Community centers will create connection between city, citizens


PITTSFIELD -- The activity level at the newly opened Dower Square Community Center is expanding exponentially, city officials said Friday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the neighborhood facility.

"I want to thank each and every one of the many people who worked hard to get this going," said Charles Smith Jr., executive director of the Pittsfield Housing Authority, which is providing a two-floor, five-bedroom apartment for the center in the Dower Square complex off Wahconah Street.

Smith also thanked Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi for "having more than just a vision" for the city-housing authority cooperative agreement that led to what will become three community center sites.

After an effort that brought in local service organizations and businesses, in addition to city personnel from the police and health departments and other municipal offices, "this center is no longer a vision, it is a reality," Smith said.

The centers, initially thought of as sites to increase police presence in Pittsfield neighborhoods, soon expanded to include multiple community services and programs.

Programs already scheduled include reading and literacy services, art classes, smoking cessation programs, wellness clinics, Neighborhood Watch meetings, TRIAD programs for seniors, self-defense and self-esteem workshops, blood pressure and diabetes checks, tax filing assistance, sports mentoring programs, bicycle and fire safety sessions and more.

A second center is opening at the Francis Plaza housing complex, and another is planned at the Wilson Park center, which is undergoing a renovation project.

Mary McGinnis, the city's director of Administrative Services, said during the grand opening that PPD will have two rooms on the second floor for meetings with residents and other activities. There also is a children's room, a full kitchen and a library nook section, and other meeting or activity space.

"It is exciting to have this open," Police Chief Michael J. Wynn said.

He said the site provides a more comfortable space to meet with witnesses or victims of crime and hold community meetings, "and it is as close as we can come to having a neighborhood precinct."

Police hours at the center will be scheduled on an as-needed basis, the chief said. One regular program will be "Coffee with a Cop" sessions.

Among the several organizations or businesses involved in establishing the center are General Dynamics, Greylock Federal Credit Union, the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office, Berkshire Health Systems, BBE Office Interiors, the Crowne Plaza, the Boys and Girls Club, Preservation Housing Management, local artists and others, McGinnis said.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the PHA established centers in the Christopher Arms and Wilson Park complexes that were used as substations by the police. The new facilities are designed to expand services with a communitywide focus.

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