Home 2007 June
Opinion
The Coming Crisis for Medicare

The trustees of the nation’s Medicare trust funds have released their 2007 annual report, and once again the news is grave. As the result of health care costs increasing at a much greater rate than wages, the hospital insurance trust fund is projected to be exhausted by 2019. Indeed, Medicare is in far worse shape than the Social Security trust funds, which are also ailing but are not projected to run dry until 2041.

The one glimmer of hope in this bleak picture is that a “Medicare funding warning” has been triggered for the first time by the numbers in the trustees’ report. This action will finally force Washington to address Medicare seriously, and fix a system that threatens to bring our economy to its knees not many years from now.

Medicare’s main source of money is supposed to be the dedicated revenues generated by premiums and payroll taxes. But because of the rapid growth of Medicare expenditures, program costs financed by general revenues are projected to exceed 45% in 2013.

Under the 2003 Medicare reform law, whenever a forecast says that the 45% threshold will be crossed within the next seven years, the trustees are to issue a determination of “excess general revenue Medicare funding.” That determination has now been made in two consecutive years, so a “Medicare funding warning” has now been declared.

The warning requires President Bush to propose legislation that responds to the alert by early February 2008. The law then requires Congress to consider the president’s proposals on an expedited basis.

No one can predict the outcome of this exercise. But it will at least focus lawmakers’ attention on an incontrovertible fact: Medicare is not just undercapitalized; it’s a severely flawed system. Revenues and spending are inherently mismatched.

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that over the past 40 years, medical costs have outstripped economic growth by 3% annually. Advances in medical technology and patient treatment have driven of this trend; while the benefits of these advances are obvious, the price tag is huge.

With this crisis looming, why have no serious efforts been made to treat the root of the Medicare problem? For one thing, there are few, if any, incentives to prudently control the cost of medical treatment. It is well-documented that retirees will undertake treatment as long as the value of that care is more than their co-payment. As for providers of medical care, such as doctors, nurses, and hospitals, any desire to restrain costs through cheaper treatment alternatives is often overridden by self-interest or the perception that more expensive treatments are in order.

Finally, politicians have virtually no short-term incentives to tackle the Medicare problem. The reason is clear: any change that leaves the elderly worse off than before will lead to swift condemnation and ballot-box reprisals by a large and vocal segment of the population. And pressure from much younger workers who fund Medicare is nearly non-existent.

However, more encouraging signs may come from individual states’ experiments with health care, particularly those of Massachusetts and California. If a state can build a comprehensive medical care solution, it can provide guidance and even encouragement for a national approach.

Given the magnitude of the problem, there is unlikely to be a silver bullet. To bring costs and benefits closer together, policies need to target the inequities caused by incentives that tend to increase costs at an alarming rate.

Even this may be insufficient. Increases in taxes, cuts in benefits, and possibly means-testing of beneficiaries may be needed. Implicit in such policy change is the realization that all stakeholders — not just the young — need to bear the burden of making Medicare sustainable. It may be tough medicine to swallow, but we can’t keep blindly passing Medicare’s costs on to future generations.-

Thomas J. Healey is a senior fellow at the Kennedy School of Government. This article first appeared in the Boston Globe.

Sections Supplements
HCC Celebrates 60 Years — and a Tradition of Perseverance and Innovation
David Bartley

David Bartley, past president of HCC, poses with a caricature of himself, drawn as part of the college’s 60th anniversary celebration.

David Bartley, former president of Holyoke Community College, said the institution’s 60th anniversary, marked this year, has caused him to remember HCC’s past and look to its future, as well as the changes higher education has seen across the country.

“We used to run colleges with chalk and talk,” he said. “Today, there’s $100,000 worth of equipment in a classroom that has to be continuously updated, and that’s not ever going to change.”

It has indeed been a good month for reflection for both Bartley and HCC’s current president, William Messner, who took his post three years ago. The duo represents two-thirds of HCC’s history of leadership; its first president, George Frost, served from 1947 to 1975, then Bartley held that position until 2003.

“It’s a little daunting to be one of only three presidents,” said Messner, “but what I take away from this 60th anniversary is the overwhelming positivity surrounding the institution. Every individual I’ve talked to recently cites the college’s significant effect on their life, and so it is my job to take that legacy to the next level.”

From the Ground Up

Even with only three presidents in six decades, the college has indeed had a colorful run. It was founded in 1946 as Holyoke Graduate School, and in 1947 changed its name to Holyoke Junior College following state-level legislation that permitted municipal higher education programs to do so.

Frost was the college’s only full-time employee for six years, before Ellen Lynch was appointed his secretary. They shared an office in what was once the cloakroom of the old Holyoke High School building. Additional full-time employees — two full-time professors — were not hired for another five years, in 1958.

Frost called students personally with end-of-semester grades and announcements, and the school funded faculty salaries and operating expenses with tuition payments only — which were $6 per credit for Holyoke residents and $7 for non-residents.

In 1961, Holyoke Junior College moved from its temporary home in Holyoke High School to the former Elmwood Elementary School on South Street, where it remained for six years. In 1965, the institution joined the state community college system and changed its name to Holyoke Community College. Four years later, the college moved again to the Holyoke High School building, which by that time had been turned over to HCC following the construction of a new high school.

Less than four months later, however, disaster struck — the building went up in flames (the cause was thought to be a faulty ventilation fan in the attic), leaving nothing but a brick shell. Operations were returned quickly to the Elmwood Elementary School, and students missed only one day of classes. But a new threat soon surfaced.

With the newly opened Springfield Technical College (now STCC) only a few miles away, the Mass. Board of Regional Community Colleges backed a move to relocate HCC’s students to STC and forego building a new home for the former.

Remembering the fire and the precipice on which it placed HCC, Bartley quoted John F. Kennedy.

“Victory has 100 fathers, and defeat has none,” he said. “The fire in 1968 had a lot of people saying we only needed one college in this section of the Valley, and we did a lot of work to point out why we needed two. Now, there are two very successful community colleges in the area, and we believe we had our victory.”

Out of the Frying Pan…

Indeed, a group of Holyoke-based civic leaders, educators, and business owners formed the Friends of Holyoke Community College and lobbied to save HCC. Holyoke’s mayor at the time, William Taupier, and the president of the state senate, Sen. Maurice Donahue, a friend of Frost’s, were among those who supported the cause, and in 1969, a temporary building on the site of the fire had been erected.

Plans for a new campus were unveiled, and the current campus on Homestead Ave. was opened in 1974.

Frost retired soon after his so-called “final task” was completed, and Bartley took the helm, beginning his nearly three-decade-long career as HCC’s president. His first act at the post was to appoint his predecessor as founding director of the alumni association.

All of these stories, and countless others, were on Bartley’s mind this month, when the college celebrated formally with a number of community, civic, and business leaders from across the region.

“I was delighted that we were able to talk about the past, but the real key is the future,” said Bartley. “I think some of the challenges of yesterday are still there — the college has to keep abreast of developing curricula nationwide, and make sure courses are relevant to the industries of today.”

During his tenure, Bartley watched the advent of computer technology take a front-row seat in higher education. He said the adoption of modern modes of telecommunication went relatively smoothly at HCC, but it also marked a cultural shift on college campuses across the country that brought with it some new hurdles to clear.

