Tuesday December 11, 2012

DALTON -- The Dalton Select Board voted 3-0 with one abstention to move forward on turning the old Dalton High School into affordable housing -- a decision that was met with some contention between board members, but overall approval among community members.

Mirroring its recent renovation of the Rice Silk Mill in Pittsfield, Berkshire Housing Development and the Dalton Select Board have begun what could be a four-year process to transform the 90-year-old building into affordable housing.

Previous efforts to turn the high school, located on the Corner of Glennon Avenue and First Street, into housing have failed. This latest effort would be Dalton's first affordable housing project since the 1980s.

"This may be our best last chance," said John Boyle, the chairman of the Select Board.

At the Select Board meeting on Monday, Boyle read off a list he compiled of "cons," such as community impact and a four- or five-year completion time, and a much longer list of "pros": Preservation of an historic Dalton building, discontinued town maintenance expenses, housing for the elderly and disabled, and an ideal location in the community.

Selectman Stuart Sargent, who voted in abstention, argued that the building would remain unused and unkempt for at least another three years and the plan would take too long for the building to become occupied. Sargent said he would rather put out advertisements to appeal to potential contractors and implement a housing project faster.

Kelly Pizzi, director for the Dalton Council on Aging, argued that may not secure the building as affordable housing.

The old Dalton High School renovation would appeal to veterans, the elderly or other prospective tenants in need of affordable housing in Dalton, but would not necessarily be guaranteed to them and would be on a first-come, first-serve basis, according to Select Board member Mary Cherry.

Cherry also read letters of support for the project from the Dalton Council on Aging and Dalton Housing Authority.

But first, the building's condition has to be addressed.

"We have to make sure that the building doesn't deteroriate and become any more of an eyesore than it already is," Cherry said.

Wayne Cronnell, who lives just next to the old high school building, said he's seen people break into the building and the smell of mold is occasionally present on the warmer days in the summer.

He said that he's "glad that something's finally happening" with the building.

"They have my full support," Cronnell said.

Selectwoman Louisa Horth was not present for Monday's meeting.

To reach Adam Poulisse:
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