Mayor outlines state of city- Page 2

 

Continued from Mayor outlines state of city

Conversely, the work of maintaining a neighborhood and its pride of place has much to do with the protection of structures. Following a grass roots movement of engaged citizens, Pittsfield voters approved the adoption of the Community Preservation Act in November. We will now have access to funds from the state’s Community Preservation Trust Fund to be used on a wide variety of public and private projects including historic preservation, recreation, open space, and housing.  The next step is to establish a Community Preservation Committee that will work this year to develop a plan that identifies Pittsfield’s priorities so projects can be funded in early 2018.  This vital resource could enhance our existing open space and recreational resources like Springside Park or help protect our many endangered historic resources.Beyond the walls of City Hall, our work stretches into the community in a multitude of ways. The Department of Community Development’s work with under-resourced residents through its Housing Rehabilitation Program provided assistance in times of two sewer, six heating, and three roofing emergencies. Among the department’s past four home improvement projects, two included making a home safer for a family with a child under 6 and making a house accessible for an elderly and disabled resident. Work is currently underway on six properties, four units of which will be made lead safe for the children who reside there. That’s government work that makes a significant difference in the lives of the people we are called to serve. The city’s work with our veterans reflects a commitment to helping those among us who have sacrificed so much for our country and the privileges that we enjoy. My dad is a veteran of United States Air Force and he is here today. I’d like to ask all veterans who are with us today to please stand and be recognized.In 2016, the Pittsfield Veterans’ Office distributed over 1 million dollars in state and local benefits to more than 300 veterans and their families. Last year, the reach of our Veterans’ Office was extended to four underserved, neighboring communities where more than 200 veterans and their families received application assistance for VA benefits and other quality of life programs.While we are caring for our veterans, we are keeping our young people engaged. Through the city’s Sticks for Kids free golf program and another new recreation program called Dig This! Volleyball 100 children had a chance to have fun while learning a new skill. In my administration, we respect and value cross-collaborations internally, and we seek with equal enthusiasm those partnerships outside of city government that will help make Pittsfield thrive. One such initiative that demonstrates the very best of this ideal is the revitalization of Willard and Rosemary Durant Park on the Westside. Renamed to reflect the dedicated community leaders who are beloved to generations in our city, it was only fitting that this park be updated and revamped. Utilizing $70,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds a new playground and swing frame were installed in October thanks to the assistance of volunteers from the neighborhood. Our good friend and partner Greylock Federal Credit Union has pledged to provide a permanent pavilion that the will allow park activities to be enjoyed regardless of inclement weather. Thank you Greylock for your investment in our city park. Other collaborations added art to downtown and encouraged children to read. With the Pittsfield Paintbox, an effort made possible by a $10,000 donation from Berkshire Money Management, the drab gray electric boxes that line North Street were transformed into vivid works of art. More art was created during a public painting party at Dower Square to beautify the barriers. This project as led by retired art teacher Mary Beth Eldridge in conjunction with the Office of Cultural Development and Community Development. Have you seen the miniature wooden book houses that were installed in city parks courtesy of Berkshire United Way. With just one mandate take a book, leave a book, these charming mini-libraries make reading fun and accessible to all children. Let’s talk for a moment about reading and literacy. I mentioned a few moments about being the daughter of an American military family. I lived and traveled all over the world and when I was in sixth grade my family and I moved to Athens, Greece. It was 1976 and at that time there was no television other than endless loops of Hawaii Five-O. Hellenikon was a small Air Force Base but it had a library set up in small building. I honestly don’t know how this happened but I discovered this library and I spent a lot of days wandering the stacks and sitting on the floor with books in my lap. I’d come home with four or five books and devour them. The very first book that left a lasting impression on me I read while my family and I took a three week driving tour around Europe in a bright orange Volkswagon camper van. It was Roots and the story of Kunte Kinte introduced me to a human experience that shapes my thinking even today.A city that loves to read often goes hand-in-hand with being engaged. Pittsfield, we are certainly an engaged community where people contribute by serving on a city board or commission, by participating in elections – 3,765 voters participated in this year’s early voting – or by speaking during public comment at City Council meetings to express their viewpoint.Love of reading, engagement, and civic participation – all these things have a foundation in education and in Pittsfield we want it to begin early. Last year, the city was awarded a $40,000 grant from the Department of Early Education and Care’s Preschool Expansion Grant Program to develop a strategic plan for providing high-quality preschool to more children in Pittsfield. Pittsfield was among 13 cities across the Commonwealth selected to share in this grant funding. Through Pittsfield’s Preschool Expansion Grant Advisory Committee, which consists of Pittsfield Public Schools, Berkshire United Way, and various early education and care programs, a strategic plan has been developed for expanding access to preschool programs. We will be strongly positioned if and when legislative action is taken on the Preschool Expansion Bill. We know that our state representatives and our state senator are going to help make that happen, right guys? With more than fifteen hundred preschool age children in Pittsfield, of which 75 percent have parents in the labor force, there so many children that could benefit from high-quality preschool programs that prepare them for their first day in Kindergarten and for their future academic success. I am a fierce champion of Pittsfield Public Schools. Our schools offer an excellent, comprehensive, and compassionate educational experience for our students. Students at Pittsfield High and Taconic have 23 advanced placement courses to choose from – more than any other public school in the county. Let’s bust another myth