Environmental steward: David Pomerantz retires from Northampton’s Central Services department

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  • David Pomerantz, director of Central Services for the city of Northampton, stands on South Street overlooking the recently improved and expanded Roundhouse parking lot, Dec. 10. Pomerantz will be retiring at the end of the year. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 12/26/2021 6:37:33 PM
Modified: 12/26/2021 6:37:06 PM

NORTHAMPTON — When David Pomerantz retires at the end of the year, he’s not going to put up his feet and relax. He’ll continue working with governments to improve energy efficiency and address climate change, and he’ll spend a little time in Ireland.

Northampton’s director of Central Services, Pomerantz, 70, announced his retirement in October after 15 years overseeing the department that provides maintenance, heating and cooling, plumbing and electrical services, energy management, security and much more to city properties, including the schools.

Speaking last week at his Memorial Hall office, Pomerantz said he plans to assist in the transition to a new director, then focus his efforts on a budding business venture called Sea Change Associates that will help government agencies implement climate change mitigation measures.

“I’m a kid who grew up on the south shore of Long Island on the beaches, so things like the environment, the oceans, have always been important to me,” he said. “I’ve always been involved in a lot of environmental causes, and that has sort of shaped my work.”

Pomerantz said he has visited Ireland twice and he plans to do so again in an effort to meet with officials and exchange climate change expertise and ideas.

“Of course, I’ve got to bring my banjo with me so I can play in the pubs,” he said. “I try to play at least a half-hour at night. It doesn’t happen every night, but it’s a great instrument.”

After earning a community planning and urban design degree from the University of Cincinnati, Pomerantz spent some time as a city planner for the state of Vermont before moving to Amherst in 1977. He worked as a state environmental director for the nonprofit organization MassPIRG, then took a job at UMass Amherst performing “microstudies” for the U.S. Department of Energy.

The International City Management Association hired Pomerantz in 1980 and he moved to Washington, D.C. He traveled the country to conduct management workshops and training sessions on topics including energy efficiency and sustainability.

“It really left a lasting impression with me,” Pomerantz said. He added that he felt so drawn to the cause of protecting the environment that he never considered another career path.

After his work in D.C., he returned to Amherst and started a construction company, Elements of Structure, which he ran for 23 years while also serving for two decades as an on-call Amherst firefighter and FEMA disaster relief worker.

“I spent a month in Florida after Hurricane Andrew (in 1992). I remember being in communities doing assessments — not even structural assessments because there was nothing left. … Unless you had a compass, you didn’t know where you were,” Pomerantz said. “Neighborhoods, as flat as this desk.”

In 2004, the Northfield Mount Hermon School hired Pomerantz as a construction manager to oversee the expansion and upgrade of its campus in Gill. He said he considered himself a sort of “orchestra leader, getting all that collaboration done between people and projects,” and carried that attitude with him to his next gig at Central Services in Northampton.

Now living in Leyden, Pomerantz was first appointed Central Services director by Mayor Clare Higgins in May 2007. He earned praise from incumbent Mayor David Narkewicz for his work to modernize the department.

“He has been the consummate team player and problem solver,” Narkewicz said of Pomerantz in a statement, “and under his direction, Central Services has played a critical role in advancing the city’s goals for accessibility, energy efficiency, and sustainability across all of its facilities.”

“We are really the veins and arteries of municipal operations,” Pomerantz said. “You don’t really think about the veins and arteries in your body, but without it, the city couldn’t provide all the services it does through the other departments. It takes a lot of effort, both physically and planning-wise.”

Pomerantz and his crew — Central Services employs nearly 60 people — run the annual “blitz” to repair, remodel and upgrade every school building in the city during summer vacation, the only eight-week period when the schools are otherwise empty. They are also partly responsible for carrying out the city’s goal of net carbon neutrality by 2050, including reducing building energy loads, replacing street lights with LEDs and installing electric vehicle chargers in municipal parking lots.

“In my tenure here, I’ve really tried to bring on people who are experienced, they’ve got their licenses and certifications, they’re committed and aggressive as far as being positive employees,” Pomerantz said. “I’ve got a great team here.”

In 2020, Pomerantz completed a climate resilience certificate program through Antioch University. His capstone project was an assessment of mitigation measures for coastal flooding in five New England states.

“With climate impacts being so risky, as far as not understanding timeframes or how bad it could get … I decided to do my final project on, what is the state of implementation?” he said.

His new company, Sea Change Associates, will conduct research and provide technical assistance “to help move people along.” He said that even though every country and world region “may be structured differently, they’re all dealing with the same issues.”

Mayor-elect Gina-Louise Sciarra will ultimately appoint Pomerantz’s successor after she takes office on Jan. 3.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.
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