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NORTHAMPTON — Northampton’s Climate Action and Project Administration Department will have a change in leadership come May.

On March 22, the city announced that Benjamin Weil will serve as the interim director of the department for four months in the spring and summer. Weil, who currently serves as a faculty member specializing in energy efficient buildings at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will succeed the department’s current director, Carole Collins, who plans to return to her Energy and Sustainability director position in Greenfield starting in April.

“Having Dr. Weil lead CAPA is an exciting step for Northampton,” said Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra. “His deep knowledge in energy efficiency and sustainability and his specific experience with Northampton will drive our city’s climate goals forward.”

In an interview with Reminder Publishing, Weil said he pursued this position because he has already had extensive involvement in supporting the city’s various climate goals, particularly as a member of the city’s Energy and Sustainability Commission, where he has served since 2018. He also felt that, with Collins leaving, a long vacancy at the position would be detrimental to the city’s future climate change resiliency goals.

“I realized that if we waited a long time to fill the position, the CAPA department would flounder and not be a success,” Weil said.

Collins departs after serving as Northampton’s first director of their recently formed CAPA department, which is responsible for setting strategic goals for climate response and to procure for and manage projects with a focus on energy and sustainability. Since her appointment to the position in September, she collaborated with the Central Services Department on a retro-commissioning effort to optimize building management systems across the city.

She also helped bolster the city’s solar energy capacity, generating over 170,000 kilowatt-hours of clean electricity annually.

Additionally, Collins worked closely with city department heads to align fiscal year 2025 capital improvement projects with climate action objectives.

“We’re thankful for Carole Collins’ hard work and for inaugurating the CAPA department and wish her the best in her next chapter,” Sciarra said.

Despite the change in leadership, Weil, who was on the committee that hired Collins, said that he expects to continue to work with Collins on achieving climate resiliency goals in both Northampton and Greenfield.

“I’m hoping we can be a mutual aid society in some ways,” Weil said.
As a current professor at UMass Amherst, Weil teaches courses in energy efficient buildings and is particularly interested in the social and behavioral dimensions of energy efficiency.

A building analyst certified with the Building Performance Institute, Weil has extensive background leading numerous projects focused on reducing energy consumption and carbon footprint in buildings, according to the city.

In his chat with Reminder Publishing, Weil named several goals he hopes to either accomplish or jumpstart for the future during his short time as the interim director. First, though, he wants to learn more about the other departments in the city.

“There’s a lot for me to learn when it comes to municipal administration,” he said.

One of his major goals as the interim director is finding ways in which certain city-owned buildings can be more energy efficient. He specifically mentioned assessing the high school and looking at larger retrofitting plans for the other schools.

“I want to look at what are things that need to be replaced in city-owned properties, and how can we replace them with decarbonized systems,” Weil said.

He said another one of his major goals as interim director is to support the future installation of a shared geothermal heat exchange field that connects Forbes Library and the incoming Community Resilience Hub at 298 Main St.

The hub will eventually be a centralized location offering myriad resources to combat things like climate change and houselessness. Weil added that he hopes to help implement a financing plan specifically regarding the geothermal project connecting those two entities.

Aside from those goals, Weil also said that he wants to support better public transportation and find ways to cooperate with various climate resiliency advocacy groups on city projects and better understand their goals and ambitions.

He also stated that his first order of business is to help the city hire an energy officer so there is an additional staff member helping him within the department.

“An energy officer is critical for me and the department,” Weil said.

As global warming and climate change continues to cause heavier rainfall and more severe weather events in the area, Weil said he wants to make sure the city has the necessary equipment to support these extreme occurrences. He added that he specifically wants to work with the Planning Department on making sure the city has updated infrastructure to slow stormwater down.

“I want to work with the Planning Department to look at drainage topography and find places where we can build additional rainfall detention capacity,” he said.

The city officially implemented the CAPA department in early 2023 to actively pursue its climate action goals articulated in the Sustainable Northampton Comprehensive Plan — Resilience and Regeneration Plan from 2021.

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