Demolition of St. Anne’s set as city breaks ground on public safety center

 

NEW BEDFORD — A commanding South End corner, once home to St. Anne’s Church, will soon be transformed into a hub for fire, police and ambulance services.

Mayor Jon Mitchell, members of the City Council and leaders of the city’s public safety services held a ceremonial groundbreaking Monday for the South End Public Safety Center at 890 Brock Ave on the peninsula.

“This is a real mark of the city’s deciding to raise the bar for itself, to … build a first-rate public safety facility in a very important part of the city,” Mitchell said.

The 25,000 square-foot building will stretch from the corner of Brock Avenue and Ruth Street back to Salisbury Street, allowing fire trucks to enter from the rear. Trucks will exit directly onto Brock Avenue from four garage bays. A fifth bay will house an ambulance.

“The Ruth Street neighborhood has suffered for many decades, especially after Saint Anne’s Church closed over two decades ago,” Mitchell said. “It’s become less stable. Although in the last few years it has certainly become more stable and more safe, this … project will work very well to be an anchor for the neighborhood, in a neighborhood that needs that kind of anchor.”

The city will consolidate five deteriorating public safety buildings into one, at a price of $19 million. The cost to replace the buildings separately would top $30 million, the mayor said.

Workers are scheduled to begin demolishing the old Catholic church and school within weeks.

The city opened the former church to visitors at yesterday’s ceremony. Most of the pews and religious artifacts had been removed.

The Diocese of Fall River closed St. Anne’s in 2004 and combined the parish with St. James’ Church on County Street, which is now called Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish at St. James Church. It has been vacant since.

Among the city services that will move to the new facility are fire stations 6 and 11. Station 6, located at 151 Purchase St., dates to 1882; and Station 11 at 754 Brock Avenue to 1907 — “both terrific buildings, but both past their prime,” Mitchell said.

New Bedford has not built a new fire station since the 1950s.

Outgoing Fire Chief Michael Gomes said he advocated for updates at the new building that would put firefighters’ safety at the forefront — things like separating fire-contaminated materials from personnel space.

Of the city’s seven fire stations, four are so old they were designed for fire apparatus drawn by horses, he said.

Mitchell said the plan for a combined public safety center stems from a 2015 study the city commissioned a few years ago from FACETS Consulting, which recommended consolidating the two South End fire stations.

The new facility will allow first responders quick access to numerous points in the southern part of the city, and residents will take comfort in having a police presence in the neighborhood, he said.

New Bedford Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro was not able to attend the ceremony, but Deputy Chief Paul Oliveira delivered thanks on behalf of the departments. He said the existing South End substation is inadequate.

“This is a blessing for our officers, and we appreciate all the effort and time that’s gone into it,” he said.

The facility will hold six municipal functions: fire, police, emergency medical services, emergency management, fire prevention and animal control.

It is projected to open in the first half of 2021.

In addition to police and fire stations, the new structure will replace the former Fire Station 3, which now houses animal control and the Emergency Management Office, as well as 1204 Purchase Street, which houses the Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Division.

“This is going to be first-rate — because that’s what New Bedford deserves,” Mitchell said.

Original story here

Old ‘Revere Copper and Brass’ will get new life as shipyard

After sitting vacant for over a decade, an historic mill on the waterfront is getting a new life as a commercial shipyard.

At the beginning of this month, Shoreline Resources, LLC purchased the 14-acre Revere Copper Products property on North Front Street for $50,000, according to documents in the Registry of Deeds.

The property, long known as Revere Copper and Brass, had a 147-year history of rolling sheet copper, fashioning brass nautical fittings, and even producing war materials at critical points in history, as previously reported by The Standard-Times, before the plant was shuttered in 2008.

After that, many suggestions were floated for the property — including a shopping mall, residences like Lofts at Wamsutta Place, and a casino — but none came to fruition.

There are a few potential reasons it could have sold now for what seems like a low cost for waterfront property, according to former city assessor Peter Barney.

Those reasons include that with yearly taxes between $40,000- $60,000 it was costing the former owners too much to maintain the empty industrial structure; the layout of the buildings are too industrial to be made into apartments; and any potential buyer would have to factor in the cost of cleaning and developing it, he said.

