Great Barrington takes step to end impasse

Friday July 13, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Town officials are looking at steps to refurbish the former Dewey School in the hopes of expediting the signing of a long-term lease for the Southern Berkshire District Court building.

The Select Board unanimously voted to solicit bids for repairs to the exterior of the building, which at a minimum needs new paint and carpentry repairs. Board members said it would be a "good-faith" effort that could help move the negotiations along.

The building, which is in need of significant upgrades, has been leased by the Massachusetts Court System on a year-to-year basis since plans to relocate to a new facility in Lee were canceled in 2009. Since that time, both the town and the state have sought a long-term lease for the space, but have been caught in a "Catch-22," according to Town Manager Kevin O’Donnell, because the state won’t sign on to an agreement without assurances of certain repairs and the town won’t agree to make the repairs without a commitment from the state to remain there for the foreseeable future.

That quandary, along with state funding limitations, have stalled talks of a deal for years.

This month, the Court System sent O’Donnell a 22-page list of improvements it would like to see done in order to facilitate a long-term lease. What ever upgrades are eventually agreed upon will influence the amount the state pays in rent. Currently, the state pays roughly $82,000 annually to lease the facility.

"The town must review the preliminary scope of work and develop a budget, so that negotiation on a longer-term lease can continue," Joan Kenney, a spokesperson for the Supreme Judicial Court, wrote in an email to The Eagle on Thursday.

O’Donnell said the list of requests from the Court System isn’t a "take it or leave it" demand, and the town is reviewing the list to assess priorities and cost estimates.

When O’Donnell addressed the document at the Select Board’s strategic planning session on Wednesday, board members said it was time to do what it can to resolve the impasse.

Board Chairman Sean Stanton said the state of the building is "kind of sad."

"As the landlord, the responsible thing would be to fix the building and create a space that someone would want a long-term lease for," said Stanton.

The town has a reserve fund of $169,500 specifically designated for upgrades to the building.

O’Donnell said he expects a resolution in the negotiations during this fiscal year.

To reach Trevor Jones:,
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