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Westfield State College to run city's public access channel

By Michelle Symington

MetroWest Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD Mayor Richard Sullivan and Westfield State College (WSC) President Vicky Carwein signed an agreement Dec. 22 that will bring the operations of the city's Public, Educational and Governmental Access Channel 15 to the college's television studio in the Ely Campus Center.

Channel 15 is currently located at a Comcast broadcast center on East Mountain Road.

Under an old contract with Comcast, the company helped the city run Channel 15, according to Doug DeLeo, chairman of the Westfield Cable Commission.

With the new contract, DeLeo said Comcast provides the city with funding to run the cable channel rather than the manpower.

"This is step one that was needed to put the quality back into the network so we can produce decent quality [programming]," DeLeo said about the new partnership with the college.

He added that there is a big interest in seeing community events live, which may become possible "down the road."

He said now the focus is to "take the blue screen" and replace it with "some good material."

Sullivan said discussions about the move have been taking place for the past couple of years.

"We all recognize this as a natural relationship that will benefit the city, the college and the community at large," he said. "It is a great way to build a new relationship."

He added that the move will help further strengthen the relationship between the city and the college.

He also said the partnership is "a real opportunity to provide a better public service."

Sullivan said the college has the staff to operate Channel 15, but is in need of the proper equipment.

He said he acknowledges the city's obligation to provide the college with the technology funding available under the cable contract to fund the equipment needed to produce Channel 15.

Carwein said the move is a "win-win for the college and the city."

With the new partnership, she said the college will be able to upgrade the studio with new state-of-the-art equipment.

"It will be a wonderful learning experience for the students," she said. "It will provide real, live learning experiences in this area."

Carwein added that the college is committed to increasing the public and private partnership between the college and the city to create better services in the community.

She also views the partnership as a way for the college to reach out into the community with its events. She said she hopes the college will be able to broadcast "a whole host of events the college does" into the community.

"It is a way for us to get our name out there and let people know we're here," she said.

Mark St. Jean, the college's coordinator of television production and operations for the new system, said it will take about two months to receive, set up and test the new equipment. He said he hopes to have Channel 15 on the air from the college in February.

St. Jean said that the move is an advantage for students to be able to work on productions.

He said students currently work on productions such as School Superintendent Dr. Thomas McDowell's show and State Representative Don Humason's show in the college's studio.

He added that the new partnership will allow students to be equipped with small camera set-ups that can be brought to a location for filming off campus.

According to St. Jean, a link from City Hall to the college will be established so that City Council meetings can be recorded from the college.

He also said that he would ultimately like to see a network that would hook up all of the municipal buildings in the city, which would allow the students to plug in to do live broadcasts.

DeLeo said that the "thrilling part is that [the Channel] is where it should be."

In addition to the students, DeLeo said he would like to see more community involvement with Channel 15.

"We hope that we see individuals outside develop programming," he said.

He added a request process or proposal system may be created for those individuals who have an idea for a show.

He also said he hopes more items, such as the locally produced documentary about the Flood of 1955 that has recently been broadcast, will be aired on the Channel.

"We have a lot of history in the community that has not yet been documented," he said.

In addition to improvements to the college's studio, Sullivan said the equipment in the City Council chambers is also being updated and should be complete by February.

City Council meetings are currently aired on Channel 15, however, Sullivan said the improvements will offer the meetings in "a much more professional manner."

He said for example, PowerPoint presentations will be played directly into the system and onto the television screen so that residents "will see what the City Council sees."

City Councilor Brent Bean said that the Council has received a number of phone calls from residents who say they cannot hear the councilors or that they cannot see the presentations.

He said the agreement will "open the channel up and open events up to the community."

With portable equipment, Sullivan said there is a chance other meetings such as the Planning Board or Gas and Electric Commission meetings could be broadcast to the community.