The new owners of the property saw what the site could be, though.

“We saw the site come up a few years back and we saw the potential with it,” said Michael Quinn who runs Shoreline Resources with his father Charlie.

The Quinns have their own long history with the city and its port.

“We’ve been in the commercial fishing industry for 30 years,” Michael said.

Currently the father and son own Quinn Fisheries, which has six commercial fishing vessels; Standard Marine Outfitters, a vessel supply company; and East Coast Fabrication, a ship repair company.

They have run the latter company for over a decade and saw the Revere site as an opportunity to expand on it, according to Michael.

“We only do retrofits now (at East Coast Fabrication), we don’t have the space to build,” Michael said.

That’s where the new site comes in. They plan on turning it into a commercial shipyard, Michael said, and their long-term goal is to build new commercial vessels and barges.

One of the reasons the site was attractive to the Quinns was because of the city’s harbor dredging project.

“We’ve been looking at the Phase Five project for a few years now and see it as a good opportunity to reactivate the site,” said Michael.

That was the goal of the harbor dredging project, according to Executive Director of the Port of New Bedford Edward Anthes-Washburn.

“The whole point of the planning we’ve done is to activate the parts of the waterfront that aren’t doing much,” said Anthes-Washburn, noting that included the Revere Copper property.

Anthes-Washburn said the city, with around 350 vessels that list it as their homeport, will benefit from the proposed shipyard.

“Having an expanded ability to work on the fishing vessels that call the port home is going to be great for the port,” Anthes-Washburn said.

Mayor Jon Mitchell agreed, “Establishing a shipyard at this site gives the port an increased capacity to service the fishing industry, the offshore wind industry, and others.”

In addition to attracting the Quinns, Mitchell said the dredging that will take place in the next few years will open the port to more business activities.

Both Mitchell and Anthes-Washburn said the shipyard will create jobs.

“When Revere closed that plant there was still a large number of people working there and although this site won’t be as large a direct employer it will allow other businesses to operate here who in turn will employee a significant number of people,” Mitchell said.

Before they start hiring a potential 20-50 employees (including welders, carpenters, and mechanics), Shoreline Resources has to start construction, which Michael said they plan on doing right away.

Construction will involve demolishing a few of the buildings on the waterside to create a few areas for the vessels, according to Michael Quinn, but they won’t be taking down the buildings on the roadside.

“We’re probably taking down two acres worth of buildings,” said Michael about the 14-acre site which has a total of eight buildings.

Mitchell said he’s had “some very constructive discussions” with the Quinns about preserving the buildings on the site that have the highest historical significance.

“There’s a lot of historical value to the site which is another reason our family wanted to take it on,” Quinn said. “We come from New Bedford and want to see the site reactivated and not go to waste.”

The construction plan for the site will take three to five years to complete, according to Michael, and they’ve been working closely with the city and other institutions to get the process underway.

Original story here.

Dredging will open 40 harbor sites, including Revere Copper, to new opportunities

They’re going to build boats at the old Revere Copper. To do it, son-and-father team Michael and Charlie Quinn need the harbor dredged in front of the iconic former metalworks.

Four feet of water is far from enough.

Their company, Shoreline Resources, is one of dozens in New Bedford and Fairhaven poised to benefit from a massive, nearly harbor-wide dredging plan, set to take place over the next two years.

The dredging will remove sediment along public and private wharves on both sides of New Bedford Harbor, deepen channels to improve access to marinas, and create areas newly usable for mooring fields.

Edward Anthes-Washburn, New Bedford port director, said the hulls of fishing vessels are getting deeper, requiring more draft.

“Allowing … the entire port to react to that and be able to dredge down, it really sets us up for decades of success,” he said.

The city and state are cooperating on a dredging plan whose main goal is economic development. But because the dredging will also remove contaminated sediment, the city was able to get the work permitted through the federal Superfund process already underway.

“It’s like a win-win,” said Timothy Cox, Fairhaven harbormaster.

Right now, shallow waters mean it’s not unusual for Cox’s staff to aid vessels that have run aground in areas north of Pope’s Island.

“A lot of the boats at Slocum Cove at moon tides can’t leave the marina or get to the marina,” he said.

