Northampton eyes Roundhouse building for resilience hub

  • The Roundhouse building at 244 Main St. in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/16/2021 2:21:20 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The city is getting closer to making the proposed community resilience hub a reality after Mayor David Narkewicz announced Thursday that he has executed an option to purchase the historic Roundhouse building behind Pulaski Park.

The news, which he delivered to the City Council, came on the same day Smith College pledged $200,000 toward the creation of the hub, which would support residents who face chronic and acute stress, such as those who are homeless, and act as an emergency center if there is a disaster.

“Yesterday, we took several important steps toward realizing our vision for a Community Resilience Hub to connect our most at-risk Northampton neighbors to needed services and to be available for the kind of community disasters that could affect any of our residents,” Narkewicz said in an announcement Friday. “Now, we have not only assembled the necessary funding, but we’ve identified a viable downtown site, secured a no-cost option on it, and can begin doing due diligence to determine whether the Curran Roundhouse Building can ultimately become the Northampton Community Resilience Hub.”

The building at 244 Main St., once a storage facility for coal gas and later the home of a famous comics franchise, has long been for sale. Over the years it housed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise, a museum, Disney Magazine, and most recently, CleanSlate, an addiction treatment business. The property is listed for sale with Goggins Real Estate for $3.45 million.

Narkewicz said at the council meeting that the building has great potential to be the future home of the hub, which the city began planning for three years ago after it was recommended in a 2019 report, “A Downtown Northampton for Everyone ...” produced by the mayor’s working group on panhandling.

The option to purchase the property, which is located near City Hall and has 15,000 square feet of office space, doesn’t involve funding but it will allow the city to examine the space.

“Basically it (the option) says the owner agrees not to sell the property in the next 120 days,” Narkewicz said.

In his announcement about the Smith College gift, Narkewicz said he has been discussing the concept of a resilience hub with Smith College President Kathleen McCartney for months. The hub’s primary role will be to “coordinate resource distribution and services as a consolidated entry point for frontline communities but will also serve all residents and coordinate distribution and services in preparation for, during, and in recovery from major disasters or disruptions,” according to the mayor.

“We are proud to support Mayor Narkewicz’s efforts to advance this project serving those community members most at-risk, which is in alignment with Smith College’s mission and values as an institution,” McCartney said in a statement on Thursday.

City officials are planning to use $1.6 million in marijuana community impact fees to help fund the project, which the council gave final approval on Thursday. The city is planning to also use external grants and gifts to fund the project and Narkewicz cautioned that there is no guarantee the Roundhouse building would meet the needs of a potential hub but that the city is optimistic.

Booker Bush, a member of the Policing Review Commission, said at Thursday’s council meeting that the resilience hub is a great idea, but he also expressed concern that some might think such a hub could serve the purpose of a newly proposed Department of Community Care. The department was put forward as a recommendation by the commission as a way to respond to some public safety calls instead of police.

“I want to make public my feeling that that does not work,” Bush said.

The hub, “does not necessarily defund the police. It does not switch or change the policing footprint,” he said. “I am concerned that the exuberance of funding up the resilience hub as a parallel track to a Department of Community (Care) would not meet many of the goals of what the Northampton Policing Commission would like to have occur.”

A number of other residents spoke during public comment in support of funding a Department of Community Care. Javier Luengo-Garrido, also a member of the Policing Review Commission, urged that the department be independent and emphasized that responses to calls would be unarmed.

“We are calling for peer-led response. Non-armed response. I want to be really clear with this,” he said.

Narkewicz addressed comments like Bush’s later in the meeting.

“I know I’ve heard a lot tonight and earlier about this project,” he said. “I just want to be clear this is a project we’ve been working on prior to the police reform effort. We view it as a separate and distinct project. We don’t view it as part of policing reform … In no way I am conflating it with or saying it’s a substitute for the recommendations that are in the Police Review Commission’s report. I did want to be clear about that.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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