about our schools – there’s a misconception that our schools are not academically accomplished but that is far from the case. This myth is tied to the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education’s ranking system. An entire school districts can only be ranked by its lowest ranked school from within its district. Here’s why I believe this ranking system in unfair – there are five possible performance levels with one being highest and five being lowest. We have three level one schools and four level two schools. Seven out of 12 schools are ranked level one or two compared to five that are ranked level three. Of course we acknowledge that there’s more work to do and I can assure you that the dedicated team of public school professionals are on it! But from this unfair ranking system the district’s level three position is deceiving and it certainly does not tell the whole story. That’s why I will continue to advocate for our district schools because they are preparing our children, both academically and socially, to be global citizens. I have many great days as Mayor and one of the very best is high school graduation day when we celebrate student success.To the latter, the district has embraced and undertaken the work of Restorative Justice and Cultural Competency. To date, there are two formalized restorative justice programs underway – one at Morningside and the other at Taconic. Restorative Justice is a way to mediate conflict between students. Engagement between trained staff and students rather than strict imposition of discipline results in more compassionate outcomes for all involved so that we can get back to the task of learning. At Morningside, every day before our youngest learners get to work, they sit together in a circle and have a mindful conversation led by their teacher. They create a circle of trust, building a bond between teachers and students, students with each other, lowering the behavioral temperature and increasing feelings of wellness so that kids are able to learn. Since its inception this year disciplinary issues have been reduced by 64%. This is the kind of caring, compassionate, educational environment of your public schools that I will fight for every day.In your travels around Pittsfield, you may see the Pittsfield Public School’s new campaign that singles out the word “Choice.” On the billboard is a cross-section of students from different backgrounds. The diversity of our district, coupled with rigorous academics and well-rounded extra-curricular activities, makes for an enriching educational experience. I encourage all Pittsfield parents to attend the upcoming open houses being held at Pittsfield High and Taconic. Please stay with us, and more importantly, please come back if you’ve left. In my administration I believe we are stewards of many things including the wonderful natural resources all around us. We must be vigilant about our energy consumption and the landscape. Last year, the city contracted with the Massachusetts-based company, Ameresco, to design and build a 2.91 mega-watt solar power generation facility at Pittsfield’s old capped landfill off of East Street. The project will save the city more than $2 million dollars over 20 years. We are in the planning stages for developing a solar field at the Pittsfield Municipal Airport that will generate new revenues. Both of these projects keeps us moving forward on a path toward green energy. Pittsfield and the Berkshires are known for their woodland landscapes. Well, what about urban trees? Greening the Gateway, a joint, three-year initiative between Pittsfield and the state’s Department of Conservation and Energy, kicked off this past spring. We were one of 26 Gateway cities to be chosen for this program. This past spring, 157 trees were planted on public property, and by request, 180 on private property. As we move into year two even more trees will be planted. And it’s not just about beautification – trees lower energy consumption, provide cleaner air, reduce noise, and enhance neighborhoods. Pittsfield is also inching closer towards the Westside Riverway Park. Unbeknownst to many who are nearby, the West Branch of the Housatonic is one of our city’s premier natural assets. Under this ongoing initiative the river will be highlighted, along with walking and bike paths, trails, and access to the river. With a $317 thousand dollar grant from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and the EPA, soil remediation began at the park’s future site on Dewey Avenue. It’s a first step in a series of many that will remove barriers to access and allow everyone to freely enjoy the natural beauty of Pittsfield. Without a clear vision and strategy the future of our open spaces is left up to chance. Pittsfield’s Conservation Office and Office of Community Development, in conjunction with the Conway School’s graduate program in sustainable landscape planning and design and with input from the public, developed a comprehensive Conservation Management Plan for four of our major conservation properties. Pittsfield now has a thorough plan in place that will prove to be invaluable in making improvements to these properties, securing grant funding, and solidifying long-term land management goals – all necessary to making the vision come to life.While we plan for the future, we had a lot to enjoy this past year. From the Food Truck Rodeo, Berkshire Craft Beer Festival, Eagles Band Concerts in the Park, Live on the Lake, to Wings, Wheels & Warbirds, the city’s first-ever air show at the Pittsfield Municipal Airport – there was something fun for everyone. Last year also saw a rise in the number of events at the First Street Common including Shakespeare in the Park and the music series, Shire City Sessions. It was also a time of anniversaries. We celebrated the 10th anniversary of the immensely popular Third Thursday street festival, the 5th anniversary of the 10×10 Upstreet Arts Festival which had the highest attendance ever – more than 10,000 people enjoyed events around the city including 1,000 filling the Common for a fireworks show. This is what a vibrant city looks like. All of the events mentioned and the hundreds of others that take place throughout the city happen only because of many enthusiastic, energetic, brilliant citizens who have great ideas and the generous organizations, including the city, that support them.I have been listening to people from all walks of life. The most common theme is a concern for their personal safety and the reputation of our city. That’s why public safety is a top priority of my administration. The spate of violent incidents over the last few years was not and will never be acceptable. We have an extraordinary police force that works hard protecting our city every single day. But the stark reality is that they have been understaffed to meet the public safety needs of a city our size. Understanding this precarious situation, I eagerly advanced, and the City Council supported, an additional $1 million dollars in the 2017 municipal budget to add more officers to our police department.