Showing posts with label Umass. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Umass. Show all posts

Friday, January 8, 2016

What's Next, Drones?

Early adopters of hoverboard technology take note

UMass Amherst, that bastion of higher education, has banned the use of hoverboards on campus effective today -- thus proving the nanny state is alive and well.

When I Tweeted about a box alarm AFD responded to this morning at the Integrated Science Center for a "smoking refrigerator" one of my twitter followers reminded me UMass is a "smoke free campus."

Fair enough.  But smoking kills over 400,000 Americans per year and to date I'm guessing hoverboards have killed one or two less than shark attacks.

But hey, you can never be too safe.  Anything that can knock out Mike Tyson ...

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Brick By Brick

West Experiment Station back in June

Let's hope UMass has not bitten off more than they can chew with the West Experiment Station reconstruction project to make way for the new $100 million Physical Sciences Building.

 West Experiment Station 11/29/15

As of today the historic old building has been completely dismantled and will hopefully be reassembled by 2018, integrated into the new Physical Sciences Building, for a unique blending of the old and the new.

West Experiment Station today

Trolley Station on North Pleasant Street, built 1911 trashed June, 2012 by a contractor without full approval

Thursday, October 22, 2015

And We Have A Winner

Commonwealth Honors College Complex bottom right

The Commonwealth Honors College Residential Complex, a $192 million mixed residential and teaching facility that opened in the fall of 2013, was just awarded  LEED Silver Certification for its energy efficient design standards.

The other really nice thing about the complex is it provides 1,500 beds to keep students on campus, and because the rooms are so nice the occupants tend to take good care of them.

The complex also has nary a response from UMass police for problem behavior with only the occasional "burnt popcorn" fire alarm response handled by Amherst Fire Department (since UMass does not have its own fire department).

Now if we could just get UMass to partner with a private entity to construct something like this on the Gateway open field -- one that would pay property taxes -- I would really do an Irish jig.  

Gateway Area.  Fearing & Phillips Streets on left with former Frat Row on right.  

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Playing Hardball

34,525 sq ft UMass Campus Center hotel competes with private sector hotels in the Valley

In an effort to coerce the town into signing a new multi-year "strategic partnership agreement," aka Payment In Lieu Of Taxes that is long overdue, UMass -- our beloved flagship institute of higher education -- is taking a hard line approach:  withholding payment of a local option room tax everybody else pays, including tax exempt Amherst College.

But in so doing they are most certainly biting the hand that feeds them.  Over the past 30 years there's not been a  bigger legislative cheerleader for UMass/Amherst than Stan Rosenberg, who also just happens to be an Amherst resident.

And currently Stan holds the powerful position of Massachusetts Senate President.

Stan went out of his way back in 2009 to draft legislation specifically to close the loophole that allowed the Campus Center Hotel to dodge our 6% local option tax.

In an email to his staff Stan wrote:

"I want to make sure that we insert language into the bill that effectively says that hotels that are located on college campuses or operated by any other form of nonprofit/education organizations are subject to room occupancy excise. 

This is extremely important as I have been trying to get UMass to the right thing and apply this tax for a very long time voluntarily and they have refused.  This is wrong and I don not want to miss the chance to fix this finally now that we have a chance to do it."

Currently UMass pays the town $455,000 PILOT for AFD ambulance and fire protection.  AFD and 911 Dispatch has a annual budget of $5 million with about 25% of their total runs involving UMass students, so that alone should be well over $1 million in reimbursements.

In addition 56 children living in tax exempt UMass "family housing" attend our public schools, which have a high average cost of education just over $20,000 per student, so that alone should be well over $1 million in reimbursements.

In fact the previous 5 year "strategic partnership agreement" that expired June 30, 2012 specifically stated that if the town closes down Marks Meadow Elementary School the University would come back to the bargaining table and reopen the agreement to consider a cash contribution for educational services. 

Note to UMass:  When you play hardball, sometimes you get beaned in the head.

 UMass is the town's largest employer and #2 landowner behind Amherst College

Monday, October 12, 2015

Amherst: Colorful College Town

Hampshire College, South Amherst: student population 1,400
Who needs psychedelic drugs when you have this outside your dorm?

UMass Amherst, our state flagship: student population 28,635

UMass Southwest area houses 5,500 mostly freshmen, err, 1st year students

$10 million Paradis Steam Boiler Plant  that never worked
Amherst College: largest property owner in town.  1,785 students 
Now you know why we call this College Street (or RT 9)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pay The Piper

UMass is by far the town's largest employer

These days -- or most any over the past 35 years -- it's not often I find myself in agreement with forever activist Vince O'Connor, but on this particular issue he's dead on correct.  There, I said it.  Step one in any good multi-step program.

