(Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

PITTSFIELD -- The Massachusetts Historical Commission is objecting to aspects of a major rehabilitation project planned for the Berkshire County Probate and Family Court building off Park Square.

The $4.3 million, state-funded project will include extensive stonework repair, window restoration and a restyled main building entrance to make it more accessible for handicapped visitors.

The imposing 1876 stone structure, known as the Old Berkshire Athenaeum building, is located at 44 Bank Row in a historic district. It is listed on state and national registers of historic places. The building also houses the Middle Berkshire District Registry of Deeds.

In a Jan. 10 letter to state Department of Capital Assets Management (DCAM) officials and others, Brona Simon, executive director of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, said that after a review of the design, the commission "has determined that the project will have an ‘adverse effect' on the Park Square Historic District ... through the reconstruction of several exterior walls, the addition of a large ramp on the main entry of the building and the installation of sliding glass entry doors."

Calls to Simon on Wednesday were referred to a department spokesman, Brian McNiff. He said the letter signals the beginning of efforts to "come up with a memorandum of agreement" on a design the commission can support. He said that process is in the early stages.

The Pittsfield Historical Commission also reviewed the design about three months ago but did not raise objections, according to Chairman Will Garrison. He said the local commission sent a letter of support for the project.

According to DCAM records of the project, the work is otherwise ready to go to the bid stage. The project design, prepared by Agricola Corp. of Chicopee, calls for completely removing and reinstalling the north stone facade of the structure, which contains the main entrance doors, new copper flashing and electrical system upgrades.

In addition, stained glass windows will be removed, restored and replaced. Other work will include renovations throughout the offices and rest rooms, a ventilation system upgrade, modifications to the elevator, interior door replacements and installation of an emergency generator.

The Old Athenaeum building was constructed in 1876 and a major rear addition was added in 1896, according to project filings. In 1979-80, the building was renovated for the Family and Probate Court and steel bands were added to the second story to reinforce the masonry walls.

The building is described as High Victorian Gothic style and was designed by New York architect William A. Potter. The masonry stone was of blue limestone, Longmeadow freestone and red Missouri granite.

The building replaced the city's first library in 1876 and itself was replaced by the new Berkshire Athenaeum on Wendell Avenue in 1976.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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