bockelman said the contract contains language that allows it to be reopened to amend aspects, such as might need to happen if voters change the town government structure next year.

Also included is a pledge by the town to offer help in purchasing equipment should Amherst Media move to a new building from its longtime home at 246 College St.

Located in a building owned by Eversource, Amherst Media plans to construct a new headquarters, after being informed seven years ago it would be evicted.

The new contract with the town gives Amherst Media the financial stability to move forward with securing financing for this project on land it owns in front of the Henry Hills House, at the corner of Main and Gray streets, said Ed Severance, the Amherst Media board’s treasurer.

A capital campaign is expected soon, following a contribution from the Rotary Club of Amherst.

“With the ongoing support of the community we hope to move forward quickly to build our new home and provide our services to the community far into the future,” Severance said.

Demetria Shabazz, president of Amherst Media’s board, said in a statement that Amherst Media looks forward to a democratic future and having an inclusive, and independent, community.

“The new Amherst Media will be an engine for creativity, a bastion for free speech and a catalyst for economic development,” Shabazz said.