Proposed utility box irks some Amherst councilors 

  • Overhead wires on Spring Street in Amherst in front of a vacant lot where a mixed-use project is slated to be built. STAFF PHOTO/SCOTT MERZBACH

  • One of three large utility boxes already on the Amherst Town Common. STAFF PHOTO/SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer
Published: 8/27/2019 11:55:39 PM

AMHERST — A power company’s plan to install a large utility box at the edge of the Town Common is being panned by some members of the Town Council.

“I think it’s ugly and I don’t think it belongs on our Town Common,” Council President Lynn Griesemer said at Monday’s hearing on the proposal from Eversource.

Even though Eversource has had ongoing discussions with town officials about installing the 6-foot-tall, 5-foot-wide and 3-foot-deep metal utility box, which will contain a three-phase transformer and other equipment that is currently housed under the South Pleasant Street sidewalk, councilors expressed concern about how the box might detract from the greenspace.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman explained that Eversource would be putting the large structure at the corner of South Pleasant and Spring streets, replacing a smaller single-phase transformer box that is 2 feet tall.

In exchange for putting the new utility box near where an information booth for the Chamber of Commerce was located for many years, Bockelman said Eversource will be burying the overhead power and telephone lines that extend along Spring Street.

The removal of these wires is being coordinated with the construction of a new mixed-use building by Archipelago Investments LLC on a vacant lot at 26 Spring St. That project, next to the Grace Episcopal Church and across from the Inn on Boltwood, will feature 58 dwellings, mostly for graduate students at the University of Massachusetts, and 1,000 square feet on the street level for commercial use.

Nicholas Langone, field engineer for Eversource, told councilors that the power company envisions the work as improving reliability as the company moves away from transformers and conduits that are beneath sidewalk grates. These below-surface utilities are typically more difficult to repair, and can cause issues with the sidewalk surface during the winter months.

Although the underground utilities are on the west side of South Pleasant and the utility box will go on the east side, Langone said the company will not need to do any excavation of the road. The plan is to have the work completed before November.

Already the Town Common has three similar utility boxes on its perimeter, each painted black, along with the smaller utility box.

The plans also will be reviewed by the Design Review Board and the Historical Commission, which have oversight for projects on the Town Common.

The Town Council will continue its discussion Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at Town Room at Town Hall.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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