North Amherst intersection left out of capital spending proposal

Staff Writer
Monday, April 12, 2021

AMHERST — A planned reconfiguration of two intersections in North Amherst center could be delayed as the town continues to await funding sources for the $1.8 million project.

Though the Department of Public Works sought $450,000 for an engineering study, the Joint Capital Planning Committee recently nixed this borrowing request as part of its recommended $6.3 million capital improvement plan for the town.

The decision comes even though for several years town officials have aimed to overhaul the intersection where Sunderland and Montague roads meet south of the North Amherst Library, with one plan to bring the roads together north of the building through the parking lot of a former service station, as well as improve the signalized intersection of Pine, North Pleasant and Meadow streets.

Town Councilor and Capital Planning Committee Chairwoman Cathy Schoen said there is much interest in the project, but there is not an appetite for spending town money until there is more certainty about whether the town can get a grant to pay for it. A $1.5 million MassWorks Infrastructure Program grant, for example, will cover the costs of upgrading the intersection and sidewalks in the Pomeroy village center in South Amherst.

The committee writes in its report to Town Manager Paul Bockelman that the borrowing is premature and the town should only pay for the study “if there is evidence that spending the money would significantly enhance the likelihood of getting a grant. Based on information we received, the proposed intersection construction project of $1.8 million will only occur with grant support.”

Bockelman will use the Capital Planning Committee report as the basis for the budget proposal he brings to the Town Council next month.

Even though the committee questioned whether the engineering study is a prerequisite for getting grant money, Councilor and Capital Planning Committee member Andy Steinberg said the town has already invested some money for the intersection project when it purchased the former service station property.

Most of the money for the capital plan, or $4.67 million, comes from using 8.5% of the tax levy, with additional money coming from unspent capital reserves from the previous year, state Chapter 90 state highway money and repurposed capital funds from earlier years.

Much of the spending is related to annual capital purchases and building needs, such as computer equipment and copiers for all departments.

The plan sets aside $1.2 million for school building projects, including a $250,000 roof repair at Crocker Farm School, $200,000 for HVAC systems and replacements, and $150,000 for interior upgrades and Americans with Disabilities Act improvements.

Another $2 million goes to the DPW, mostly for road repairs.

The plan has $1.74 million for vehicles, including $450,000 for a new fire department pumper to replace a 1999 model, $260,000 for four hybrid police cruisers, and $200,000 for two vans for special needs students.

Among other capital spending is $150,000 to upgrade the HVAC system at the Munson Building South Amherst with a variable refrigerant system, and $100,000 for a new sustainability fund that will be used for studies related to solar projects and seed money for renewable energy projects.

The Joint Capital Planning Committee is recommending spending $25,000 for a study of solar canopies over parking lots at schools, a request made by residents from Mothers Out Front and three Amherst Regional High School students.