“People understood it was necessary, or else the students would change and evolve faster than the curriculum,” he said. “We expanded the electronics offerings dramatically, while staying true to the basics.

“The college has always been current, but challenges revolve around funding new programs, and that’s not going to get any cheaper as time goes on,” he added. “Education is a slow and labor-intensive industry, and because its core product is the imparting of knowledge, it will always be that way.”

Messner agreed, noting that he, too, has seen some of those pervasive challenges shaping decisions at HCC, as well as a host of new concerns.

“Fifty percent of the work day is spent on resource development,” he said. “It’s no secret that competition for state dollars is becoming more acute, and we have to fill the gap some way.”

The college recently completed the Gift of Opportunity campaign to help close that gap, raising $5.2 million — $1.2 million beyond its goal. In addition, a number of programs are in place to capitalize on HCC’s existing strengths and address burgeoning challenges.

“We’ve been doing several things over the past few years to ensure that the quality of programming, and the education the institution has been known for, stays solidly in place,” said Messner. “We’ve needed to build the number of full-time faculty since that number eroded, primarily through attrition, between 2001 and 2003, when the state was suffering economically.”

He said that cutting back on faculty during tight financial times is a good short-term economic strategy, but has an adverse effect in the long term. Currently, the faculty has been boosted to represent the same numbers as in 2001, and as enrollment grows, further additions are planned.

“We’re filling about a dozen spots now,” he said, noting that lowering faculty-to-student ratios is just one part of a larger move to improve operations across the campus. “Another thing we’re doing a better job of is assessing how we are doing in general. We’re looking specifically at how new students are treated — we’ve been involved in a nationwide program called Foundations of Excellence, for instance, which provides support to institutions in assessing the freshman experience.”
Those initiatives are just two examples of an ongoing objective at HCC: to stay available to the community at large.

“The demographics in this area are changing dramatically,” said Messner. “Many individuals are coming to the region with a lack of education, or a lack of a tradition of education, both of which are intrinsic to a strong workforce. As the population has changed, we have needed to change our approach in terms of reaching out to these groups that are part of the community.”

Messner said a wide array of initiatives have been put into place to recruit students and enhance their college experience, ranging from an outreach program geared toward the Latino population to college programs for high school students, to introduce them to the campus and allow them to experience higher education early on.

“We’re also working with students who haven’t come through the high school pipeline and instead took the GED, and are looking for the next step,” he said. “We’re using the GED as a new pathway into HCC, and that’s an example of one strategy to make higher education more accessible.”

These initiatives, in turn, have two divergent goals: the provision of quality education for a diverse community, and the creation of a steady stream of both individuals and resources aimed at workforce development in the region.

One of the most notable developments in that regard was the $18 million Kittredge Workforce Development Center, which opened in 2006. The 55,000-square-foot, five-story building is home to the school’s Business Division and HCC’s Community Services Department, which offers many of the programs Messner spoke of, including GED preparation and testing and summer youth programs.

The center also hosts a number of economic-development and workforce-development-related agencies. These include HCC’s Center for Business and Professional Development, which offers a wide range of workforce-development services designed to assess employee skills, identify knowledge gaps, and conduct training to remediate deficiencies; WISER, home to the country’s leading database for international trade statistics, which relocated to HCC from UMass in 2005; and the Western Mass. office of the Mass. Export Center, will offers market research, export training, and international business development resources.

The center also features 4,000 square feet of conference/meeting spaces equipped with high-speed and wireless Internet, videoconferencing, and state-of-the-art lighting and projection. Messner said the center is an excellent example of new technology and modes of thinking taking HCC’s long-held strength in community, career, and resource development to a new, more relevant level.

“Workforce development has been a strength for 60 years,” he said, “and with the new business building, we can expand into a variety of programs that we didn’t have 20 years ago, and there will be even more opportunity for the students to move forward. Workforce development offerings have increased by 20%, and we’re just gearing up.”

Those programs, said Messner, are just one aspect of bringing a long-held mission at HCC forward into fast-changing times. Concurrently, both he and Bartley hope that some strengths at the college stay largely the same, serving as a foundation for further growth in the future.

Blaze of Glory

“I, for one, am appalled by lecture halls holding 500 people,” said Bartley. “No learning takes place, and that’s not what a community college does. It’s certainly not something I ever hope to see at HCC.”

Looking back on 60 years and looking ahead to the next 60, Bartley mused that today’s dynamic, computer-based presentations in the classroom and the cutting-edge technology of the Kittredge Center are developments that were necessary to bring HCC current in a fast-changing world.

But a little chalk-talk can still take an institution a long way — out of the fire, and into the fight.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Why 24/7 Won’t Get You Where You Want to Go

Not a day goes by when you ask someone how they’re doing, and they say, “busy!” We are overloaded and in serious danger of letting busyness get in the way of our success. When you are overscheduled, and can do nothing more than block and tackle through your day, you are not making time for what matters most in your career.

Successful people learn to make the leap from overscheduled professional to strategic leader. The leader’s job is not to do the work of the organization. It is to inspire others to accomplish the goals of the enterprise. The leader must articulate the vision and strategy and motivate others to accomplish clear goals. If you don’t make that your priority, you will never be as successful as you deserve to be.

Why Multi-tasking Fails

Many people believe they can multi-task their way to success. Sheryl, the senior vice president of a firm, won kudos from her team with her enormous capacity to take on projects and get things done. She was a consummate multi-tasker. Not only that, she was available to her team. She answered E-mail within minutes. Of course, that meant she worked into the wee hours of the night.

The feedback from her bosses was that she needed to become “more of a leader.” What they meant was that she needed to delegate activity and set a direction for the organization. They said she had the potential to run the firm someday if she could communicate this vision and drive results.

Even her team recognized that Sheryl needed to become more of a leader. They wished, for example, that she would make time for presentations and tout their great work to senior management. Sheryl said she was too busy to put together a presentation, and she felt it was practically impossible to carve out time.
She mistakenly believed it was impossible to change the way things were.

The Big Myth: You Cannot Multi-task Your Way to Success

Multi-tasking and busyness will only take you so far in your career. Yes, it’s great to be a hard worker, and everyone loves a boss who is responsive. But fill up your day with routine, mundane tasks, and you miss your real job.

Time and time again, when the company says that someone in its organization is high-potential but not ‘strategic,’ that’s a danger sign. It means that person is in danger of hitting a glass ceiling and getting stuck.

Fortunately, Sheryl took this to heart. She finally realized she couldn’t ‘do’ her way to success. She cleared her calendar and started delegating to her direct reports. She delayed some activities and actually deleted things she didn’t need to do. Then we worked on creating and articulating her vision and strategy. She also delivered presentations to senior management. It took time, but she was able to change her habits and therefore alter perceptions.

Case Study: Why Your Own Comfort Zone Will Kill You

Tom had a very different challenge. He always took time to speak to groups inside and outside his company. In fact, he was promoted to president of his division because he was good at standing up and speaking.

However, after his promotion, his focus remained on speaking, and he was failing to communicate with his own team. Eventually a mutiny began to unfold in Tom’s department. He was away so often that his employees would ask, “Tom who?” His absentee style meant he rarely scheduled meetings with his team, and even when he did, he was known to cancel because, you guessed it: he was “too busy.”