UMass currently pays the town under $500K as a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes courtesy of a "5 year strategic agreement" signed w-a-y back in 2007.  Thus it expired over three years ago but has been extended annually ever since.

I'm told by a reliable source that a new multi year agreement had been on Town Manager John Musante's desk for many, many months now.

His unfortunate passing two weeks ago today could obviously delay even longer the ratification of that new agreement -- if indeed it is worth ratifying.

Because if the amount is under $1 million per year -- which it probably is since Mr. Musante seemed not overly interested in jumping on it even though he had come under pressure of late by the Select Board to get an agreement resigned -- I would tell UMass to go fly a drone, err, kite.

With a Public Safety budget of $10 million and our police and fire/EMTs dealing with UMass students on and off campus amounting to 25% of our emergency services utilization, that alone comes to $2.5 million the town should be reimbursed.

 Amherst FY16 (ends June 30, 2016) budget

And with UMass grad students sending their children to our public schools (56 total, times our high $20K per year average cost to educate) that comes to another $1 million plus per year.

If UMass were smart -- and they are after all a "higher education" enterprise -- they would seek to cut a new five year deal as soon as possible.

Because if Representative Kulik's bill passes to force tax-exempts to pay 25% of their assessed value, and Amherst and Hampshire College end up paying for more than UMass there will be hell to pay.

This year Amherst College paid the town $130,000 -- up from the previous year's $90,000 -- for AFD fire/EMS services while Hampshire College paid us a BIG fat zero.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

So Far So Good

APD having a chat with college aged youth carrying a 12 pack Townhouse Apartments

The long weekend went a l-o-t better than I thought it would as far as (serious) rowdyism goes.

Sure there were the usual problems associated with our annual spike in population, returning Amherst to a "college town" after a quiet summer:  zombie herds traipsing up and down Phillips Street, North Pleasant and Fearing Streets, large gatherings in the west quad of Townhouse Apartments and of course old standby Hobart Lane.

Townhouse Apartments Saturday afternoon

But there were no serious incidents of drunken mob mentality manifesting itself in the form of rocks, bottles and cans being hurled at police officers, aka Blarney Blowout.

Although Amherst Fire Department had the usual tie up in services due to drunk runs with ETOH students. 

Amherst police stepped up their game as they always do.  APD Neighborhood Liaison officer Bill Laramee worked with UMass Neighborhood Liaison Eric Beal to keep a lid on the usual pressure cooker areas.

The Rental Permit Bylaw ordinance that went into effect 18 months ago is making a significant difference by holding landlords accountable for the (late night) activities of their tenants.

And UMass, by building newer plusher accommodations on campus -- North Apartment (800 beds) and Commonwealth Honors College apartments (1,500 beds) -- gives young tenants a reason to be proud of their humble abode and much more likely to treat it with respect.

Revived my Twitter audience

Monday, September 7, 2015

We're #7!

Umass Library was once the tallest in the world

I suppose this is one ubiquitous Internet top ten listical you will not see UMass Office of News & Media Relations extensively hyping.

 Southwest Towers (a 6th was planned but never materialized) built circa 1963 for high density housing
Towers look prettier at night

But hey, if you have traversed the UMass campus much at all you certainly have developed a sense of humor about some of the "brutalist" cold war East German architecture.

 Fine Arts Center goes long rather than up

I'm reminded of the Barnes Air National Guard A-10 warthog jets that used to routinely fly over Amherst:  exceedingly functional, but ever so ugly.

So ugly they are kinda cute.

A-10 warthog, brtttttt, doing its thing

Of course it could be worse: Hampshire College made #3!

 Hampshire College:  With that counter-culture 1960s and 70s style of architecture 

 Safe bet Amherst College will never make this list

Friday, September 4, 2015

Sudsy Saturday & Sunday?

1st year students moved into Southwest Friday
Scroll down for most recent updates

Not to be a killjoy prognosticator of dire outcomes but my Twitter buddy ZooMass does have a scary point:  By Sunday all the on-campus UMass students will be moved in --13,500+ of them ... with nothing much to do.

For the entire night.  With the weather predicted to be perfect.  And no school on Monday.


Saturday morning mist quickly burning off 
Phillips Street late Friday night

Crowd gathered westernmost quad Townhouse Apartments, North Amherst 4:45 PM Saturday

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Well I Love That Dirty Water

Umass Campus Center Pond this morning

Students returning to our beloved UMass campus over the next few weeks will find a (hopefully) cleaner Campus Center Pond, as contractors are now performing "hydro-raking" at the behest of the Physical Plant as part of their pond maintenance program.