Washburn said the commitment to dredge has already spurred investment, including the recent purchase of the old Fairhaven Hardware by Fairhaven Shipyard.

As many sites in Fairhaven are scheduled for dredging as in New Bedford, including 14 residential properties, according to Cox.

Fifteen Fairhaven businesses have agreed to participate as well, according to Paul Foley, the town’s director of planning and economic development.

Washburn said that as part of the State Enhanced Remedy, which is work done in coordination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the harbor, the state is funding 80% of the navigational dredging in front of commercial properties.

The overall cost is about $100 a yard.

The 80% represents the portion of the cost attributed to the fact that sediment is contaminated and needs to be buried in a confined aquatic disposal cell, or CAD cell.

Businesses will pay 20% — which is roughly the equivalent of what they would have paid for dredging if the harbor were clean, Washburn said.

Residential owners will not get the subsidy, but because the work is tacked onto a larger project, they will pay about one-sixth of what they would have otherwise paid, he said.

Foley said a cleaner harbor will improve public perception of the harbor, and deeper water could allow for 100 or more additional moorings.

At State Pier on the New Bedford side, dredging will help support the shipping of clementines and other produce. And a variety of businesses, such as Crystal Ice, will be able to provide services to larger vessels, Washburn said.

The dredging is expected to go down five feet, and most of the contamination is in the first three feet. The material going into the CAD cell is less contaminated than the area around it, according to Washburn.

The navigational dredging project will have its own CAD cell, south and east of an existing CAD cell created by the EPA. It will be capped with three feet of clean material.

Building the cell should take nine months to a year, and the dredging should take another year, Washburn said.

He said the waterfront is “incredibly vibrant,” diverse, and job-rich.

“We only have about 600 acres, and there are 6,800 jobs that are located in the New Bedford and Fairhaven waterfronts. So we’re doing pretty good in terms of the marine industrial activities that’s happening,” he said.

The harbor is growing as a fishing port at a time when many fishing ports are disappearing, in large part because of the diversity of what New Bedford Harbor offers, he said.

As new uses emerge, such as offshore wind, the port wants to create infrastructure to support them while continuing to grow as a fishing port and supporting the fishing industry, he said.

In all, 40 different sites will be dredged for navigation as part of the project.

Maps of the work will be on view at a public meeting Aug. 13 at 2 p.m. at Fairhaven Town Hall. The project is also scheduled for discussion the following week at the Fairhaven selectmen’s meeting, Washburn said.

New Bedford cited as a leader among clean energy communities

Local leaders gathered last week to celebrate New Bedford’s inclusion in a new Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center report on innovative clean energy programs at the municipal level.

“The best ideas for clean energy often start at the local level,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for the policy center, in a press release. “If we want to have cleaner air, healthier communities, and a safer future for our children, we need to move rapidly toward 100% renewable energy from sources like the sun and the wind. New Bedford is showing how to make it happen.”

The report, Renewable Communities, features New Bedford alongside 21 other Massachusetts cities and towns that are leading the way to 100% renewable energy, according the policy center.

The report discusses renewable electricity, energy efficiency, clean transportation and heating, and energy storage programs, including New Bedford’s successful efforts to add electric vehicles to the municipal fleet.

“As a coastal city and the center of the commercial fishing industry on the East Coast, New Bedford has a lot at stake when it comes to climate change and sea-level rise,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell in the press statement. “We have led by example on these issues, so we appreciate the recognition of our efforts to embrace renewable energy. We have installed more than 16 megawatts of land-based solar and wind projects, positioned ourselves to be a leader in offshore wind energy, and pushed hard to convert our municipal fleet to electric vehicles.”

Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center shared a preview of the report, including a profile of New Bedford’s clean energy efforts. The full version of the report will be released on Friday, Aug. 2.

New Bedford has now converted more than 25% of its municipal passenger vehicles to electric vehicles. The city is believed to have a higher percentage of electric vehicles in its municipal passenger fleet than any other community in Massachusetts, according to the press statement from the policy center.

The city has also installed 16 megawatts of solar and wind generation, saving taxpayers approximately $1 million per year in avoided energy costs, the statement said.

