Berkshire Innovation Center official optimistic on funding fix

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PITTSFIELD — The project manager for the planned Berkshire Innovation Center assured city councilors Tuesday that the odds are good a $3 million funding gap can be overcome to build the facility in the William Stanley Business Park.

"I think we have a very good chance to get this done," said Rod Jane, who was invited by Councilors Lisa Tully and Kathleen Amuso to brief the council in light of the wide gap between available state grant funding and what is needed for a viable facility.

When $9.7 million was approved in 2014 by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center for the 20,000-square-foot manufacturing innovation center — including $2 million for equipment — Jane said that estimate of the full cost was based on conceptual plans. When a full construction design was prepared the following year, he said, it became apparent that the final cost would be higher.

Jane said when bids for the project were received, "they were much higher than anticipated, and there were fewer bidders than anticipated."

Since December, he said, BIC representatives have been discussing with state economic development officials the possibility of the project receiving additional funding.

"We don't have an answer yet," he said, adding that a decision is possible within a month, although the state's recent tax revenue shortfalls could present a hurdle to overcome.

State officials said last month that they were surprised at the potential cost overruns associated with the construction of the BIC, but plan to work on ways to keep the project within "an appropriate budget."

Jane said BIC board members are working with local state legislators, the city and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, which manages the Stanley Business Park off East Street, to convince the state to provide the additional funding required.

The BIC is not asking the city to cover the funding shortfall, Jane said.

He described for councilors three options for the center, including a state decision to fully fund the project with an additional $3 million, a partial funding boost that is close enough to allow the project to proceed without a redesign and go to bid immediately, and partial funding that leaves the total funding short enough to force a redesigned and a significantly smaller or altered project.

The good news, he said, is that "all the parties remain fully committed" to the privately operated nonprofit business innovation center.

Plans include space designated for small manufacturing firms for research and development, conferencing, biotech wet lab, accelerator and incubator testing and development activities, along with a PC lab and server room and training classrooms for workforce development and similar programs.

The BIC is a private-public partnership between the city and PEDA that is run by a nonprofit organization with a board of directors with representatives from industry, higher education and vocational education and research partners from around the region.

Jane said that now includes 10 companies as members and 10 as associate members. According to the BIC website — www.berkshireinnovationcenter.com — the center "will bring advanced capabilities to small- and medium-sized manufacturers."

If completed, it is hoped the center will boost economic development and employment, along with collaboration through advanced manufacturing based in and around the Berkshires.

Operational funding would come from dues from member firms, donations, sponsorships and grants, and from renting use of the sophisticated testing and product evaluation equipment and other space to firms, providing workforce training and education and allowing collaboration among the firms and institutions.

Jane said the BIC also is currently seeking grants from other sources toward completion of the center, but none have yet been secured.

If full funding were approved today, Jane said, it would take about 16 months to rebid the project and complete the center. He said it would take an additional six months or more if a redesign is necessary.

"You answered a lot of my questions, and hopefully the city's questions," Tully said. "A lot of people have been wondering if this is really going to happen."

"Sometimes you hear about bumps in the road and you would like to know what the bumps are," Amuso said.

It is promising, she said, that the companies that have become members or associate members and the institutions remain engaged in the project.

"People keep looking for a kickstarter," said Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo. "This is going to be a kickstarter."

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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