Although, safe to say, the Campus Center Pond will never rival Puffer's Pond as a swimming hole.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Say Cheese!

Shots fired!  UMass campus pond this fine Sunday morning

If you notice a throng of photographers around town this weekend don't be afraid, it's just a shutterbug conference at UMass. 

 Click to enlarge/read.  Or go to UMass website

And if you heard the sound of muskets this somewhat stormy Sunday morning that was only a reenactment -- a drill if you will -- to give those photographers something to do.

That's a lot of photographers


Friday, June 5, 2015

Preserving The Priceless

Amherst College Pratt Field this morning

When Amherst College went about a $12.5 million major renovation of Pratt Field a couple years ago a tree as old as the athletic field itself ( circa 1891) stood in the way of that progress.

Rather than taking the simple, cheap way out -- destroying the tree and replanting a new one -- the College spent $100,000 to move the majestic Camperdown Elm 30 yards to safety.

 Camperdown Elm this morning

Sure they are a private college with a decent endowment (although an Anonymous benefactor paid for most of the renovations, including the tree move) and UMass is a public University with a small endowment.   But when it comes to protecting your historic heart and soul, cost is secondary.

West Experiment Station 682 North Pleasant Street this morning

West Experiment Station is one of the original buildings on campus from W-A-Y back when UMass was known as Massachusetts Agricultural College (1887).  It is also highly visible located directly on North Pleasant Street, which cuts through the heart of the sprawling campus.

When I asked the UMass Facilities & Campus Services folks via their Facebook page if they were tearing down West Experiment Station I received (rather quickly) the following reply:

Demolished? No! Moved (slightly)? Yes! And this is great news for WES all around. Actually, the building isn't technically being "moved" (because the age/fragility of the mortar work won't allow us to just pick it up and plop it down); rather, it will be completely *deconstructed* and then completely *reconstructed* a couple dozen yards west and a bit south of its current location. Completely new (and deeper) foundation, brand new building systems (MEP), and about 50% more of the building wheelchair accessible, too. We're achieving this by "buddying" the renovation, especially with respect to utilities, with the Physical Sciences Building project going up just behind/north of WES. The building is also being moved in order to anchor a return of Ellis Way --the reestablishment of which is part of the Campus Master Plan.

However, Preserve UMass point man Joseph Larson is not overly happy with the situation and after the fiasco with the Trolley Stop three years ago, I can't say I blame him.

Click to enlarge/read

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Pay The Piper

UMass Mullins Center straddles Amherst & Hadley

So what are we, chopped liver?

Hadley just recently renewed a deal with UMass to cover municipal police costs associated with the Mullins Center, which is only partially on Hadley property and the other part in Amherst.

Hadley gets a 10% raise, from $50,000 to $55,000 annually.

But the annoying this is whether the Mullins Center is in Hadley or Amherst, either way, any medical call is handled by Amherst Fire Department, because Hadley does not have an ambulance service.

And on nights the Mullins Center hosts Electronic Dance Music events AFD is often stretched to the breaking point.

The town signed a "Five Year Strategic Partnership" with UMass to cover AFD ambulance runs to campus (but not the more expensive fire related runs) back in 2007.  It expired June 30, 2012 -- almost three years ago!

Sure the pact was continued on an interim basis the past three years and resulted in the regular $370,000 in ambulance reimbursements plus the extra $80,000 UMass kicked in a few years back to cover extra high ambulance demand on weekends when schools are in session.

So even a lousy 10% increase in that formal signed multi-year agreement would generate an extra $45,000 annually, or enough to pay a little over half the salary of the new Economic Development Director.

But after School Superintendent Maria Geryk told the Amherst Finance Committee and Town Meeting that children living in tax exempt UMass housing  cost the Amherst Public Schools well over $1 million annually, the town may be looking for a better offer than a paltry 10% increase.

Representative Stephen Kulik recently filed a bill (with Mass Municipal Association support) that would allow cities and towns to collect from tax exempt entities 25% of what they should be paying if they were assessed like everybody else.

Unfortunately, since UMass is "government" owed, they may still be exempt should the bill miraculously become law.

But at least Amherst could then extract money from Hampshire College the #3 landowner in town who pays nothing for Payment In Lieu Of Taxes, unlike Amherst College who pays $90,000 annually for AFD services.  

Ah, the burdens that come with being a "college town."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

License Plate Stall

Unless the UMass Alumni Association gets lucky enough to have a meme or YouTube video go viral, the total circulation of 3,000 specialty license plates by October 1st is looking about as likely as a winning football season.