Danger Signs — You Are Not Spending Time Wisely

Tom was making a common mistake — doing what he enjoyed doing most, which meant not communicating with another very important audience. When he was promoted, he failed to develop new work habits that would help him be seen as a leader in his organization. This was compounded when he started blaming busyness. It was obvious he wasn’t making good use of his time.

Tom was never able to come to grips with this time-management challenge. He never set his priorities straight. One year later he was moved to an individual contributor role where he could continue his public speaking.

How to Avoid the Busy Trap and Do What’s Important

How do you know you’re spending time wisely, doing the things that will make you successful in the long term?

  • Get feedback on your communication strengths and weaknesses, as well as your time management. Ask a trusted advisor how you are doing.
  • If the feedback shows you need to improve, don’t blame others. Managing your time and communicating at the leadership level is up to you.
  • Be aware that if you have 500 E-mails in the inbox and 35 meetings on next week’s calendar, you are in danger of drowning in the day-to-day.
  • Block out strategic time. Think, write, and develop your own, strong viewpoint.
  • Write, present, and speak regularly. You will save time by communicating to your important audiences what needs to be done and encouraging them to do it.
  • Develop your skill at delivering your message in a clear, powerful way. Nothing is a bigger time-waster than having to go over the same messages again and again.

Case Study in Leadership Communication: Charlie

Charlie, the CEO of a troubled organization, was in a turnaround situation. He had to get the entire organization to see his vision and execute his strategy. Nothing would happen unless he convinced people to change. They had to be on board.

Charlie took a risky step. He decided to write a candid, forthcoming weekly E-mail to update everyone on the strategy and let them know whether the news was good or bad.

Every Friday afternoon, Charlie took the time to sit down and write. He put a lot of time and thought into this communication. Something amazing happened. People not only read the E-mail, they loved it. They forwarded it to other stakeholders who had a role in making change happen.

Good things started happening. The company turned around. People got behind the effort. Charlie credits those messages for his success in overcoming a very difficult situation.

Five Steps to Success

Managing your calendar and focusing more time on leadership and communication is a matter of thinking differently about your role in the organization. These five Rs can help you set priorities, manage your time, and effectively communicate with all of your important audiences.

Think of these 5 Rs as steps to success: recalibrate, rethink, retreat, reprioritize, and release.

Recalibrate

Recalibrate how you think about your role. Remember, your job is to lead. Instead of getting mired in the minutia of day-to-day business, take three hours, close your door, and brainstorm on strategy. When you start by taking small steps such as setting aside three hours of strategic thinking time on your calendar every week, you’ll find you want more. The only way to find time is to put it on your schedule.

Rethink

Rethink by analyzing and synthesizing information as you go. In all of your daily meetings and conversations, listen with a critical mind. For example, take time to encourage debate in a meeting so you refine your viewpoint. Ask questions. Challenge assumptions. This is a time-saver because when you more efficiently gather information, you can make decisions more quickly and move on to the next issue.

Retreat

Retreat regularly, in the office and on the road, in order to consider what’s important now. Your business is changing all the time, so you need to stay on top of it. These private retreats can happen any time of day. For example, if you want to prepare for a meeting, close your door, close your eyes, and think about the outcome you want. Jot down ideas. Even five or 10 minutes of preparation in a retreat can make a difference.

Reprioritize

We all get trapped in our own routines. We believe we have to attend certain meetings or oversee certain projects. We believe we are being productive. Yet if we are honest, there are high-priority activities that we are not doing. Be honest with yourself about how you are spending your time, and get your priorities aligned with your major goals.

Release

Release your ideas to the world. Don’t waste time thinking, reviewing, or revising once you have a direction. For example, I often speak to CEOs who know exactly where they want to take the organization, yet people in the company haven’t heard it. This may be one of the biggest time wasters. Set up meetings and presentations, formal and informal, and deliver your messages.

Suzanne Bates is president and CEO of Wellesley-based Bates Communications, and author of ‘Speak Like a CEO: Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Results.’ She is a former television news anchor who now works as an executive coach, speaker, and consultant;www.bates-communications.com

Sections Supplements
Long-delayed Union Station Project May Still Get on Track
Union Station

Union Station

When the state Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) recently awarded Springfield $350,000 to create a new development plan for Union Station, it revived the hopes of those who believe the project holds the promise of economic development, higher property values, and a more vibrant lifestyle in downtown Springfield.

One thing it does not promise is instant gratification.

“This is a very large, complex, and lengthy project — a project that will take years to be completed,” said David Panagore, Springfield’s economic development director. “That said, there are substantial state and federal resources already leveraged.”

Indeed, $37 million in federal dollars alone have been earmarked toward the project, $7 million of which has already been spent on efforts to slow the building’s deterioration, including asbestos removal and a new roof. But the project has been stalled ever since.

As envisioned several years ago, an intermodal transportation project at Union Station, integrating intra-city and inter-city bus lines, taxi service, and Amtrak rail service — in addition to possible retail and office components — would cost $115 million to complete. Supporters of the project see that as a worthy investment.

“This project is a key step in the city regaining its stride as the driver of the Western Mass. economy,” Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray said in announcing the latest state grant.

That EOT grant was awarded to the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA), which will work with the city and the Springfield Redevelopment Authority to develop a new, economically viable plan for the long-delayed project.

“The job here in Washington is getting the funding, and we’ve gotten a significant amount,” said U.S. Rep. Richard Neal. But now comes the hard part. The rest of the funds have long been frozen by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which requires a certain degree of progress — and an economically feasible plan — before the funding becomes available in Springfield.

“I agree with holding the funding back,” Neal told BusinessWest. “You need progress, you need benchmarks, and you need some achievement. At the same time, you can’t overstate how difficult these projects are.”

With the vision of Union Station as a mixed-use boon for Springfield apparently still alive, city officials and planners hope the next several months provide answers — and some real progress on a project that some had considered dead in the water.

Train Not in Vain

On the contrary, said Neal, noting that transportation-oriented developments that mix transit with housing, restaurants, retail, and office space are on the rise nationwide. He cited a recent Wall Street Journal article detailing how cities across the U.S. — from Charlotte and Denver to Arlington, Va. and even Naugatuck, Conn. — have been banking on multimodal transit projects as economic drivers.

In fact, 100 such developments have already been completed across the country, with another 100 in the pipeline.

Research suggests benefits that go beyond mere transportation convenience. For example, the Journal article noted, economists from the University of North Texas found that, between 1997 and 2001, office properties near suburban Dallas Area Rapid Transit stations increased in value 53% more than comparable properties not served by rail, and values of residential properties rose 39% more.

That’s especially relevant in Springfield, which has been trying to attract more downtown commercial development and higher-value housing.

“These projects are very difficult, and the buildings we’re talking about here are old,” Neal said, referring to the two existing Union Station structures, totaling 213,000 square feet. “But there’s an emerging pattern across the country where these projects are beginning to catch on.”

He mentioned similar restorative projects he has observed in St. Louis and Albany — one a major metropolis, and one a city around Springfield’s size — as “impressive accomplishments” that might be duplicated here in Western Mass.

