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Easthampton mayor orders halt to public construction projects

  • The detours around the construction on Ferry Street that will go into effect when construction resumes. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Construction continued Thursday on the new consolidated K-8 school at the site of White Brook Middle School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Construction continues on the new consolidated K-8 school at the site of White Brook Middle School in Easthampton, Thursday, Apr. 2, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Construction had been continuing on the new consolidated K-8 school at the site of White Brook Middle School as of Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/3/2020 9:37:51 AM

EASTHAMPTON — In a rapid reversal, Mayor Nicole LaChapelle issued an executive order Friday to shut down all construction projects in the city that receive public funds, to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“I need to look in the mirror and say ‘I did my best to keep people safe,’”  LaChapelle said. “To not do this I feel flies in the face of that.”

Prior to the order, the city was planning to proceed with three major construction projects: a new, $104 million K-8 school, road work on Ferry Street, and realigning the intersection of Lyman Street and Route 10.

“These three projects are really important for the city,” City Planner Jeffrey Bagg said, speaking before the order was issued.

Construction of the school, on the grounds of White Brook Middle School, has remained on schedule, even as the region has been gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

City officials, including the mayor, had said up until Friday that the stages of construction that the projects were in allowed for proper social distancing.

The order will go into place on April 8, and continue until May 4. Exceptions to the order include mandated building or utility work and work necessary to render occupied residential buildings fully habitable.

Construction projects that are not public are also encouraged, but not required, to follow the order.

The mayor isn’t alone in expressing public health concerns with continued construction.

On Tuesday, the executive board of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, which represents 75,000 union members in the state, called on Gov. Charlie Baker to order a statewide suspension of all regular activity at construction sites in Massachusetts.

“Our primary responsibility is safety first,” Francis Callahan, president of the MBTC, said in an interview. “Our members are essential but they’re not expendable.”

Callahan said that the council is not taking positions on individual projects. However, it has recommended some guidelines.

The MBTC is calling on the governor to suspend regular activity on construction sites from April 3 through April 30. It also says that only work on essential and emergency projects should be permitted to continue. Emergency utility, road or building work, such as gas leaks, water leaks and sinkholes, new utility connections to occupied buildings, and work at public health facilities, healthcare facilities, and shelters were some of the projects listed by the MBTC under these categories.

Work has not yet begun on the Lyman Street site, which received a winning bid on Monday. The project involves realigning the intersection of Lyman Street and Route 10 near the location of the future River Valley Co-op. A third major construction project for the city, road work on Ferry Street, was in its very early stages.

Before issuing Friday’s order, LaChapelle said that the city was following the governor’s guidance and that the city’s health agent had checked in on both the Ferry Street and the new school site.

“Everyone is complying and my health agent is satisfied,” the mayor said.

LaChapelle said that she made the decision on Friday based on reading new information that made her feel that the disease is not containable, including looking at what had happened at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke.

She said that if one person doesn’t follow protocol on a construction site, even at no fault of their own, the disease can spread like “wildfire.”

“Public health and safety is first,” she said.

The mayor also made clear that she hadn’t seen any lapses in protocol when she had visited the Ferry Street and new school sites.

The Ferry Street road work will close off a section of Ferry Street from Emerald Place to the Manhan Rail Trail crossing. The intersection at Pleasant and Lovefield streets also will be one-way during the daytime when construction is taking place. Detours will be in place for both large trucks and other vehicles.

The redoing of the Lyman Street intersection, which includes putting in a left-turn lane on Route 10, had a bid opening Monday, after being delayed by a week, so that the opening could be done remotely. Nine contractors bid on the project, which came in under bid.

The winning, approximately $346,000 bid came from Gomes Construction, of Ludlow. This is less than the $391,000 Massworks grant the city received last year to pay for the project, which includes installing a crosswalk, a new sidewalk and realigning the intersection.

Bera Dunau can be reached at

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