Thursday May 3, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The former Plunkett School could be saved from the wrecking ball.

The owner of the old school building has received an alternate offer from a developer wishing to buy it and renovate -- rather than raze -- the century-old brick structure, ac cording to city officials.

The director of Pittsfield’s Department of Community Development, Deanna L. Ruffer, said her office was recently notified by Richmond-based real estate agent Tucker Welch that his client, Forer Development Co. of New York City, is weighing another proposal for the building. It’s on the market for $850,000.

"I have no reason to believe it’s not a legitimate offer," Ruffer said. "But it’s one for the private parties to work out as we can’t get involved."

While Welch was unavailable on Wednesday to comment on the specifics of the second offer, it does involve saving the old school, according to James Scalise of SK Design in Pittsfield, representing the current proposed developer for the site.

"The [second] developer is looking to potentially restore the building and is also looking for time to obtain funding for that," he said.

Scalise and Ruffer’s remarks came before the city’s Com munity Development Board on Tuesday night, which unanimously voted for a six-month delay to demolish the building at the corner of Fenn and First streets.

Currently, Cafua Manage ment Co.


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of North Andover has a pending agreement to buy the old school in order to replace it, if the city grants it a special permit, with a fast-food restaurant with drive-up window service, according to Scalise, the project engineer. He noted the proposed sales contract is set to expire in 30 days, if it isn’t completed or the deadline extended to finish the deal. Cafua owns a number of Dunkin’ Donuts franchises.

The board approved the delay using a city ordinance that, if enacted, puts a six-month waiting period on the demolition of historically significant buildings that are 75 years or older. The time frame is designed for the public to weigh in on the demolition.

If an alternative doesn’t surface once the six-month period expires, the owner can get city approval to tear down the structure.

The board’s vote is the first time the wait-period bylaw has been utilized. The City Council adopted the rule in 2007.

"This [situation] illustrates the purpose and intent of the demolition delay process, which was to bring to the public’s attention the possibility of demolition and allow time for alternative proposals," Ruffer said.

While the former Plunkett School is structurally sound, Scalise has noted the 36,000-square-foot brick building would cost millions to renovate for either residential or commercial use.

Cafua hasn’t revealed what type of fast-food restaurant it wants to build. It has yet to file a special permit application with the city. Cafua builds and operates dozens of Dunkin’ Donut franchises in the Northeast -- including ones on Dalton Avenue, East and First streets. If Cafua builds a Dunkin’ Donuts, it would like replace the one on First between Fenn and East streets. That shop has been a sore spot with city officials and drivers because its drive up window creates a backup onto First during the morning rush hour, impeding traffic between Fenn and East.

Plunkett School opened in 1909 as a junior high school and later became an elementary school until it closed in 1977. Forer, a stationery and greeting card business, bought the property in 1982 and relocated its manufacturing division to Plunkett, creating 30 new jobs.

Five years later, Forer sold its Pittsfield division to a competitor, who in turn closed the plant by the end of 1987. Since the closing, Scalise said the building has had sporadic use and has been vacant for the past three years.

Plunkett and the nearly one-acre lot on which it sits is currently valued for property tax purposes at $406,000, according to the city’s Board of Assessors.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.