The Environmental Massachusetts Research and Policy Center report comes as legislators consider a statewide commitment to 100% renewable energy.

The 100% Renewable Energy Act (H.2836, S.1958) would transition Massachusetts to 100% renewable electricity by 2035, and phase out the use of fossil fuels for heating and transportation by 2045. The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy held a hearing on the bill last week.

So far, 113 legislators have endorsed the 100% Renewable Energy Act.

“I had the valuable opportunity to work on the GreenWorks legislation that passed the House this past Wednesday and the theme that kept coming up was that there needs to be an equal focus placed on both adaptation and mitigation,” said Rep. Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford, in the press release. “As a state, we must collectively lower emissions and consume less energy. At the city-level, New Bedford has made significant progress on this mitigation front . . . We all have a role to play in the fight against climate change – we just need to use the tools available to us.”

“At the SouthCoast Chamber, we are happy to see clean energy become more accessible for families and businesses,” said Rick Kidder, President and CEO of the SouthCoast Chamber of Commerce. “Achieving 100% renewable energy for Massachusetts would keep more dollars within our local economy and presents a great opportunity for job growth.”

Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center is visiting five other communities across Massachusetts to share the findings of the report.

“Communities like New Bedford are leading the way on clean energy,” said Hellerstein. “We hope to see state leaders follow their example.”

Gov. Baker approves FY20 budget and New Bedford scores big time

Posted Jul 31, 2019 at 12:54 PM

BOSTON — Governor Charlie Baker signed the FY20 budget Wednesday that includes significant funding for New Bedford, according to a press release from Senator Mark C. Montigny (D-New Bedford.)

Under this budget plan, New Bedford will receive $159,830,964 in Chapter 70 education funding. This is an increase of $14.5 million over last fiscal year and is $2.8 million more than what the House proposed in April. Montigny worked with Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues to ensure New Bedford would receive the highest funding possible.

Montigny also said that Governor Baker approved close to $1.2 million he helped secured in the FY20 budget for New Bedford to provide funding to increase local children’s access to arts, culture, and recreation; youth violence prevention; peer support and mental health services for police; workforce training; and opioid treatment programs.

“New Bedford’s economic resurgence and cultural renaissance has opened up tremendous resources and opportunities to experience the city’s unique plethora of arts, culture, and history,” Montigny said. “Our mission in this year’s budget is very simple: provide New Bedford kids with access to local arts, culture, and recreation regardless of socio-economic status. I cannot thank our local partners enough and look forward to another successful year.”

Youth development and access to arts, culture, and recreation is a major priority in Montigny’s allocations, continuing his years of legislative work to lead the local arts and cultural renaissance. The Senator renewed his Children’s Equality and Empowerment Fund to provide $500,000 in grants to local organizations seeking to provide innovative access to arts, culture, and recreation for area youth. He also allocated $80,000 to Dennison Memorial Community Center to provide programs for financially disadvantaged youth in New Bedford. Montigny also wrote a provision to ensure the South Coast Youth Court continues to operate through a $100,000 earmark. Montigny also delivered funding to the New Bedford Girl’s STEAM Design Academy, working alongside Representative Chris Hendricks (D-New Bedford).

Public health and safety priorities also ranked high in this year’s agenda. Montigny delivered $175,000 to the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center so primary care services can provide medication treatment for opioid use disorders. Montigny also ensured the Women’s Center can continue to expand access to its safe dates and domestic violence workshops at local schools. Finally, the Southeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (SEMLEC) will receive $100,000 to continue to provide area law enforcement officers with much-needed peer support, mental health counseling, and residential treatment services following traumatic incidents.

George Kirby Jr. Paint Co.: The color that crosses New Bedford centuries

There aren’t many businesses that can say they have been family-owned and operated for over 150 years. George Kirby Jr. Paint Company, at 163 Mount Vernon St. — just steps from Shawmut Avenue — can proudly proclaim that fact, however.

Awnings over the office windows declare, “Since 1846.” It’s central to their business. The company rose to prominence on the strength of its signature product — marine paint — and its reputation still rests on that glorious liquid to this day.

