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NORTHAMPTON — The vision of the Community Resilience Hub is coming more into focus after the city of Northampton spearheaded a public meeting on May 1 to go over more design plans.

The meeting was the second of three public gatherings the city is conducting at Edwards Church this spring as a way to involve the community in the hub’s planning process.

The hub will be a multi-faceted centralized location inside the former First Baptist Church at 298 Main St., that offers myriad amenities and services for community members, while simultaneously being a fixture in Northampton for combating houselessness, climate change and poverty impacts.

“The hub will create useful space for the delivery of support services, opportunities for connection and community engagement, and will establish a reliable physical resource communities can turn to in a generalized crisis,” said Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, during the first public meeting on March 25, where the public learned about the building’s history and the city’s general hopes for the site.

During the second meeting on May 1, the public learned more about how the hub will further accentuate downtown resiliency, public health, safety and emergency preparedness.

“While an important role of the hub is to focus assistance on our vulnerable populations in Northampton, from house assistance to heating assistance, it will also address many of our other community needs by contributing to environmental resilience, downtown planning and public health,” Sciarra said during the May 1 meeting.
City staff from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Climate Action and Project Administration Department, Planning and Sustainability and the Fire Department presented how the hub fits in the context of public health, connectivity, climate and emergency preparedness.

“The hub is going to be a nucleus for with a lot of different services,” said Michele Farry, the DHHS’s deputy commissioner. “It’ll be a one-stop shop, so to speak.”

The specific floors

Dorrie Brooks, the principal at Jones Whitsett Architects — a partner on the project — provided the specific blueprint for each floor of the hub during the May 1 meeting.

The first floor of the 298 Main St. building is expected to have a commercial kitchen and dining space that serves around 80 people, as well as a day center, some outreach offices to support people and provide health access, and other amenities like shower facilities, toilets and laundry.

The main hall of the building will function as a civic space that supports a variety of activities for a seated or standing audience. Brooks said it can also be used for language courses, large meetings or small meetings.
“That’s the intent is to keep it as multipurpose as possible, provide some communications technology and lighting to allow it to be shifted to a performance space if necessary,” Brooks said, of the main hall area. “And then behind that space, there are a significant area that could support offices.”

Brooks said that the third floor, which is considered the sanctuary area, will support the city’s Division of Community Care and its eight staff members by storing the emergency management needs of the group in a private manner.

The exterior of the building, meanwhile, is large enough to support another performance area, said Brooks, who added that the intent is to extend the public plaza from the building to the street to the sidewalk and create as much accessibility as possible.

“We’ve really spent a lot of time thinking about how to open up that access to the day center so that no one has to walk in the streets or walk on another property across the avenue from the building,” Brooks said. “So, we have an accessible route along the sidewalk to the site and an accessible route all the way to that door and back again and making sure that feels open and inviting and well-lit.”

The building in general is ADA-accessible and has elevators that visit every floor, according to Brooks.

The DCC

Officially formed last fall, the Division of Community Care, which serves under the umbrella of the city’s DHHS, is an alternative to policing that provides emotional support, advocacy and other resources to people who experience houselessness, emotional distress, difficulty with meeting basic needs substance use and other related situations.

During her remarks at the May 1 meeting, Farry emphasized the importance of the hub’s location at 298 Main St. by pointing out how a recent geospatial location analysis illustrated the majority of DCC-type calls come from the downtown area, particularly in the location where the hub will be.

Because of that data, housing the DCC at 298 Main St. is a major plus for those who need basic resources.
“The Resilience Hub isn’t five blocks tucked away,” Farry said. “It’s right here on Main Street where we want people to see and embrace our values as part of the city.”

Farry added that the hub will be a crucial resource for filling basic needs and other gaps in the public health realm by especially helping those who are marginalized or struggle with certain cognitive disorders and other notable conditions that prevent them from having their basic needs met.

“We have a lot of caring residents and a lot of people paying attention in our city,” Farry said. “We want to see those people receiving the resources they need and that is the dream of the resilience hub.”


Long-term emergencies

Aside from providing basic health needs, the hub will also alleviate stresses during major emergency events.
During the May 1 meeting, Benjamin Weil, the interim director for the city’s Climate Action and Project Administration Department, illustrated how the building at 298 Main St. can be a long-term asset for emergency situations, like, for example, when power outages happen because of a storm.

Weil explained how the hub’s location is ideal because it is surrounded by an incredibly dense population within two miles of downtown, which means people can easily access the hub during times of emergency, such as power outages.

He also argued that the dense population sitting close to the hub could easily walk or bike to 298 Main St., which would solve any issues of limited parking that people may be concerned about.

“Our density is actually helping to make the hub and its location a really good sustainability move,” Weil said. “This location is rapidly accessible without vehicles.”

During his remarks, Weil commended the hub for being well-insulated and argued that instituting a balanced energy recovery ventilation system, like utilizing a ground source heat pump, would greatly benefit the hub during a long-term emergency.

“This technology, which costs a little bit of money and you have to plan for it, enables this hub to become a long-term emergency facility while also, of course, saving us energy,” Weil said.

What’s next

The final public meeting during this design phase will occur on June 5 and feature representatives from different service providers speaking about the resources they will offer at the hub. The meeting will start at 6 p.m. at Edwards Church.

While the hub’s timeline is currently tentative, Brooks said the hope is for construction to officially begin sometime early next year.

Readers can learn more about the hub through Reminder Publishing’s past coverage of the first meeting: thereminder.com/localnews/northampton/city-of-northampton-hosts-first-meeting-over-plans/.

rfeyre@thereminder.com | + posts