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Palmer site in contest

By Lori Stabile


06/09/2008- The Republican

PALMER - The former Cascades Diamond facility in the Thorndike section has been chosen for a reuse design competition sponsored by the Valley Development Council, part of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

While the competition is still in the preliminary stages, the council wants submissions from architects, designers and planners regarding concept plans for the site's redevelopment that incorporate smart growth principles.

And, if fund-raising is successful, a second site will be added to the competition: the town-owned seven-acre Larrabee school property in Southampton, home to the Senior Center and fire station.

In addition to Palmer and Southampton, proposals from Holyoke, Southwick, Ludlow and Shutesbury were considered, according to Jessica J. Allan, senior planner with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

"There were a lot of good submissions and Palmer came out on top," Palmer Planning Board Chairman Michael S. Marciniec said.

The Palmer site totals 15 acres and is now known as Energy Thorndike. Allan said it stood out because it has a high likelihood of the design idea being implemented. Smart growth principles include encouraging development in existing buildings with infrastructure already in place.

Allan said the competition is expected to start within the next couple of months.

She said they hope to provide the winner or winners with between $3,000 and $5,000 in prize money. The design will be presented to the community and the landowner, who is not obligated to carry it out.

"This will redesign what used to be a very viable, sustainable center . . . There are a lot of opportunities with those buildings," Palmer Town Planner Linda G. Leduc said recently.

Leduc said the building owner, Jeffrey Phillips of Connecticut, is open to ideas and has art studios in the sprawling hydro-energy facility. He bought the building in 2004; Cascades Diamond shut down in 2003. The parcels are zoned for a variety of uses, such as industrial and residential. Town officials also have designated it as a priority development site.

The site has historic value to Palmer. The mill was a major employer for the region from 1932 to 1989. In its heyday, it employed nearly 200 people making paper-based egg cartons.

Diana M. Schindler, Southampton town administrator, said she is hopeful the Southampton project will make the final cut. She said officials have been focusing on the Larrabee property, as it is in the original village center. The school closed a decade ago.

"It would be wonderful to have different design ideas," Schindler said.

Southampton will have a debt exclusion vote on June 16 regarding the 15,000-square-foot Senior Center. The idea is to create a mixed use property, with some space for the seniors and the rest for municipal offices and retail or office space.

Even if the debt exclusion passes, Schindler said the design competition could focus on the rest of the property.