SPRINGFIELD – There were questions and concerns expressed, but no emotional fireworks as residents of the Maple High Six Corners neighborhood discussed the possibility of the Western Massachusetts Correctional Addiction Center moving onto Mill Street at the Jan. 12 meeting of the Maple High Six Corners neighborhood Council.
Council president and Ward Three City Councilor Melvin Edwards stressed the purpose of the meeting was to share information and opinions about the potential move to a long vacant nursing home on Mill Street.
The treatment center was forced to move after MGM purchased the building it leased on Howard Street in the South End. Sheriff Michael Ashe pulled out of a proposed move to a residential neighborhood in the North End after residents objected and the center is now temporarily housed in the former Geriatric Authority building in Holyoke.
The decision where to place the center does not rest with Ashe, as Steve O’Neil, the community affairs officer for the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, stressed. He explained the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) determines the location through a Request for Proposals process. O’Neil said that a decision form DCAMM is expected soon and he understood the only other bidder for the treat center – a property on Worthington Street – did not turn in a completed application.
O’Neil said there are no public hearings in the DCAMM process.
He said the center had been on Howard Street for more than 30 years and readily admitted, “The initial reaction wasn’t entirely warm.”
He said the Sheriff’s Department is a “responsible, engaged neighbor.”
Leo Florian, the president of South End neighborhood Council, agreed.
He said that after initial concerns, residents saw the center was “always safe, quiet and clean.” He added there is a law enforcement advantage in having the sheriff’s patrol cars in the neighborhood.
The treatment center and its staff were also very helpful and supportive in the neighborhood and its activities.
“We are very sad to see them go,” Florian said.
O’Neil said once a lease is signed with the owner of the property if DCAMM approves it, a formal presentation will be made to the neighborhood and mitigation measures will be enacted.
The council has already developed a list of mitigation steps, which were read by Demetrios N. Panteleakis, the co-owner of the Industrial Park on Mill Street and an abutter to the proposed location. Among the measures the council would like to see at the property are community policing at the site; a full range camera system; 24 hour seven day staffing; a liaison officer to the neighborhoods; work release inmates assigned to keeping Mill Street Clean; appropriate street lighting; a new green space in front of the building; new sidewalks installed; and privacy fence to protect abutters.
Raymon Ray, the vice president of the council, lives next to the property and recalled the problems he had when a sheriff’s program was at the site a number of years ago. He declared if a program comes back there that doesn’t take the neighborhood into consideration he would consider moving.
Ray said, “I think the council should go door to door and get a feel [from the neighborhood about this issue].”
O’Neil said, “I stand here today to insure you not only will you have a say, but as we did in the South End you will have an advisory board.”
There is a survey on surveymonkey.com for residents to express their opinion but so far there have been only 26 responses – 12 in favor and 11 not, with three undecided.
Ray said he would support whatever decision the neighborhood eventually makes.
Ray, who was noted in the meeting for his efforts to pick up litter and trash along the street, was told by O’Neil, “If we go get into Mill Street Raymon will never have to pick up trash by himself,” referring to the kind of activities the inmates did in the South End.
Panteleakis said the Mill Street area already has issues with drug sales, prostitution and a crumbling infrastructure and not having a responsible tenant in the nursing home building would only add to the area’s problems.
He pointed out the Church of Latter Day Saints, the Center for Human Development and two charter schools located there have all made considerable investments to improve their properties as he and his business partner Walter Kroll have done with theirs.
“We can’t have good tenants creating jobs if Mill Street doesn’t get cleaned up,” Panteleakis said.