UMass, region to get jolt of capital funds

  • The Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton is in line for capital funding from the state to complete infrastructure improvements. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Saturday, February 17, 2018

AMHERST — Almost $500 million in infrastructure improvements at the University of Massachusetts, and smaller projects in the region that include money for improvements to the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School campus and the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton, are included in a $3.65 billion bond authorization approved by the Senate this week.

While the Capital Facilities Bond Bill still has to be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives, and there are no guarantees funding included in the bill will be released, Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said in a statement issued Jan. 8 that the projects included will benefit students and senior citizens and improve the quality of life for residents.

“I am very much looking forward to seeing all of these projects become a reality, and to seeing how much they bring to our communities,” Rosenberg said.

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said UMass benefited from the 2008 $2.2 billion higher education bond bill with projects such as the Physical Sciences Building, but there remain widespread needs for updating and modernizing buildings and addressing deferred maintenance.

“At UMass, we are pleased with the Senate and House moving ahead with an authorization for capital repairs and improvements through the state’s capital budget,” Blaguszewski said.

Smith Vocational and Agricultural School could be in line for $3 million.

“The main priority for us would be infrastructure upgrades,” said Superintendent Andrew Linkenhoker.

Specifically, he said there is a need to upgrade the electricity, which is at capacity, for the manufacturing technologies program.

Linkenhoker said the age of buildings and the unique governance, being in the city but enrolling students from many area towns, makes it difficult to figure out who should pay for such projects. Eventually, Smith Vocational may turn to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

Other needs include improving energy efficiency by installing new windows and boilers, enhancing the locker rooms so students can store modern equipment, and continuing to expand the animal science program. “This would be a great start,” Linkenhoker said.

The Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton could get $800,000 through the bill.

General Manager James Przypek said this would cover about half the costs of two priority projects. The first is a renovation of the historic grandstand, the second would be to overhaul what is known as Barn 10 and make it usable year-round.

“It’s great it’s in there,” Przypek said, observing that a loan would be needed to cover about half of the costs.

Sweetser Park in Amherst would get $100,000. Town Manager Paul Bockelman said this would address needs at the Main Street park.

“The senator (Rosenberg) recognizes many needs of the town and we appreciate his ability to make some key priority funds available,” Bockelman said.

A new senior center for South Hadley, a $9 million project to replace its current building, could get $1 million through the bond bill.

Projects in Franklin County also made the bond bill list. These include $30 million for improvements to the Farren Care Center, and $2.6 million for the Turners Falls pedestrian bridge and sewer pump station, both in Montague, and $3.5 million to assist with the long-awaited development of the First National Bank building in Greenfield.

Also on Jan. 8, the Baker-Polito Administration announced a $160 million supplemental spending bill. Included in this is $42.2 million for the operation and maintenance of the 14 sheriffs departments and their facilities, $19.3 million for emergency assistance shelter beds and $7 million for Gold Star family retroactive annuities authorized last year.

There is an additional $25.6 million for Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits, which includes funding to support hurricane evacuee families from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and $2.5 million for a reserve to address other needs of these displaced people, such as assistance for individuals who wish to return home but don’t have the means to do so.

Gov. Charlie Baker highlighted the $1.6 million for clinical family planning services, such as physical exams, contraception and HIV/STD testing, that serve low income and uninsured individuals and families. This state funding would cover federal Title X funds that could expire March 31.

“Our administration fully supports access to women’s health care and family planning services, and is requesting supplemental state funding to support these critical services in the event of an interruption in federal funding,” Baker said.

Massachusetts annually receives $6.4 million in Title X funds, with $1.35 million allocated to the Department of Public Health and the remaining funds allocated to four community-based organizations including Planned Parenthood, ABCD, Health Quarters and Health Imperatives.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com