NORTH ADAMS >> The City Council has unanimously approved a 25-year lease with Child Care of the Berkshires at its headquarters in the city-owned former Sarah T. Haskins School on State Road.
The nonprofit, whose programs service hundreds of children in the Northern Berkshires every year, has utilized the Haskins School building rent-free for nearly 35 years but only under short-term leases.
Mayor Richard Alcombright and Child Care of the Berkshires proposed the 25-year lease as a way to give the nonprofit permanent site control of the facility — a critical requirement of the major grants it hopes to use to upgrade the building.
In applying for major grants from federal and state agencies this year, Child Care of the Berkshires hopes to win funding to install an elevator, improve the heating system, and even replace the building's 30-year-old windows.
"The city is not in a position obviously, financially, to do that," Alcombright said. "They've run a tremendous program for a long time that serves a great population in our city, so I'm very happy to be here tonight with this arrangement."
In addition to its main child care center, Monument Square Early Childhood Center, it also runs a family center that serves 400 families in the Northern Berkshires every year.
"We're a vibrant community place and we really would like to have a long-term lease," said Child Care of the Berkshires Executive Director Anne Nemetz-Carlson. "We have really ambitious plans for the building, but it was requiring of a 25-year lease."
The lease secures rent payments of $1,100 beginning in year six of the agreement. It also expands the nonprofit's building maintenance responsibilities to include the entire facility. Under the previous agreements, the nonprofit handled day-to-day maintenance while the city was tasked with larger capital needs.
Though they ultimately voted unanimously to approve the proposal, the council did have questions about the proposal.
Though he said he was "all for" the programs being at the former school, Councilor Robert Moulton, Jr., expressed concern about the length of the lease and suggested it be vetted by a subcommittee before the council vote on it.
"Basically what we're saying is the children who are in there will have children in there when the lease is up," Moulton said. "Twenty-five years is a very long time."
Moulton suggested that another use for the building that it more beneficial to the city could come forward in the next 25 years, or the nonprofit could find something better for its own purposes.
Councilor Eric Buddington said he was "very comfortable" with the length of the agreement and noted that it outlines specific permitted uses at the building, which must be nonprofit and educational.
"To have those right next to public space, which with any luck is going to become even nicer, is nearly an ideal use for this location," Buddington said, referring to the Noel Field area adjacent to the former Haskins School.
Councilor Keith Bona asked if a complete sale of the building was ever discussed. Alcombright said the city could sell the nonprofit the building outright in the future, but the nonprofit did not have the capital to do so right now.
"The important thing was to get site control, so we did it with a lease that was more expedient, quite honestly," Alcombright said.
Councilor Joshua Moran said giving Child Care of the Berkshires full site control takes weight off of the city's shoulders.
"I think this is great when the city can essentially hand over a building that will then be more focused and more energy will be given to that building," Moran said.
The lease will take effect regardless of whether or not Child Care of the Berkshires wins the grants it has applied for, according to Alcombright. If the nonprofit doesn't win the funding, the nonprofit can continue to apply in future years.