PITTSFIELD -- A local architect's vision for a downtown community greenhouse is starting to grow on the city, picking up initial support from city officials, nonprofits and a business organization.
Anthony Barnaba, of Blueline Design, the sole owner and occupant of the former Eagles Club on First Street, wants to convert the 99-year-old building into a high-tech facility that can grow, process and serve food on the premises. In addition, Barnaba hopes to provide fresh produce for local organizations, such as Elder Services of Berkshire County and process crops grown by area farmers.
Since unveiling his concept in November, Barnaba has developed drawings of the project and begun working on creating partnerships with those who would benefit from the agricultural facility.
"If we're using tomatoes for our ‘Meals on Wheels' program and they have tomatoes, maybe we can use them," said Elder Services Executive Director John Lutz.
In several months, Barnaba expects to begin retrofitting the 17,000-square-foot brick structure into a greenhouse, food processing operation and catering and events room on the second floor. He says the estimated cost of construction of $365,000 will likely be funded through donations and a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Beside lining up financing, Barnaba must obtain several variances and seek site-plan approval from the city, according to Pittsfield City Planner C.J. Hoss.
"[If approved], it could be a great project for the Morningside neighborhood," Hoss said.
"It's going to foster growth in the area," added Barnaba.
The Morningside-based Tyler Street Business Group is already backing and promoting the project within the area and citywide.
Group member Ron Marcella of Marcella Construction says the rear-section of the building -- once the bowling lanes for the Eagles Club -- will make an ideal greenhouse.
"The size is perfect, almost like it was planted there," he said.
In addition to serving nonprofits' food programs, the for-profit greenhouse will offer classes on gardening and food preparation.
Barnaba believes the community greenhouse will help bolster the Berkshires' ongoing campaign of buy locally grown and produced foods.
"The keys to a local food economy are farms and greenhouses with the equipment to add to the value of that farmland," he said.