But the first step toward realizing that vision is a new plan. The PVTA will hire a consultant by the end of August, who will be charged with presenting a feasibility study and project plan to be submitted to state and federal agencies six months later.

“In the past, the prior administration had spent all the planning dollars that were made available by the EOT and the FTA, and this gives us a fresh start,” said Mary MacInnes, PVTA administrator. “If we didn’t have this funding, there would be no way for us to prepare a plan.”

The plan, she said, must propose a transportation component, detailing how PVTA buses, Peter Pan buses, taxis, and trains would serve the station. To that end, she said it’s important to involve potential stakeholders such as Peter Pan and Amtrak — which owns the actual track — early in the process. “We want to get these organizations in on the ground floor.”

Peter Picknelly, president of Peter Pan Bus Lines, said he wants to be involved in any discussion of the redevelopment of Union Station, which was built in 1926 but has been largely vacant for the past four decades.

“The reason we’ve been involved in these meetings is that the project cannot be viable without the inter-city bus,” Picknelly said. “We’re the major transportation component in this city. I don’t mean to be arrogant, but I don’t believe the project works without us.” He noted that 11,000 people enter the current downtown bus terminal every day, making it the most-trafficked building in Springfield.

Picknelly’s vision for Union Station goes beyond moving the bus terminal there, however. He told BusinessWest that he wants to work with the project’s development team to examine the possibility of making the Peter Pan company the site’s major tenant, moving its operations to Union Station and occupying up to 30,000 square feet of office space.

“If done correctly, this will be very good for downtown Springfield,” Picknelly said, noting that Peter Pan has participated in the Union Station revival efforts in Worcester and Hartford. “Those stations have been successful with trains, buses, and taxis combining. So we’re very supportive of this project. It could be the catalyst for real economic development downtown.”

Next Stop, Springfield

However, said Panagore, the first step is producing a study that grounds the eventual redevelopment in economic reality.

“Who are the projected users, and based on that, what would be the transit-related uses?” he asked. “Is there too much office space? Is it right-sized, or should it be smaller? We need to make a viable project that works for Springfield’s market realities.”

He said Springfield officials would like to avoid as much as possible the funding model of Worcester, in which the city underwrites a portion of the cost of its Union Station operations.

“At the end of the day,” Panagore said, “this needs to be sustainable, it has to be feasible, and it has to pay for itself.”

Whether or not the city can answer those questions could decide the fate of the federal money already earmarked, he said. “The federal government is looking for us to meet these benchmarks. Those funds are currently available, but we have to make sure they stay available.”

Neal said it’s a goal worth pursuing, not only because of the project’s projected economic benefits, but because of the significant emotional ties Union Station has for the city.

“This is where soldiers shipped off for World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, which highlights its significance in history,” he said. “But it also has considerable opportunity for the future.”

Still, with so much money on the line, said Panagore, city officials know that it’s crucial to get the details right, no matter how long the planning process might take.

“In everything we participate in, whether it’s the State Street Alliance or the work we’ve done with market-rate housing downtown, we’re making sure we do our work, our due diligence, up front,” he said. “What we want to create are sustainable, viable projects based on more than a wing and a prayer.

“We’ve been a big champion of this project,” he added. “Those funds were made available for Springfield, and they need to stay in Springfield.”

Neal agrees. “This has enormous potential,” he said. “And securing $37 million is no easy task in Washington.”

Neither, it seems, is bringing a complex, multi-modal transit project to fruition. But for those who believe Union Station could one day be a revitalizing force in downtown Springfield, it’s time — and eventually money, they hope — well-spent.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at[email protected]

Departments

Celebrating 60

Holyoke Community College staged a 60th anniversary gala on June 7, on the college campus. Hundreds of alumni, current and former faculty and staff, and assorted friends of the college turned out to celebrate six decades of perseverance and innovation.


Above, from left, Former Mass. Lt. Governor Donald Dwight, former HCC President David M. Bartley, and former Holyoke Mayor William Taupier share some memories.


Dwight, whose family published the former Holyoke Daily Transcript, shows one of the papers from the days after a spectacular fire leveled the college and the school was fighting for its life.


View of the Future

Springfield Technology Community College recently staged pinning ceremonies for students in its School of Health. These are the 15 graduates of the Radiography program, within the Diagnostic Medical Imaging department. Other students in that department specialized in Sonography and Nuclear Medicine.


Coming to a Head

Brewmasters Tavern recently staged ground-breaking ceremonies for its new brewery, formerly the Williams House at 4 Main St., Williamsburg. The O’Leary Company, a design-build general contractor to design and construct the 3,975 square-foot, two-story addition. This addition will have a historic New England barn design and will house the brewing equipment.

Departments

The following bankruptcy petitions were recently filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Readers should confirm all information with the court.

Alexander, Marilyn
23 Riviera Dr.
Agawam, MA 01001
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/18/07

Amato, Beverly D.
P.O. Box 1105
North Adams, MA 01247
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/18/07

Bard, Bryan S.
19 Woronoco Ave.
Westfield, MA 01085
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/31/07

Baronas, Lisa M.
P.O. Box 476
Ashfield, MA 01330
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 05/30/07

Baysinger, Tina M.
210 Loomis St.
Westfield, MA 01085
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/23/07

Bloo Solutions
Beaudry, Jeremiah Andrew-Rene
63 Ludger Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/18/07

Borelli, David S.
P.O. Box 269
West Warren, MA 01092
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/22/07

Borelli-Huckins, Jennifer E.
57 Hillside Village
Ware, MA 01082
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/22/07

Bronson, David J.
60 Little Alum Road
Brimfield, MA 01010
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/24/07

Burke, Kathleen S.
224 Elm St.
Greenfield, MA 01301
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/18/07

Canuel, Joseph Robert
49 Maple St.
Greenfield, MA 01301
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/18/07

Christianson, Charles R.
Christianson, Ruth A.
1 Powers Dr.
Wilbraham, MA 01095
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/24/07

Ciepiela, Jane Jennifer
25 Livingston Ave.
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/29/07

Circosta, Samuel R.
171 Morton St.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/16/07

Crocker, Donald W.
Sierra Landscaping
20 Elm St.
P.O. Box 471
Monson, MA 01057
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/30/07

Curtis, Cynthia L.
802 Alden St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 05/30/07

Dauphinais, Anthony B.
125 Chapman St., Apt. #2
Greenfield, MA 01301
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/22/07

Gaffney, Tracy A.
a/k/a Schlichting, Tracy A.
350 Meadow St., Apt. 6
Agawam, MA 01001
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/16/07

Gaines, Daniel L.
Gaines, Lori Ann
148 Maple St.
East Longmeadow, MA 01028
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 05/18/07

Gamelli, Linda L.
44 Elbert St.
Agawam, MA 01001
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 05/16/07

Garcia, Aurora
97 Somerset St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/16/07

Gariepy, Kelly P.
a/k/a St. Pierre, Kelly
184 Susan Dr.
Westfield, MA 01085
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/30/07

Granger, Michael F.
25 Roanake St.
West Springfield, MA 01089-3711
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 05/28/07

Green, Paris Y.
a/k/a Green, Paris Yulonda
62 Corey Road
Springfield, MA 01128
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 05/21/07

