Amherst Media faces eviction in June
AMHERST — Amherst Media will be forced to give up its long-term headquarters at 246 College St. by the end of June, potentially leaving the nonprofit that operates the city’s public access station without a home.
With just over two months to go until it is evicted from the Eversource-owned site where it has been since 1991, the Amherst Media board is asking for help from city officials to identify a location, possibly a building vacant lot owned by the municipality, where it can be located for two years, or until the planned construction of a new head office on Main Street is completed.
However, it is not certain that it is possible to obtain a temporary location from the city.
City Manager Paul Bockelman told city council on Monday that a recent review of city buildings by city staff revealed numerous issues with most locations that can be difficult, expensive and possibly impossible. to solve.
With eviction looming since Eversource informed Amherst Media of the likelihood in August 2010, Amherst Media’s board of directors have been looking for new space in the city, including using part of the Bangs Community Center, which has limited vacant space, and had conversations with the school district, revealing that the schools would not be suitable.
Artie McCollum, chairman of the board, said the idea was to use a city building for 24 months, with fundraising and grants allowing construction. He said Amherst Media had repaid the loans to buy the land and was in the process of identifying a general contractor.
The city would be responsible for connecting fiber, ethernet and telephones to any relocated site.
Bockelman said four sites were examined. One is the old North Amherst School, where the lower level, which once housed the Amherst Survival Center, is now the permanent storage of city records, while the upper level is for the Head Start program and to early childhood learning.
“So this building is fully occupied,” Bockelman said.
South Amherst School, recently used as Summit Academy before moving to part of the high school in the fall of 2018, is another option. For more than four years the building has been vacant, however, the heating system has become unusable and an occupancy certificate has expired. Bockelman said he was disappointed to see the state of the building which was seen as a potential transition space for city services.
The last two options are buildings that appear to be in a dilapidated state. One is the clubhouse at the former Hickory Ridge golf course where gas and water service has been disrupted and is deemed unsafe for occupancy, although it once hosted banquets. “Hickory Ridge is a scary building right now,” Bockelman said.
The former Hitchcock Center for the Environment building in the Larch Hill Conservation Area is also in disrepair and is limited to conservation purposes, and may not be occupied without incredible investment, Bockelman said. This building is already slated for demolition.
The role the council will play is uncertain. Overall, Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke said that as a legislative body, the city council should not be directly involved, although it can instruct the city manager, as one of its purposes, but otherwise he oversteps his role and looks into a problem he shouldn’t.
District 3 Councilwoman Jennifer Taub disagreed, noting that the onus is on councilors to help Amherst Media find 2,000 square feet. “I don’t feel comfortable saying there’s nothing we can do,” Taub said.
General Counsel Ellisha Walker also said advisers could help since Amherst Media’s role is to provide public access and transparency of government operations, although General Counsel Andy Steinberg said the nonprofit had been curtailed by councils and committees able to record meetings via Zoom and similar platforms and public cable cutters moving to streaming services.
District 3 Councilwoman Dorothy Pam said that with so many buildings in town, including on college campuses, Amherst Media should be able to find one that meets their needs.
District 2 Councilwoman Pat DeAngelis said she was concerned about the condition of the buildings and that Bockelman’s report called maintenance into question. “Why doesn’t Amherst maintain the buildings,” DeAngelis said.
Scott Merzbach can be contacted at [email protected]