Funding gap delays groundbreaking of Berkshire Innovation Center
PITTSFIELD — A sign marking the future site of the Berkshire Innovation Center should be in place at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires by Christmas.
But that is the only sign of the center that will be visible this year.
The groundbreaking for the 20,000-square foot structure, originally expected to take place by the end of 2015, has been pushed back to the spring as officials continue to seek ways to close a $600,000 funding gap between the building's actual and estimated construction costs.
The technology/job training center, considered key to the 52-acre Stanley Business Park's development, was originally scheduled to open in October 2016.
Steven Boyd, who chairs the center's board of directors, said Friday officials now expect the facility to open on Jan. 1, 2017, but added that date represents an "aggressive timeline."
"We're pushing our expectation for opening to Jan. 1, 2017," said Boyd, who is the president of Boyd Technologies in Lee. "We're going to do our best to get it done."
He expects construction to begin in the spring.
"I think March is too aggressive and probably not likely," Boyd said. "I'm shooting for early in the second quarter, April or May. I'm hoping we have shovels in the ground (by then) and are ready to go."
Pittsfield Economic Development Authority Executive Director Corydon on Thurston said construction of the center will probably take 10 to 11 months if everything goes "accordingly."
The funding gap developed when the low bid submitted to the city in September was $7.1 million — some $600,000 more than the $6.5 million that was estimated for construction costs.
That $6.5 million was included in the $9.7 million grant the city received from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center to build the center in 2014.
Because the initial construction bids were too high, the building costs will have to be sent out to bid again, according to Thurston. That process takes 45 days. The project is expected to be re-bid in either January or February, Boyd said.
Both Thurston and Boyd said local officials have been working with state officials to address the funding gap in the construction costs.
The center is a private-public partnership between the city of Pittsfield and PEDA that is run by the Berkshire Innovation Center Inc., an independent nonprofit organization.
The city of Pittsfield and PEDA each contributed an additional $250,000 toward the center's startup costs last year.
"Basically, the city and PEDA have been just about as generous as they can be in terms of their resources," Thurston said. "So now we're reaching out to the state in hopes we don't have to reduce the size of the facility and (keep) the plan as it is proposed.
"They're exploring a number of avenues," he said. "So far there's been no commitment, but it hasn't been a long time. These efforts take a little bit of time."
Boyd said the center's board has been working with the state life sciences center to address the funding gap, but he said leadership changes at both that agency and in City Hall have held up the process.
Travis McCready, a former CFO and COO of the Massachusetts Convention Center, replaced Susan Windham-Bannister as life sciences center President/CEO in October.
In Pittsfield, Mayor-elect Linda M. Tyer, who defeated two-term incumbent Daniel L. Bianchi in last month's general election, officially takes office on Jan. 4.
Windham-Bannister, who stepped down in May, played an instrumental role in helping Pittsfield receive the funding for the Berkshire Innovation Center, which originally had been granted by the state Legislature in an earmark in 2008.
"The MLSC has a brand new CEO and the city will have a brand new mayor in January," Boyd said. "So the first step is to get on board with these elected and appointed officials to give them a current understanding of the BIC's progress so far."
Boyd said he's trying to get all of the parties together for a meeting.
"That will happen before Christmas," he said.
Boyd said it hasn't been determined whether the center will have to be redesigned for cost reasons after the construction bids come in a second time.
"It's too early to tell," he said.
Although construction has been delayed, Boyd said the board has been working on the facility's website, and training offerings, and setting up a speaker's calendar.
"A lot of activity is being done," Boyd said.
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