Hedblom, Tymythy H.
51 Edwards Road
Easthampton, MA 01027
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/16/07

Hudson, Kelly L.
a/k/a Heil Hudson, Kelly L
43 Sherman Hill Road
Ware, MA 01082
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/30/07

Hutchins Tool & Engineering Co. Inc.
1047 Longmeadow St.
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/16/07

 

Koenig, Jeffrey M.
689 Elm St.
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/22/07

Kuczarski, Christopher F.
Kuczarski, Charlene H.
187 Winton St.
Springfield, MA 01118
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/29/07

Latour, Nathan A.
23 Washington St.
Greenfield, MA 01301
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/30/07

Lefrancois, Harvey J.
Lefrancois, Jenny R.
a/k/a Noyes, Jenny R.
153 Freedom St.
Athol, MA 01331
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/22/07

Markol, Peter J.
Markol Custom Homes
Markol Builders
31 Dry Hill Road
Montague, MA 01351
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/30/07

Martin, Michael
PO Box 238
Chester, MA 01011
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/30/07

McQuillan, Catherine M.
40 Oak Ridge St.
Indian Orchard, MA 01151
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/28/07

Niedlzielski, Robert John
24 Howard Ave.
Easthampton, MA 01027
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/31/07

Patnode, Roger C.
59 Mobile Home Way
Springfield, MA 01119
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/21/07

Reed, Susan
P.O. Box 1004
Dennisport, MA 02639
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/18/07

Schrems, Stephen A.
7 Deerfield Dr.
Easthampton, MA 01027
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/22/07

Scott, Kenneth P.
Scott’s Heating Service
Scott’s Heating Fuel
36 Longview Dr.
Florence, MA 01062
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/30/07

Smith, Charles
Soldiers Home
110 Cherry St
Holyoke, MA 01040
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/30/07

Smith, Donald A.
115 Birchland Ave.
Springfield, MA 01119
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/17/07

Soha, Matthew R.
31 Summer St.
Adams, MA 01220
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/25/07

Sprague, Theresa L.
125 April Lane
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/21/07

Stewart, Renee M.
5 Laramee Green West
Springfield, MA 01151
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 05/25/07

Sullivan, John P.
2063 Memorial Dr.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/24/07

Sweet, Adam R.
708 Federal St.
Belchertown, MA 01007
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 05/23/07

Tobin, Jeanne Marie
D/B/A USborne Books
7 Deerfield Dr.
Easthampton, MA 01027
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/22/07

Tucker, Scott A.
211 Cady St.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 05/24/07

Walas, Edward A.
50 Chestnut St. #10
Ware, MA 01082
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/30/07

Wandrei, Jason R.
6 Smith St.
Adams, MA 01220
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/30/07

Watson, Lancelot V.
31 Ely Ave.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 05/29/07

Wilson, Cynthia J.
1031 Liberty St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/22/07

Wolfe, Jessica A.
86 Woodruff St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 05/29/07

Young, Donnette D.M.
26 Leonard St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 05/21/07

Sections Supplements
Some Groundbreaking Developments for WNEC’s Law School
Anthony Caprio and Arthur Gaudio

WNEC President Anthony Caprio, left, and Arthur Gaudio, dean of the law school, say the addition and planned renovations will modernize the school and more thoroughly integrate it with the rest of the college.

Arthur Gaudio took his pen and started tapping on features showcased in an architectural rendering of the $5.5 million, 10,500-square-foot addition and accompanying renovations to the Western New England College School of Law, which he serves as dean.

He started with the front entrance, which is rather unremarkable as front entrances go, except for the direction it faces — toward the rest of the Wilbraham Road campus. Since the law school was incorporated onto that campus in 1978 after operating out of offices in downtown Springfield, Gaudio explained, it has faced Bradley Road, giving the school a touch of separation that was never really appropriate, and is far less so today.

Indeed, the new entrance and its configuration is a small but significant bullet point with regard to the expansion, the first since the 100,000-square-foot S. Prestley Blake Law Center opened its doors. It is a symbolic gesture, designed to show how the law school is collaborating with other departments within the college, said Gaudio, building synergies for the betterment of both institutions.

“These include the Law and Business Center for Advancing Entrepreneurship, a joint Juris Doctor/MBA degree, a Biomedical Engineering/JD degree, and other initiatives,” he said, adding that, moving forward, more programs at the college will link with the law school in some way. “From a figurative standpoint, our new front door shows greater integration with the college.”

All other features of the expansion and renovation are rooted in 21st-century legal education, or, more specifically, how it is different than the 20th- or 19th-century models. While the subject matter being taught is in many ways the same as it was years ago, the methods for teaching it are not. Modern classrooms must be equipped with the latest telecommunications technology, Gaudio explained, and the renovation efforts will enable the law school to accommodate both current innovations — and the next generation of them as well.

The law school project is the most ambitious capital project undertaken as part of Transformations: The Campaign for Western New England College, the largest fund-raising effort in the college’s history, said long-time WNEC President Anthony Caprio, noting that the campaign is more than $18 million toward its $20 million goal.

Thus, the start of construction at the Blake Center is just one of many ground-breaking developments at the college, he said.

Digging for Evidence

Tracing the history of the law school, Gaudio said it opened in 1919 as part of the Springfield division of Northeastern University. Classes were small, some with as few as three people, he explained, and they were held in several locations downtown, including the old YMCA.

Incorporated as the Western New England College School of Law in 1951, the institution remained downtown for the next 20 years. In the early ’70s, school leaders decided to bring the law school to the Wilbraham Road campus and launched a capital campaign for the facilities. The school operated out of a building on Tinkham Road in the years before the Blake center opened its doors.

Talk about expansion of that facility began seven years ago, said Caprio, and centered mostly on the library and the need to make it a larger, more efficient facility. In more recent years, he explained, it became clear that other components, especially classrooms, needed to be modernized.

As he talked about the expansion and renovations, Gaudio stressed repeatedly that the school itself isn’t getting bigger — meaning from the standpoint of enrollment.

He said the college placed caps on enrollment several years ago — although there has been a surge in applications over the past five years even as numbers have dipped at other institutions — in an effort to maintain high standards for the school, which recently earned top marks at its most recent accreditation.

In fact, it was re-accredited unconditionally, which is rare, said Gaudio, and no doubt a reflection of both programmatic changes that have been made in recent years and blueprints for a larger law center.

Elaborating, he said the project, which will essentially add a floor to the Blake building, is designed to better serve students, give faculty members better and more modern facilities in which to teach and mentor students, and give several facilities and programs an opportunity to grow and better serve those utilizing them.

At the top of this list is the law school library, which will be expanded to become what Gaudio called a “fully integrated information center” that would serve current students, faculty, and the community as a whole. More than 60% of the lawyers working in Hampden County are graduates of WNEC law, he said, and many make use of the school’s law library.

The planned renovations will expand the library’s footprint, said Gaudio, noting that all administrative offices, including admissions, will be relocated into the addition, providing several thousand more square feet for the library. But, in essence, the project will remove the library’s walls, from a physical standpoint, and make the Blake building as a whole a learning and research center.

