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BRPC Favors Pittsfield Location, Reduces In-Office Requirements Post-Pandemic
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
04:15AM / Friday, April 02, 2021
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Members of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission believe that the agency' s offices should remain in downtown Pittsfield.
 
Executive Director Thomas Matuszko informed the Executive Committee that BRPC would be going out for bid for office space shortly with a possible deadline in early October. The offices are off Fenn Street, just a couple of blocks away from Park Square.
 
"I guess one of the things that this committee would be most helpful with for me is getting some input on one of the criteria we had was that we needed to be within a mile, I think, of Park Square and trying to be located in downtown Pittsfield," he said. "There are a lot of benefits to that I will say, I mean, when we could meet in person walking over to the City Hall for stuff in Pittsfield was quite easy but I don't know if there's still a desire to do that."
 
Matuszko reported staff members' issues with the downtown parking situation being costly, inconvenient, and at times unsafe.
 
"I hear people say that parking is a problem and that they have to walk three or four minutes to their car as being a problem and everybody wants to park right in front," he said. "The parking is within a reasonable walking distance. One thing that about the parking, though, that I know has been mentioned, is that one of the parking lots doesn't have very good lighting, getting from our office to the Fenn Street lot and I know some of the people have expressed safety concerns about that."
 
He also asked if panel members wished to be involved in the process, explaining that in the past, a small subcommittee was formed to navigate the evaluation phase of office space bidding.  
 
"I would have no problem if this process led to a move but I would still advocate that you should be in downtown Pittsfield," City Planner CJ Hoss said.
 
"This is a planning organization and to move out to a suburban auto-focused area, even within Pittsfield, I think flies in the face of a lot of what you stand for, even if land-use planning isn't as big of a focus as it has been in the past, it flies in the face of what this organization should be advocating for."
 
Hoss clarified that he was not speaking as a Pittsfield employee, but purely as a planner. He defined the downtown area as "within a 15-minute walk of North and Fenn Street" and "generally within the urban center" where employees could still be within walking distance of restaurants and other businesses.
 
Matuszko agreed with Hoss's sentiments, adding that they are trying to promote concentrated development and transit-oriented development, so the offices should be on a transit line. Some staff like to walk and get their lunch, he said, but on the other hand, some do not.
 
"I have always wondered what necessarily these days the advantages are to being that close to City Hall and BRTA buses," Commissioner Rene Wood of Sheffield said. "I just don't know how much the BRTA bus traffic you have coming in but I think it's important for BRPC to be in Pittsfield, I just don't know if it needs to be so close."
 
Matuszko also discussed what the workplace will look like after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. BRPC will likely not revert to its original requirement of four days in the office per week, he said but will have some in-office working requirements.
 
"I've been studying this and looking at it and thinking about it, there is a need for staff to be in a critical number of days per week, and in my mind, it's somewhere in the two to three day a week range," he explained.
 
"I'm leaning in the direction that all staff will get a desk and some of the cubicle spaces might be smaller than others so those people who have indicated would they want to be in the office say three to four days a week would get a larger space, those who indicate they want to be in less than that would get a smaller space but each staff would get a desk. I just think it's very hard with the nature of the work that we do to do it all remotely we're losing connection between the various program areas."
 
The expectation is that offering a flexible in-office and remote work schedule will improve BRPC's position in the hiring market, attracting more prospective employees.
 
The agency will also be moving away from paper files, as many employees have gotten accustomed to digital file-sharing during the pandemic.
 
BRPC aims to get a request for proposals out for bidding next week. Matuszko's goal is to have everything "nailed down" before Oct. 1, but says that may not be achievable.
 
The panel also authorized a combination payout and extended carryover for vacation time within the agency. This was authorized last year as well.
 
"I never expected that we would be in pretty much locked down for an entire year, quite honestly, and so staff has not taken a vacation, because they weren't supposed to go anywhere, do anything, and so a number of staff have accrued leave over the limits that we've established," Matuszko explained.
 
"I'd like to give a combination payout and an extended carryover to staff until this emergency is ended, and then we can come back into our regular limits. I'm optimistic that this public health emergency will be declared over by maybe September."
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