Tuesday January 15, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- Monday’s fire that damaged the Department of Public Works garage on West Housatonic Street could revive the debate over a new highway department facility, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said.

In 2010, then Mayor James M. Ruberto proposed the city buy an 11-acre property on East Street, then convert it into a highway facility to replace at least part of Pittsfield’s aging city yard complex. At the West Housatonic Street city yard, four of the seven structures on the 6.3-acre parcel were built between 1926 and 1937, according to city records.

But the City Council in 2010 shot down Ruberto’s proposal and redirected an $800,000 loan the city had obtained to finance a city yard plan to the expansion of the Pittsfield Municipal Airport.

Monday’s fire will have the city rethinking the city yard facility.

"I think it’s going to, no pun intended, spark that conversation," Bianchi said on Monday.

Bianchi said the city would know more about the condition of the two-story brick building today after officials complete an assessment of its structural condition.

The fire, which occurred in an attic storage area of the DPW building that fronts West Housatonic Street, left heavy fire damage to the second floor attic area. It caused structural damage to the building’s roof and ceiling, according to the Pittsfield Fire Department.

According to Highway Superintendent Peter Bruneau, city engineers had already limited the attic area to cold storage items, because it was no longer considered suitable for the storage of heavy equipment.

"Assuming that it’s a loss and that it can’t be repaired, we’ll have to make arrangements for a new garage," Bianchi said. "There was a comment [Monday] that the [damage] was pretty significant. It may be that there is more structural damage to the building than it looked."

The city yard complex, which has been in operation since 1926, consists of eight parcels. The value of the land and the buildings is assessed at $1.4 million, according to the city assessor’s office.

The complex’s three other buildings were constructed in 1953, 1978 and 1985.

If the damage to the DPW building where the fire occurred isn’t severe, Bianchi said it’s possible the structure could continue to be used.

"It comes down to economics, obviously," Bianchi said. "If we can re-use it at a reasonable cost to recondition it, I guess that would be in the mix compared to another alternative."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6224.