“The edge of the library is no longer the edge of the library — it’s the edge of the building,” he said, adding that, through wireless technology, students will be able to access information digitally. “We’re expanding the places where you can receive library information and materials, thus allowing people the opportunity to advance their education.”

Beyond the expansion and streamlining of library facilities and operations, the law school project, designed by Tessier & Associates, with Fontaine Brothers serving as general contractor, will also focus on classrooms, said Gaudio, and specifically the school’s commitment to small, 50-student teaching sections and the new era of information technology in which learning takes place.

This means that some of the current classrooms will be refurbished and made smaller, while others will undergo similar modernization and made larger.

“When this building opened, professors used the standard whiteboard at the front of the room; they talked, and students took notes,” Gaudio explained. “We’re moving from notebook paper and pen to notebook computer and mouse, and we are accommodating all the technology that people use to teach now — from PowerPoint to online materials.

“We’re coming up to date,” he continued, “but we’re doing more than that — we’re looking down the road and anticipating what we’ll need to stay on the cutting edge in legal education.”

The renovated Law Center will also house the College’s Law and Business Center for Advancing Entrepreneurship, a joint effort of the college’s law school and School of Business that has been housed at the Scibelli Enterprise Center at Springfield Technical Community College since it opened in 2005.

The entrepreneurship center works with area small business owners by linking them with law and business students who act as unpaid consultants, providing assistance with everything from choosing a business entity to writing a business plan.

The larger facilities, located right on campus, will enable the center to serve more start-up and small businesses, said Caprio. “It will help furnish the best foundation to sustain their companies,” he said, “while developing them into thriving commercial enterprises, and contribute to a new era of economic and social prosperity for the region.”

Case Summation

As he looked closely at the architectural rendering, Gaudio noticed that someone had somehow placed his face on one of the ‘people’ who appear in the drawing.
Laughing off this development, sort of, he said he doesn’t mind being the face of the law school’s expansion and renovation.

The real face, however, is the new front door, which has the law school looking in a new direction — literally and figuratively.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Noted Photojournalist Diana Mara Henry’s B&B Offers a Snapshot of Springfield
Diana Mara Henry

Diana Mara Henry stands at the entrance to her bed and breakfast in the Forest Park section of Springfield.

A bloodhound named Holly recently stole Diana Mara Henry’s heart.

The dog arrived at Henry’s bed and breakfast, Lathrop House in the Forest Park section of Springfield, on a clear summer day with her trainer and a British film crew, which was following Holly on her trek from West Virginia to Massachusetts, where she would make an attempt at becoming a K-9 with the State Police.

“It was our first celebrity canine,” said Henry, an acclaimed photojournalist by trade, whose photos are housed in both the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian.

As a photographer, Henry said her eye is trained to find beauty in unexpected places, just as she did in Holly’s droopy, forlorn face.

She also found it in a large home on Sumner Avenue with peeling paint, and within the beleaguered city in which it stands.

Henry said her daughter was readying to attend Miss Hall’s boarding school in Pittsfield, and she wanted to be close enough to see her on weekends and holidays. She was also drawn to Springfield’s vibrant Jewish community and the close proximity to Boston and New York, which would simplify business trips for her ongoing photography business.

“Springfield is a nicer, more cosmopolitan, open-minded city than any other in which I’ve lived, and I speak with some knowledge of other places,” said Henry.

Indeed, she has traveled to countless locales and has called California, Texas, and New York City home during different times in her life.

“When I first came to the area, I thought I might like to live here, and I asked where the bed and breakfasts were in Forest Park,” she added. “I was astounded to find out that there weren’t any. There are so many beautiful houses, and the idea that others might want to visit the area, as I did, spurred the renovations and the move to open a B&B.”

She said the business augments her photography practice, but more importantly allows her to thrive in Springfield, the city of her choosing.

New Beginnings

Henry easily recalls the date she moved into the Lathrop House: Sept. 10, 2001. She said she spent the bulk of that first year making gradual improvements, fixing an antiquated heating system, stripping windows, and refurbishing radiators, one task at a time.

In 2002, Henry moved on to the exterior of the landmark, replacing its roof and repainting in the original ‘painted lady’ shades of rose and cream. In the garden, new plantings were added and a seating area constructed where an above-ground pool once stood.

Work inside continued, including a full sanding and refinishing of the original hardwood floors, re-hanging of stained glass panels, and retiling of the fireplace, among many other tasks.

In December 2003, Henry welcomed her first guest to the newly established B&B, a father traveling from Virginia to Boston with his son, touring colleges. It was only when he was preparing to leave that he revealed he was actually U.S. Rep. Robert Goodlatte of Virginia, by quietly handing Henry his card. She has preserved it on page 1 of her now nearly filled guest book.

“I’m not one who’s prone to fainting,” she joked, “but when I realized who he was, I came close. What a great way to start.”

Since then, business has grown steadily at the Lathrop House. Henry said she’s seen about a 30% increase in bookings each year since she opened, and welcomes guests ranging from business travelers to visiting families to foreign tourists.

“I have a few antique dealers who stay during the Brimfield antique show,” she said, “and a few people who come for the Big E. I think many of our guests are indicative of aspects of Springfield’s economy — parents visiting college students, professors, people changing careers and looking for a fresh start. Some people rent the whole house for a group, attending reunions or graduations.”

Her guests are people (and sometimes pooches) looking for an alternative to more traditional hotel experiences.

“We have a more relaxed atmosphere,” Henry said. “People can come to breakfast in their PJs or stretch out on the couch with a movie and some popcorn … all things you wouldn’t do in a hotel. That’s especially nice for those people who travel a lot —hotels are hard on them. They can make life feel artificial.”

There are modern amenities available at Lathrop House, including wireless Internet access, fax and copy services, in-room refrigerators stocked with soft drinks and snacks, and cable television, but it’s the homespun touches that make it unique.

The Little Things …

Breakfast is served family-style at a rectangular table in the salon. Fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, juice, tea, and coffee dominate the menu. Guests are welcome to invite friends, family, or business associates to the B&B to enjoy breakfast with them at no cost, and also to take advantage of the garden and backyard for small gatherings.

Two short-haired cats, Bobbie and Toesey, serve as concierges, leading guests to their rooms (if they are so inclined). Robes are given as gifts to visitors, and children and pets are welcome (the latter with a few restrictions). The B&B is also kosher.

Each of the rooms is decorated differently, featuring antiques and eclectic pieces, including a number of one-of-a-kind pieces of art from Henry’s collection.

Several of her own photographs — Bella Abzug on the wall, Andy Warhol on the bookcase — grace the common rooms and bedrooms, and French impressionistic originals hang along with flea market finds, gifts from friends and colleagues, and family heirlooms — including a portrait of Henry’s mother that hangs stoically over a twin bed.

“Many bed and breakfasts are taking the posh route, becoming more like boutique hotels,” she said. “This is truly a homestyle B&B with interesting art and Victorian surroundings, but not pretentious. Guests can feel free to order a pizza.”

The house itself also has an intriguing history. Built in 1899, its original owner was real estate developer F.W. Lathrop, who oversaw its construction. The design resembles Southern Colonial most closely, including a double veranda and four two-story-high columns that frame the home’s oak vestibule.