The George Kirby Jr. Paint Co. was one of the first manufacturers of copper bottom paint. Back in the 19th century, it was a revolutionary product designed to eliminate the buildup of barnacles and other sea life that accumulate on the bottoms of boats. Kirby made the paint with premium ingredients in small, handmade batches — and continues to do so in the 21st century right in this West End neighborhood.

“We’re the smallest paint manufacturing company in the United States,” said George A. Kirby IV, the latest member of the Kirby family to own the company. The statement is spoken with pride as he recognizes the unique heritage he now oversees.

George the IV worked with both his grandfather and father before taking a few years off to join the United States Air Force and then returning to the company. It was time well spent; he met his wife, Shari Kirby, while on duty.

Today, George, Shari and cousin Bill Kirby are the three employees of the George Kirby Jr. Paint Co.

George took over the company from his dad in 2013 and knew just what to change, what to leave alone, and what defines Kirby Paint the most.

First and foremost, is the reputation of its products. While they produce all manner of marine paint, it’s their resilient colors applied to wooden hulls upon which their reputation rests.

That is a wonderful tradition to carry on but it can hurt the bottom line.

Frequently at boat shows, where he is always warmly welcomed, Kirby says he hears from previous customers that their purchase has been so effective that most “don’t need paint!”

“I’m putting myself out of business!,” he said with a laugh.

So, this year they’ll move beyond their usual boat shows in Mystic, Connecticut and Portland, Maine, and venture as far afield as Florida to keep making the personal connection the Kirby brand relies upon.

And make no mistake, Kirby is well-branded. In fact, George knew when he took over the company that not only the product, but everything the brand embodied in its nostalgic logo was important to maintain.

That logo is not only a link to the past, but a reminder of the company’s unique position in the marine paint world.

Within it is a representation of the medal awarded to Kirby at the 1867 World’s Fair in Paris for its mixture of Prussian Blue.

Just as it was then, the paint is made in batches, and one batch makes 60 gallons.

In 2013, Shari Kirby put her father, Paul Meyer to work on the building creating some stunning hand-painted signs which adorn the building on Mt. Vernon Street featuring the logo. The result is amazing and lends commercial art vitality to the street. It may be why the street artist Tom Bob decided to add an exclamation point with one of his signature creations — a gas meter turned into a pink flamingo — after Meyer handled the signage.

Though the George Kirby Jr. Paint Co. looks as if it’s been in its red brick building since the Victorian age, that isn’t so. It actually began life by the waterfront — naturally — on Wall Street in New Bedford before falling victim to the construction of Route 18 in the city. It’s been in its current location since 1969.

A move like that may have devastated another business but not Kirby. It actually had already survived a near-death experience at its original location way back in the 1880s.

Among the memorabilia George Kirby IV stores on-site in his office is a printed notice from 1887 entitled “BURNT OUT!” It continues, “Our factory was totally destroyed by fire on the night of April 1st, and all the machinery ruined, engine and boiler twisted into and almost unrecognizable mass, every pound of stock destroyed, in fact a more than total loss.”

Remarkably, the letter goes on to state that despite this calaminity, orders would resume being filled by…April 15!

Thankfully, there have been no fires at its current location. However, a neighboring building did succumb to flames a few years back. While many believed the fire also took the Kirby building, rest assured the business escaped conflagration and the store is open six days a week to the public (closed on Sundays).

In it, you’ll find George, Shari, Bill and recent arrival Daisy, Kirby’s canine mascot, continuing to embellish the success and legend of this storied business in New Bedford.

They’ve done so not only by following in the footsteps of their forebears, but by embracing the internet as a sales tool. Today, most Kirby Paint is shipped from kirbypaint.com to places all over the country and Canada, too. In 2013, Shari even replaced the bound ledgers used for bookkeeping with…Quickbooks!

Despite some nods to modernity, they don’t for a minute fail to respect the legacy of the George Kirby Jr. Paint Company they are carrying on, though.

George joked that maintaining that integrity is crucial because, “My name’s on the can so my can’s on the line!”

Yet he also writes a handwritten note to every customer requesting a color swatch through kirbypaint.com — a human touch in a digital age that reaches across centuries into tomorrow…

And, there’s a George Kirby V waiting in the wings, too.

Original post here.