Currently, after 20 months of sales efforts, only 1554 plates are on the road -- only 54 over the minimum number required by the Registry in order to have convicts crank out the plates. 

Ah, if only somebody can get a picture of Aaron Hernandez working on one.

But the Registry also requires 3,000 be on the road by year two, a deadline fast approaching.
The Alumni Association had to put up a $100,000 bond guaranteeing the 3,000 sales within two years, or the Registry can discontinue the plate and keep the bond money.   

These days the Alumni Association has trouble even giving them away.  A recent offer to pay the $40 plate fee plus $20 swap fee resulted in less than 50 takers.  The University makes $28/plate, but certainly not when they give them away.

So even if all 1,554 plates were legitimately paid for by exuberant alumni, that's only $43,512 into UMass coffers -- less than half the amount of the $100,000 bond they stand to lose.

With a target base of 120,000 graduates living in-state (almost all of them drivers) you would think selling 3,000 plate to 2.5% of them would be easier than selling all-you-can-drink Solo beer cups at a frat party.

Heck, I would have purchased one if "Amherst" appeared somewhere in the logo.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sunny Sayonara

McGuirk Stadium 4:25 PM

Things seemed to be going smoothly at the packed McGuirk Stadium as 5,500 graduates will now bid our town farewell.  Well at least the vast majority of them.

For four years (or more) they called Amherst home, helping to make us the vibrant town that we are.  And come this September that small cycle of life, in our little college town, starts all over again.


Looks better/fuller viewed here  (Note flag flapping in breeze, but video is steady)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Unabashed Conservative Comes Calling

Charles Krauthammer is a, gasp, Fox News contributor

Yes, the UMass Republican Club is at it again.

The daredevils who brought Karl Rove  and John Ashcroft to our unabashedly liberal enclave -- enraging the Ivory Tower intelligentsia -- have now snagged conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer to share his Pulitzer Prize winning opinions. 

Considering UMass recently hosted Angela Davis, consider it a "fair-and-balanced" kind of karma.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Student Town Advisory Board

Amherst Select Board voted Alisa Brewer new Chair, Doug Slaughter missed 1st meeting due to illness

Town Manager John Musante told the Amherst Select Board last night that he was bringing together student government appointees from all three institutes of higher education to meet with key town departments -- Police, Fire, Board of Health, Chamber of Commerce, etc -- to talk about issues impacting students, our #1 demographic.

Mr. Musante said he hoped the committee charge would be completed soon and the first meeting held before graduation day.  The group would meet "a couple times per semester."

The collaborative idea was not an offshoot of the $160,000 Davis Report on how to avoid another Blarney Blowout and not to be confused with University Town of Amherst Collaborative (UTAC) dreamed up by the $60,000 town/gown consultant as an offshoot of the Town Gown Steering Committee.

The Town Manger said it was the brainchild of the outgoing UMass Student Government Association President Vinayak Rao, who has been proactive with improving relations between the town and UMass students over the course of his one-year reign. 

 Vinayak Rao (rt) Amilcar Shabazz (ctr) Jacob Schissel (left)

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Fitting Investment

UMass undergrad Commencement Ceremony, May 8th

If UMass can spend a little over $300,000 on three "artists" for a free musical concert at the Mullins Center to attract students away from a boorish Blarney Blowout style of celebration, I sure don't have a problem with paying Neil deGrasse Tyson $25,000 (plus expenses) for this year's Commencement speech.

As I've mentioned more than once, last year's Blarney Blowout cost the University and Town more than a million in bad PR.  And had this year's event stumbled down the same sorry path, you could have easily doubled that amount.

College graduation is a once in a lifetime event.  Let's hope Mr. Tyson presents a memorable, out of this world, speech.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Hey UMass!

UMass Amherst:  Massachusetts flagship of higher education

As I pointed out on Friday students enrolled in the Amherst public schools emanating from UMass tax-exempt family housing costs Amherst taxpayers "over $1 million" annually to educate.  

Well now I have a more exact figure for number of students and their cost to the town:  56 students at a cost of $1,267,200.

Click to enlarge/read

Notice too that one student (at a cost of $18,200) does not even attend Amherst Public Schools, but that money still comes out of their budget for Charter reimbursement. 

Safe to assume that facts from this memo will be used by the Finance Committee in their report to Amherst Town Meeting concerning the school budget, so perhaps a long overdue discussion will take place about fair reimbursement from UMass for these serious costs.

The Amherst and Regional School Committees should also take a strong stand, and the Amherst Select Board should direct Town Manager Musante to use these figures to get a (much) better deal out of UMass in the next "Strategic Partnership Agreement" -- already almost three years overdue.