The vestibule opens into the house’s main room, revealing twin staircases that lead to the second and third floors.

Throughout the 20th century, the Lathrop House served as the first home of Temple Sinai, now located on Dickinson Street in Longmeadow, and later as the Lubbavitch Yeshiva Academy.

An art school operated from the house for a time as well, and that artistic feel was maintained when Patrick and Frances Griffin, its immediate past owners, bought the house and lent their own talents to the décor of the home.

Patrick painted murals on the ceiling of a front room called the morning room — big, bulbous clouds on a pale blue sky — and a water and forest scene in the downstairs washroom, and Frances stenciled the kitchen, hallway, and an upstairs billiard room. Those decorations remain today, often serving as conversation pieces among overnight guests.

As the establishment becomes more well-known, Henry said she’d like to increase ‘day use,’ welcoming corporate meetings or retreats and cultural events, such as poetry readings. She’ll continue to blend some modern touches into the house, setting her sights next on installing some flat-screen televisions, but said she will remain true to the home’s unique look, in part by cultivating the spreading garden and sitting area outside.

It’s a good blending of tradition with technology; Henry is able to market her B&B as a slice of history, while still taking advantage of the hospitality industry’s many Web-based tools for exposure. Her Web site,www.dianamarahenry.com/lathrop, includes a directory of things to do in Western Mass. sponsored by the Mass. Office of Travel and Tourism, and many restaurants and attractions have placed reciprocal links on their sites.

In addition, guests can now book directly through travel sitesexpedia.comandhotels.com.

“Relaxation is a part of the draw, but when they’re booking, people still want it done quickly,” Henry said of the developments.

The Big Picture

Guests like Holly, the big, lumbering bloodhound, who trotted quickly to Lathrop House’s front door and settled in easily once she’d checked into her room.

She, too, turned her visit to Springfield into a new life, passing the State Police exam and joining its ranks. There are others in Henry’s guestbook who have done the same, finding new careers and choosing to stay in the area.

Once, the B&B was a sprawling estate with an overgrown backyard. But today, it’s a home away from home.

And for Henry, it’s just home.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Cover Story
Hotel Northampton’s New Owners Bring Global Appeal to a National Landmark
June 25, 2007

June 25, 2007

When they arrived at the Hotel Northampton as members of the management team assembled by new owners in 1992, Mansour Ghalibaf and Tony Murkett quickly found that the King Street landmark was not as hospitable as they would have hoped. Now the hotel’s owners themselves, the partners, who helped write an inspiring and still-ongoing turnaround story at the 80-year-old facility, have plans to give this local icon some worldwide appeal.

When Tony Murkett, one of the owners of Hotel Northampton, arrived in the U.S. via Great Britain earlier this month, co-owner Mansour Ghalibaf had some news for him.

“He said, ‘I’m sorry, but we’re completely booked — we’ll have to find somewhere else for you to stay,’” said Murkett, who picked up his bags and drove down Route 9 to Hadley, where he checked into the recently opened Courtyard Marriott.

“But that’s good news,” Murkett added quickly. “I think any hotel owner would be just as overjoyed as I was to be booked out of his own place.”

Murkett and Ghalibaf, who collectively bring more than 60 years of experience to their new venture, purchased the 80-year-old landmark for $11.8 million on Oct. 23, 2006. Earlier this month, they held a gala to celebrate the purchase, and to thank their many colleagues, employees, and friends.

But they were also commemorating an already-long history with the hotel, having served as its senior management team for 15 years prior to taking ownership. During that time, the two men played integral roles in rescuing the hotel from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, restoring its historic beauty, and revamping its suite of services to attract the most discerning guests.

As its owners, they are not wont to rest on their laurels, however. There are plenty of plans brewing for the building, which is listed on the Historic Hotels of America roster, and as such, has some considerable cache both locally and nationally.

One of the most pressing orders of business, the partners say, will be to preserve that reputation, and make it even stronger worldwide.

Up Ahead in the Distance

Work to that end began for Ghalibaf and Murkett in the early 1990s. The hotel was purchased from David, Neil, and Steven Rostoff, by Norwegian hospitality mogul Egil Braathen, now in his nineties, who at one time owned a vast array of properties in locations around the globe. At the time, the hotel was in dire financial straits — Steven and David Rostoff were later sentenced to jail after being found guilty of fraud.

Murkett, a hotelier with more than 35 years of experience who was once one of the U.K.’s youngest hotel managers, at the posh Grovener House in London at age 33, said Braathen, a mentor, asked him to look after the property for him.

“He had a huge empire around the world,” said Murkett, “and is a great friend. I felt confident about the opportunity.”

Braathen actually bought Hotel Northampton sight unseen, and oversaw its operation from afar, entrusting Murkett, who served as a liaison between Europe and the States, and Ghalibaf, who first signed on as general manager in 1990 under the Rostoffs’ management, with the details.

Ghalibaf has been a hospitality professional for 28 years, the bulk of that time spent in Boston, in a number of positions within Sheraton and Hilton hotels.

“I started in the front office, and have worked in almost every position since then — food service, housekeeping, accounting, and management,” he said. “Because I gained knowledge in so many departments, I eventually became a sort of trouble-shooter, or internal auditor.”

When he first arrived at Hotel Northampton as its comptroller Ghalibaf had to validate that reputation rather quickly. He said the historic establishment was in Chapter 11, but also had a number of organizational and infrastructure problems. When he took on the position, one of his first tasks was to actually turn on a cobwebbed computer that would track the hotel’s progress — and its budget.

“The place was in disrepair,” he said. “I was hired to essentially create a better management system; in many ways, it was still being run as a sort of mom-and-pop shop. We did everything we could to get it out of bankruptcy — we put things in place to create projections and goals, track finances, and improve the service and care of our clients. We also began renovations at that time.”

Murkett and Ghalibaf, who was soon promoted to general manager, remained Braathen’s trusted advisors, pulling the Hotel Northampton out of the red and also making gradual, yet constant, improvements and repairs to nearly every aspect of the property. Since 1992, the renovations have totaled more than $7 million.

Improvements have included the addition of six new luxury suites on the Gothic Street side of the property dubbed Gothic Gardens, a renovation and redesign of the hotel’s ballroom, and upgrades to both rooms and facilities, including the exterior of the building, its food service area, and Wiggins Tavern, its onsite restaurant.

Curbside appeal was improved, and fencing around the perimeter of the building — for security as well as a better definition of the property — was also added.
“Together, we changed the rules a bit regarding the way the hotel was run,” said Murkett, “and in the process, we developed a rather nice friendship. We’ve been two chaps in it together from day one.”

A Shimmering Light

When Braathen decided to sell the property, he gave Murkett and Ghalibaf right of first refusal, and the two chose to finish what that had started — the preservation of an historic site — but also begin their own small empire.

“My personal plan for this property is to keep the quality consistent and to improve as much as we can,” said Ghalibaf, who noted the deal was financed by Florence Savings Bank. “Taking over its ownership was a very comfortable arrangement; we have a good relationship with the previous owner, and that relationship was very important to the well-being of the hotel. I’m happy to say we’ve done better every year than the last since 1992.”

