Berkshire Habitat for Humanity to buy, run Pittsfield's Westside Neighbohood Resource Center

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PITTSFIELD -- The City Council has approved the transfer of the Westside Neighborhood Resource Center building on Columbus Avenue to Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity -- a move lauded by members of key tenant organizations.

Councilors voted unanimously to approve the transfer to the Habitat group, which has offices at the 314 Columbus Ave. facility, for a nominal fee of $1.

In addition, a key provision of the sale agreement will be that it continue to be used for community programming. The agreement will include a requirement to maintain that use for at least 10 years.

Habitat submitted the lone proposal for acquiring and using the center following a formal request for proposals from the city.

The council on Tuesday also approved a request from Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to declare the former Morningside Firehouse building at 231 Tyler St. as surplus city property for the purpose of a sale. As with the resource center building, city officials will draw up a request for proposals to be posted in the hope a buyer will emerge.

A key provision will be that there is some attempt to save historic features of the firehouse, such as the main door, windows and other facade features, said Bonnie Galant, the city's Community Development and Housing Program manager.

At the council meeting, Linda Kelley, president of the Westside Initiative group, and member Barbara Bizzi, spoke in favor of the sale of the Westside Neighborhood Resource Center to Habitat for Humanity.

In addition, a letter of support was received from the board of Westside Neighborhood Resource Center Inc., the nonprofit that holds community programs at the site, Galant said.

She said other current tenants of the center are a Berkshire Children and Families day care facility, Massachusetts Fair Housing Center, and Habitat offices.

Carolyn Valli, executive director of the local Habitat organization, told councilors the center will continue as it has, although longer hours of operation are planned, along with expanded computer access and training.

There will be an effort to keep abreast of the needs of the Westside community and address them, she said.

The city now manages the property and has expenses of about $12,000 annually. Income from the nonprofit tenants, some of which is paid in in-kind services, doesn't cover the amount, Galant has said.

The center building, constructed around 1900 and containing about 2,000 square feet of floor space, was purchased as a vacant, four-family house in 1997. It later was rehabilitated for office and community space with $178,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding and now is assessed at $135,200.

Recent cuts in federal funding provided another reason to reassess the city's ownership, officials have said. And there was the hope services to the Westside community could expand during nights and weekends under a nonmunicipal, on-site owner.

To reach Jim Therrien:
jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_therrien


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