Great Barrington ramping up efforts to get former Housatonic School building on the market

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GREAT BARRINGTON — The town is ramping up efforts to market the former Housatonic School building.

Key to those efforts, officials said, are having the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places — it was built in 1907 — and connecting it to high-speed internet.

Historical Commission Chairman Paul Ivory told The Eagle that historic tax credits, which will allow for financial incentives for potential developers, could be used to entice investors to the site.

"If it's eligible, it could be opened up for development," he said.

The town has been seeking another use for the building since the school closed in 2005; it has been vacant since 2012. The town's 2013 master plan said maintenance and upkeep costs to the building are approximately $50,000 annually, and estimated costs to rehabilitate the building range from $2 million to almost $4 million.

The building is in the center of the village, flanked by the recreation center, known as the "Housie Dome" to the west and the Housatonic Park to the east.

At a recent Select Board meeting, town Manger Jennifer Tabakin said the site's future is a top priority for the town.

She said the historical listing process is nearly complete, and the town has begun promoting the building to investors and developers.

"We're exploring listing the building for sale," she said.

Tabakin said funding for the restoration and redevelopment project was coming from a number of sources, including the Community Compact between Great Barrington and the commonwealth and the Community Block Grant from the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Funding also is coming from the state MassWorks program.

"In terms of funding, we've done pretty well," Tabakin said.

The town is looking into the possibility of shopping the building to a tech company, Tabakin said, but for now getting the building ready and connected to high-speed internet is the priority. One anchor institution in town could revitalize the village and start a chain reaction of development, and internet speed has been a hurdle.

Going forward, both Ivory and Tabakin have high hopes for the school given its central location and importance to this small village in Great Barrington.

"The site works well with the Housie Dome and the park," Tabakin said.

Ken Schumacher, a Great Barrington builder, said a broadband connection would go a long way toward redevelopment.

"Silicon Valley wants a site here," he told the Select Board recently.

Schumacher said he had spoken to Microsoft when the town was looking to sell the former Searles Middle School years ago to gauge the company's interest.

He said he was told that tech companies want a foothold in the Northeast, and would like to establish a base of operations in the Berkshires — but a lack of broadband and official offers have kept them from pursuing the options.

"The offer to come here has to come from the Select Board or a town official," Schumacher said.


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