Ghalibaf continues to oversee day-to-day operations, keeping a close eye on everything from guest relations to ongoing renovations. When he spoke with BusinessWest, he had just finished helping the maintenance staff hang a framed photo of the Dalai Lama, a recent guest, who joins the ranks of famous visitors to the hotel including John F. Kennedy, Bob Dylan, and king of Saudi Arabia.

Attention to detail has led to some prosperous business niches for the hotel, including the banquet sector. Today, the hotel hosts about 100 weddings a year, as well as a large number of corporate events.

“One of the reasons we are very popular for weddings is simply because when the bride leaves the ballroom for the lobby, she doesn’t come face-to-face with another bride,” said Ghalibaf. “And nearly every prestigious company in the Valley has used us for their hospitality needs — the ambiance and the quality we strive to maintain has no match, especially because of its historic nature.”

But that’s not to say there isn’t room for further improvements or changes to the current business model.

“We’d like to add an additional 50 or 60 rooms,” Ghalibaf said, “and if the opportunity to do so presents itself in the future, that will definitely happen.”

Murkett concurred. “At the top of our minds is expansion,” he said, noting that in years past, there have been negotiations to acquire the gas station adjacent to the property with the goal of constructing either additional rooms, a parking garage, or perhaps both.

Those talks fell through, but Murkett said the plans are not dead on the vine.

“We are still minded to do that — we have 108 rooms at the moment and one ballroom, and we’d like to put ourselves in the convention market fairly and squarely,” he said. “To do so, we need more guest rooms and larger ballroom space.”

In addition, renovations both large and small are an everyday reality at the property, and both partners said they see no signs of slowing in that regard.

“We have a constant refurbishment program that never seems to stop, but that has kept us well ahead of the game,” said Murkett. “We’re currently thinking of a new bedroom and bathroom project, and we’re also concentrating our efforts around food and presentation. Our chef (Robert Tessier) is very entrepreneurial, and we let him be so, because that’s how that department flourishes.”

Ghalibaf added that Wiggins Tavern is also slated to receive a slightly new identity.

“There are some plans to reorganize and make the tavern even more of a presence,” he said, “and that’s an example of expanding on good business — it’s doing very well.”

Murkett, who maintains a post at the Sloan Club in London’s upscale section of Chelsea, visits Hotel Northampton six to eight times a year, and, as he’s found out, doesn’t always have a bed waiting for him. That’s a trend he’d like to see continue.

“We’ve seen it rise from a hotel on its knees in the early 1990s,” he said, “so in our minds, anything is possible, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t go even higher.

“We have an incredible following locally,” he added. “I’m always amazed by how the hotel touches lives. Because of that, we do well as a leisure hotel, and the local community serves as our cornerstones —supporting us, but also lending the flavor that makes us special.”

While optimism abounds, the partners face a number of challenges as they work to expand and continually improve the hotel. Across the hospitality sector, staffing is a pervasive issue, and as the landmark continues to raise its profile, its employees must reflect that same standard of excellence.

“Recruitment is a challenge, as is finding and keeping good people,” said Murkett. “There is a huge demand for service people in this part of America, and there’s a great demand for good people everywhere. It’s one aspect of this business we need to remain mindful of, because it ensures that we’re always competitive — it’s easy to become complacent when business has been good to us over the years.”

Awareness of what other establishments are offering is another part of maintaining that competitive edge, he said, and remaining aware of the wants and needs of various consumer sectors — leisure travelers, but also business and family-stay guests — is a key element of a successful hospitality venture. It ensures that rooms are well-appointed for a variety of clients, and, in turn, that they are easily booked.

Ghalibaf said the partners’ acceptance that their work to improve and promote the hotel will never truly be done is one reason why they have succeeded.

“It all comes down to working continuously within a business plan,” he said, “one that results in clients who are loyal.”

What a Lovely Place

And Murkett, who found no room at his own inn this month, agrees that it’s a wonderful life.

“I love it,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to manage some beautiful properties, and this hotel is one.”

He continues to believe so even from the outside, walking away from Hotel Northampton with his suitcase in hand — happy to let others enjoy the comfort and character that took 15 years to create, and is still in the making.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Opinion

You have to give Gov. Deval Patrick some credit. He’s been thinking big lately. Make that very big.

Universal preschool. All-day kindergarten. Free community college tuition and fees. A longer school day and year. A $1 billion life sciences commitment. Extension of a commuter rail line to New Bedford. Property tax breaks for low- to moderate-income homeowners. And perhaps as many as 1,000 new police officers. These are all things he’s put on the table over the past several weeks.

And in doing so, he’s drawn loud applause from educators, the tech sector, public safety administrators, and other constituencies. He’s also spawned some serious skepticism among legislators, conservative think tanks, and political analysts who are wondering out loud just how in the world he’s going to pay for all this.

Indeed, the growing consensus seems to be that Patrick will get only a few, if any, of these proposals funded at a time when there is still a budget deficit, and the chances of the Legislature raising taxes are slim and none.

So it seems to many that Patrick is simply getting people’s hopes up for things that won’t be funded, thus setting himself up for a big political fall when he fails to convert on any of these commitments to the Commonwealth.

Maybe, maybe not.

It is our hope that the doubts — as well-founded as they may be — do not stifle the needed serious discussions on these matters that may eventually lead to some of them becoming reality. That’s because many of these proposals make a good deal of sense.

Start with universal preschool. This has long been touted as a necessary ingredient in the daunting task of re-energizing struggling urban centers in the state, including Springfield and Holyoke, and local economic development leaders have put early childhood education at the top of their priority list for the region. Study after study has shown that when children are exposed to a regimented learning environment early on, they are less likely to drop out of school later in life. These statistics are contrasted against the state’s dramatic drop in the rankings concerning the number of children enrolled in pre-kindergarten; the Commonwealth has slipped to roughly 10% of its 4-year-olds in pre-K, which is about half the national average.

The problem is, universal preschool is expensive — a projected $600 million annually. Also expensive is lengthening the school day and year — $1.3 billion per year, according to some estimates — and free tuition at community colleges, nearly $200 million annually.

But both steps would certainly help Massachusetts remain competitive with other states and other countries at a time of intense fighting for those good jobs at good wages that every municipal leader wants. Community colleges have long been touted as one of the state’s most effective economic development resources because they provide skills that are needed in a modern, technology-driven economy, and graduating students tend to stay in the market in which they were educated.

Community colleges are relatively inexpensive — only a few thousand dollars per semester — but they are still out of the reach of some people of limited means. Free tuition would provide access to a college education for greater numbers of Bay State residents, and thus create skilled employees for companies screaming for qualified help.

Other components of the Patrick agenda are equally worthwhile, especially the investment in life sciences, which many believe will be the proverbial ‘next big thing’ for the state’s economy. But all of them come with steep price tags, and lawmakers show no inclination to raise taxes or create new sources of revenue, such as legalized casino gambling.

Not long after Patrick unveiled his 10-year vision for education in the Commonwealth, something he called “cradle to career,” he likened skeptics of his plan to those who challenged President John F. Kennedy’s mission to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

But the federal government backed up that bold pledge with what amounted to a blank check for NASA. Patrick won’t get a blank check, and he may not get any kind of check. But that shouldn’t stop him from thinking big — preferably, very big.-