Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle Sits Down with The Willistonian


While many Williston students and faculty are settling into the new school environment, many Easthampton residents were distressed that the campus would be returning full time and hosting students from all over the world. Residents were concerned with the number of students, especially in eating and classroom settings, that could potentially spread Covid around campus and into the town at large once school restarted.

The Willistonian sat down with Easthampton’s Mayor, Nicole LaChapelle, who shed light on those fears, while also praising Williston’s reopening and championing the steps the school has taken to keep students and all Easthampton residents safe.

LaChapelle worked closely with the City of Easthampton and Williston to make the community safe.

“The first order I did to ensure safety and the continuation of our government [and] core services was I declared an emergency for the city around the same time that the Governor did for the state,” said LaChapelle, who was sworn in to her first term in office on January 2, 2018. “The reason why I did that was, I didn’t know what would come at use next as far as a public health crisis,” she said.

LaCahapelle, who has lived in Easthampton for more than 20 years, told The Willistonian she worked closely with public health officials to determine the next best course of action due to the pandemic, especially so they could keep city employees safe.

“With the Public Health Department, we went through the best practices to keep people safe and put them first in place for all of our employees,” she said. “I closed all of our city buildings to the public, and several health orders that pertained to how people gathered, and schools.”

Now that more information about the virus has been released, more guidelines have been placed in the city to protect the residents, including the Williston community, with the new biggest concern being the air quality of public buildings.

“Right now, where I am is [placing] the mandatory mask order based on science and research, as well as keeping the public building closed through the end of December. The reason why I extended that had very little to do with the spread of Covi-19 as we know it… [but] our air quality,” she said.

LaCahapelle, a lawyer who grew up in Holyoke, discussed the impact and significance Williston has had in Easthampton, specifically what they give back to the town.

“[Williston has been] giving us a discount on using the Hockey Rink, [and] when Williston put in a row of dorms, they were doing some road work for sewer and water, and they paid for a big hunk of sewer and water service that had nothing to do with Williston,” she said.

Williston supports Easthampton in other ways that boost the community as a whole, LaChapelle explained. This includes the schools, the local library, and small businesses and restaurants in the area.

“They support the library, this year they are supporting our professional development and City Hall, which is money that is difficult to find,” she adds. “The soft, or indirect, impact on restaurants and businesses, hardware stores, is significant.”

Regarding Covid-specific help, Williston has remained supportive of the community, she explained, through the especially through donations of PPE, or Personal Protection Equipment.

“Williston administration was very helpful [by] getting us PPE, especially masks,” she told The Willistonian. “At a time when masks were really expensive and we were having trouble getting them, Williston donated them to the city.”

LaChapelle said the relationship that Williston has with the city remains strong and has been stronger than many other schools in town. Specifically, Williston has tried hard, she said, to keep communication lines open to ensure everyone’s safety.

“Williston has been in constant contact with our health agent and our local board of health who is ultimately responsible for out public health guidelines,” she said.

LaChapelle admitted she was also nervous for the return of the Williston community in August.

“Candidly, when I first heard that was going to happen, I was very worried,” she said. “I was very concerned. I wasn’t happy with it. As the plans were delivered to us, and we got to comment on the final plan, it was really impressive. I feel fine. It shows Williston being a good citizen.”

Williston and the town released all the plans to the public to put their minds at ease. And the smooth reopening has helped assuage those worries.

“The concerns are going away and [people realize] they have a plan,” she said. “People feel good about what’s going to happen when we don’t know when a lot of things are going to happen. I think Williston has done good work around that.”

Many residents were also reassured by the fact that the city weighed in on part of Williston’s reopening plan, especially in the classroom setting and areas of student life where mask wearing would be difficult.

While Williston’s reopening plan has been successful in the first few weeks of school, LaChapelle believes that it is unlikely for Easthampton to get back to normal anytime soon while there are still Covid cases in the area.

“It is unrealistic to think that any school or any part of our community will reopen without there being any Covid -19 cases,” she said.

As of press time, there was one confirmed Covid case among the Williston community.

In reopening, Williston has been able to collect a great deal of data and information about the best ways to slowly reopen a public space. LaChapelle believes this information, and Williston’s protocols, will be crucial to helping Easthampton reopen in the safest ways possible, especially for the public schools.

“I think it will be very helpful to the public schools to look at what works and what doesn’t work,” she said. “As a Mayor, based on Williston’s reopening plan, I am already pushing at the state level for funding to try and duplicate as much as possible [of] Williston’s testing program,” she added. “That is not something that Easthampton, the city, can afford, but I’m hoping we can use some of the Covid-19 [grant] money for that.”