Around Amherst: Extreme cold blamed for building issues at Town Hall

Staff Writer
Thursday, January 11, 2018

AMHERST — The extreme cold of early January, coupled with a Sunday morning power outage, are being blamed for building issues at Town Hall.

During the power outage, which affected the heart of downtown, the building’s emergency generator, installed in 2013 to ensure that municipal phone systems, computer servers and other essential systems that support town operations remain active, kicked on.

But because parts of the generator were frozen, smoke began pouring from it, prompting a response from town employees to make sure it remained operable, Town Manager Paul Bockelman said.

The generator, powered by natural gas, was able to remain functioning for the duration of the three-hour outage.

A heating unit in the vestibule for the building’s handicapped entrance was less fortunate, failing during the low temperatures and forcing maintenance staff to hang blankets in the door to keep out some of the cold air, and a space heater to pump in warm air to prevent a sprinkler head in the ceiling from freezing.

Bockelman said the entrance would have been closed, but it has to remain open because it’s the only way for disabled to access the elevator.

It will be a minor cost to repair the unit.

Bockelman commended the Department of Public Works for its work in recent weeks, including the round-the-clock efforts to keep roads clear from snow drifts last week, and the employees who had to work to remove snow on Christmas morning. Many residents showed appreciation by visiting the DPW that day, Bockelman said.

Like their DPW counterparts, both police officers and firefighters also remained on duty throughout the storms and the holidays.

New displays at Town Hall

Two long-standing works of art hanging in the Town Room at Town Hall have been removed, replaced by what will be an annual rotation of photos and other historical items from special collections at the Jones Library.

Two black-and-white photographs of downtown by John Lovell, a 19th century photographer, one of the Amherst House in 1879 and the other of Phoenix Row in 1880, and a Henry Francis Walling map of Hampshire County from 1860, were on display for the Select Board’s first meeting of 2018.

Bockelman said both will be on loan for the year.

Since 2001, the wall had featured large panels, textured surfaces of orange and red, titled “Wallpaper #2” and “Wallpaper #6.”

Measuring 5 by 12 feet and 5 by 9 feet, they were created by Petula Bloomfield and donated for permanent exhibit. Bloomfield made the panels from junk mail, putting the waste paper into a kitchen blender, reconstituting the pulp into thin layers and then working the layers with acrylic paint and oils.

Police officer promoted.

A police officer nearing his 21st anniversary with the Amherst force has been elevated to the position of lieutenant.

Brian Johnson was recently promoted for sergeant to lieutenant, one of eight officers interviewed by Bockelman, Police Chief Scott Livingstone and Human Resources Director Deborah Radway for the vacancy.

Johnson fills the position held by Jerry Millar, who retired in October.

Bockelman said Johnson rose to the top based on his experience and ability to perform multiple functions.

Johnson became a patrol officer April 7, 1997, a detective in June 2003 and a member of the Hampshire County Drug Task Force. He was named a sergeant in July 2008 and acted as a patrol supervisor.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Massachusetts and then a master’s degree in criminal justice from Anna Maria College.

Johnson lives in South Deerfield and has two children.

Food for fines

The Jones Library and the Munson and North Amherst branches will be offering an amnesty period until Jan. 31 in which library patrons can donate food for overdue library materials.

The non-perishable, non-expired food will be brought to the Amherst Survival Center.

“This is a great opportunity for patrons with long-overdue library materials to get those items back to the library without having to pay the fines that are accumulating,” Amy Anaya, head of borrower services, said in a statement.


TUESDAY: Human Rights Commission, 5:45 p.m., Room 101, Bangs Community Center; Amherst Regional School Committee, 6 p.m., high school library.

WEDNESDAY: Personnel Board, 9 a.m., First Floor Meeting Room, Town Hall.

THURSDAY: Amherst Public Art Commission, 1 p.m., First Floor Meeting Room, Town Hall; Fort River School Building Committee, 3:30 p.m., Fort River library; Zoning Board of Appeals, 6 p.m., Town Room, Town Hall.