St. Luke’s Hospital starts construction on new $14M intensive care unit

Posted Jul 17, 2019 at 7:37 PM

The state-of-the-art unit also aligns with Southcoast’s pursuit of establishing a Level II trauma center at St. Luke’s Hospital in 2020, Southcoast Health said in a news release Wednesday night.

“Our investment in advanced intensive care will provide our patients with greater access to clinical excellence, close to home,” said Keith Hovan, president and CEO of Southcoast Health, in a statement. “The residents of southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island deserve the very best healthcare. We are excited to be investing in this new Intensive Care Unit as part of our ongoing commitment to delivering exceptional care and service to our patients and communities.”

Mayor Jon Mitchell, also in a statement, praised Southcoast Health “for continuing to invest in this community and delivering the highest quality care to the people of New Bedford and beyond.”

Mitchell, who toured the site of the new unit Wednesday, said “Needing the services of critical care can be an emotional and trying experience for patients and families. This new unit will have the space, technology and skilled care team that will make all the difference during someone’s time of need.”

The new 16,000-square-foot-unit — the current unit is 7,300 square feet — is being constructed on the fourth floor of St. Luke’s. Equipped with the latest technology, it will feature 16 spacious, 440-square-foot rooms that “will accommodate medical equipment and enable family and staff to be comfortably at the patient’s bedside,” the news release said.

A conference room will be dedicated for physician meetings with families and a lounge area, with refreshments, TV and showers, will be available to families staying long hours, officials said.

“I am excited about the opportunity for our nurses, physicians and staff to work within a new state-of-the-art unit that is designed to provide an optimal experience for patients, families and providers,” said Maria Tassoni, RN, manager of the intensive care unit, in a statement.

Commending staff for their input and suggestions for the new unit, Tassoni, a Southcoast employee for 31 years, went on to say that “When a great care team has a great facility, the patients and community benefit.”

Southcoast Health officials said the new unit will also play an integral role in the hospital’s efforts to achieve designation as a Level II trauma center, meaning that St. Luke’s would be able to treat more serious injuries for people in the community. Currently, patients in need of such care are often sent to Rhode Island or Boston hospitals.

Southcoast Health employs 2,453 people at its New Bedford locations, and employs 1,581 city residents who work at Southcoast, the release said.

“As the region’s only not-for-profit health system, we know the importance of continually investing in our system to ensure all the residents of this region have access to the highest possible quality of care,” said Hovan in the release. “And as the region’s largest employer, we want to provide our staff with the best facilities and equipment to treat and serve our patients, their families, and the larger community.”

Original post here.

After nearly 30 years, a South Coast Rail groundbreaking

Tuesday marked the highly celebrated beginning of the South Coast Rail project’s southern expansion, bringing MBTA Commuter Rail Service from Boston south to the cities of Fall River and New Bedford.

The occasion was not the first groundbreaking for the project, which has been gestating in Massachusetts politics for roughly 30 years.

That point was not lost on MassDOT CEO Stephanie Pollack, who took a moment Tuesday to recall a 2015 conversation she had with Fall River state Sen. Michael Rodrigues.

At the time, Rodrigues warned Pollack of the shovels he had collected over the years from past South Coast Rail groundbreakings and said he didn’t want another one until construction was already underway.

“We’re here today because there is actual construction work underway,” Pollack said to an applauding audience of local and state officials.

Pollack and Rodrigues were joined by the likes of Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and many of the region’s state representatives for Tuesday’s ceremony. A total of 45 politicians and government officials plunged gleaming shovels into the symbolic mound of dirt positioned beside a set of Freetown train tracks at the ceremony.

The project has undergone a series of fits and starts since Gov. William Weld first asked the state Legislature approve funding for preliminary studies. A series of obstacles — including loss of funding and environmental impact concerns — have plagued the project since it began, but many of Tuesday’s attendees were confident that the proverbial trains would finally be pulling out of the station.

When asked what made him so confident that the project would be completed by its proposed 2023 end date, Baker said the project has two things going for it that it didn’t previously have: a completed construction plan and a designated funding source.

“Those are really the two big things it didn’t have before. It has a real construction and design plan and the second thing is a real capital plan. And that basically guarantees that it’s going to happen,” said Baker, explaining that $1 billion in funding has already been allocated in the state’s 5-year capital plan.

“We’ve already got contracts on this. People are doing work on it. We’ve already acquired property, we’ve got all the permits,” said Baker. “This is literally a groundbreaking held after the project had begun.”

Work already underway represents Phase I of the South Coast Rail project. Thus far, the project has seen culvert installation along the train’s proposed route being done in East Freetown, as well as track upgrades and bridge renovation.

The next four years of the project will see the commuter rail’s Middleboro Line being extended to New Bedford and Fall River, which will require reconstructing 17.3 miles of the existing New Bedford main line track and 11.7 miles of the Fall River secondary track.

Upgrades will also have to be done to 7.1 miles of the Middleboro secondary track between Pilgrim and Cotley Junctions. Two new layover facilities will also have to be constructed, as well as six new train stations. Representatives of the greater Fall River and New Bedford area were similarly optimistic that Tuesday about the project’s future.

Rodrigues, whose first South Coast Rail groundbreaking was over 20 years ago, praised the state’s most recent efforts and highlighted the potential impact commuter rail service will have on the region. “The communities of the SouthCoast deserve to be economically competitive with the rest of the region, and South Coast Rail is a large piece of that,” he said. “I applaud the Baker-Polito Administration for finally making this long-promised project a reality.”

Original post here.

Destination: NBAM – A plan to expand the New Bedford Art Museum is taking it step by step – to the second floor

Buried in a huge list of funding awards released two weeks ago as part of the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Cultural Facilities Fund program is a relatively small entry of $30,000 to the New Bedford Art Museum/Artworks.

Compared to the $120,000 awarded the Whaling Museum, and the $180,000 for the creation of Abolitionist Row Park, also in New Bedford, the amount may seem small. But it represents a grand vision for the museum and the beginning of something big for New Bedford.

The vision quest for NBAM/Artworks is nothing less than turning the little museum that could into a bona-fide destination in the state and region.

Not that the art museum isn’t already in one sense. Indeed, for a facility its size, NBAM punches far above its weight. Signature special shows like the Audubon exhibit a few years back and the hugely popular Peter Souza exhibit of Obama-era photographs, still on display, have brought distinction — and thousands of patrons — to NBAM and the city.

Those marquee shows are the icing on the cake. Year after year, NBAM curates exhibits of local artists that are thematically interesting, visually arresting and sometimes socially provocative. To say nothing of the myriad other special events held at the museum – and the significant role ArtWorks plays in youth arts development.

But to truly fulfill its original mission and decisively enter the top tier of regional art museums, NBAM needs to grow. Specifically, it needs room to grow – and the $30,000 matching grant, as well as monies also recently awarded in city CPA funds, is a down payment toward making that a reality.

The vision, then, is this: to substantially renovate the museum and enlarge its footprint by annexing the second floor of its home at 608 Pleasant Street. Currently it houses offices not associated with NBAM.

That plan has been the focus of a sub-committee of the museum’s Board of Directors for some time – and is now gaining real traction and coming tantalizing into focus.

45 minutes to an hour…

AHA! Director Lee Heald is a member of the museum sub-committee, which is chaired by John Howland. She explains that in order to bring any cultural institution up to destination status, patrons should expect to spend at least 45 minutes to an hour at the location. Given the size of NBAM now, it falls short of that benchmark right now.

Of course, we know that whatever space limitations NBAM copes with, it certainly makes up for in quality, ingenuity and spirit. But still, to enable it to become what it needs to be for the city and region, it needs to grow. In fact, it’s actually part NBAM’s founding mission statement.

The City of New Bedford owns an extraordinary collection of art from the city’s gilded age onward. Much of it dates back to the mid-1800s. The original vision for the art museum saw it as a venue to bring this collection to the public.

An expanded NBAM would fulfill that vision and, according to Heald, realize the promise of public art as defined all those years ago. Gaining a second floor would allow room for the creation of a “City Gallery” in the space.

“Public art back in the 1870s meant exposing the public to art,” she says. “It was deemed as something important for the citizenry to experience.”

In the 19th annual report of the Trustees of the Free Public Library, which by default became a repository of art, it was written in 1871, “We have long cherished the hope, that in some future time, and that one not very far distant, a gallery of pictures, gathered through the enlightened munificence of the friends of art in our city, would be connected with our Public Library.

“The teachings of true art purify the taste, chasten and elevate the imagination, and give wealth and power of expression to the understanding, and afford to those who can have access to the works of genius, a pleasure that can never be exhausted and that never leaves a sting behind.”

One hundred and fifty years after the collection first began to be acquired by the city, it’s a goal of the committee working to expand NBAM to finally make that happen.

Upstairs/Downstairs at 608

Much progress has already been made on plans to expand NBAM. Much work – and fund-raising – remains left to do.

The $30,000 award from MCC, administered in conjunction with MassDevelopment, is a matching grant. No other state monies can count towards matching the $30,000, so the committee is seeking private and local public donations.

Heald says the City of New Bedford has been enormously supportive of the museum, and private donors have contributed, too. A campaign to reach or exceed their goal is underway.

Already, the architecture firm 3SIX0 in Providence has drawn up concept plans for an expanded museum. It sees the upstairs as gallery space devoted to New Bedford’s treasures. It builds upon the building’s unique character by opening up the two story high space in the center of the building, connecting it to the downstairs.

It also takes advantage of the beautiful windows on the second floor, which overlook Pleasant and William Streets. Naturally, infrastructure upgrades such as a new stairway and an improved elevator service are part of the plan.

Together with City Hall and the New Bedford Free Public Library, the buildings will form a graceful public square. Each historic building will enhance the other.

Besides fundraising, next on the agenda is using the grant money to hire key personnel to create an operational plan for an expanded art museum that’s financially sustainable into the future.

New Bedford’s larger role in MA arts

The effort to create a destination New Bedford Art Museum isn’t an accident of chance. It’s a reflection of the city’s reputation as a leader in arts and culture. Heald notes that the Massachusetts Cultural Council reached out to the museum about its expansion plans to learn more ahead of the Cultural Facilities funding decision.

The MCC is targeting the city in other ways, too. On Thursday, June 13, the council will hold a pop-up event in conjunction with AHA! New Bedford day and night. It will take place from 10 a.m. to noon at the New Bedford Port Society Mariner’s Home and Seamen’s Bethel on Johnny Cake Hill.

Carmen Plazas of MCC writes that they hold, “community pop-ups to reach new partners and grantees with its range of grant programs, services, and initiatives.” Individual artists as well as groups and organizations are welcome to come and learn how the council can assist them.

The trend-line is clear: Massachusetts is investing in New Bedford arts and culture as never before. And part of that investment is turning the city’s art museum into a true destination.

The New Bedford Art Museum, and ArtWorks, which merged in 2014, have brought distinction to the city. The museum is vibrant, innovative and of-the-moment. It’s been driven – and still is – by remarkable staff and dedicated volunteers.

It’s also made a big impact in the city’s rise to creative prominence. With a large vision that embraces the city’s unique history, it promises to leave an even larger footprint on its future.

Steven Froias blogs for the coworking facility, Groundwork! at NewBedfordCoworking.com. Email: StevenFroias@gmail.com.

New Bedford launches online dashboard, NBCompass

The dashboard measures three major categories: Permits and Licensing, Economic Indicators, and Roadways and Public Spaces, allowing residents to view the number of various licenses pulled, trends in employment and growth, roadways repaired, and more. More metrics will continue to be added that are relevant to residents and visitors, and NBCompass lays the foundation for future data reporting, according to the release.

Annual year-end performance management reports are also available through NBCompass.

The dashboard is available at www.newbedford-ma.gov/nbcompass/.

New Bedford’s finance team has also achieved notable landmarks this year. The City was awarded the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award (2018), for the third consecutive year, for its current budget by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). Only 26 Massachusetts municipalities and districts, and 1,576 entities nationwide, received the award in 2017. Additionally, Standard & Poor’s Rating Service (S&P) reaffirmed New Bedford’s AA- bond rating, and the City has maintained the highest bond rating it has achieved in at least the last forty years. The AA- rating was first awarded to New Bedford in January 2014, and the reaffirmation of the rating puts New Bedford again among the top half of all issuers of municipal debt in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.