Groundbreaking for Berkshire Innovation Center seen by end of June


PITTSFIELD — Groundbreaking for the Berkshire Innovation Center could occur by the end of June, the president of the center's board of directors said on Wednesday.

And while officials are still working on ways to close a $600,000 funding gap between the structure's actual and estimated construction costs, the head of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority said that work is almost completed.

"We've been diligently working with our engineers to redefine and analyze the bids for the building design so they can get a grip on the actual gaps in funding and make the ask," Executive Director Cory Thurston said at the PEDA board's first meeting of 2016.

An agreement on how to proceed has been drawn up, and those plans have been reviewed with Pittsfield Mayor Linda M. Tyer and the new city administration, Thurston said.

The technology/training center that will be located at the 52-acre William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires, is considered a key to the 52-acre site's future development. PEDA is the quasi-public agency that oversees the park's development.

The 200,000-square-foot center is a private-public partnership between PEDA and the city of Pittsfield that is run by the Berkshire Innovation Center Inc., an independent nonprofit organization.

Groundbreaking was originally scheduled to take place last fall, with the opening slated for this October. But construction was delayed when the funding gap surfaced.

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. The gap was attributed to a burst in construction activity that had caused costs in that field to skyrocket in the two years since the BIC's original feasibility study had been completed.

Because the initial construction bids were too high, the project will have to be sent out to bid again, a process that takes 45 days.

"The city and BIC are in agreement on the numbers and the ways to address the challenges we're facing," said Steven Boyd, president of the center's board of directors, via email. "The BIC is engaged with state agencies and is in discussions with the appropriate public officials to resolve the problem and get the project back on track.

"It could take several weeks to another few months for these discussions to play out and determine a specific funding plan," he said.

Tyer took office on Jan. 4. Boyd said both the mayor and the city administration have "expressed their strong support of the BIC and are working hand-in-hand with our BIC leadership team and the state legislative delegation to close the funding gap and move the project forward as soon as possible."

"There's certainly an air of confidence about the ability to solve that issue and get the bids back out in the marketplace." he said.

During the meeting Thurston said construction could begin early in the second quarter of 2016. But Boyd said the groundbreaking would take place later in that timeframe.

"Depending on exactly when the construction bids go out, it is possible that groundbreaking could take place before the end of the second quarter 2016," Boyd said. "However, all of those dates are dependent upon prompt resolution of the funding gap.

"There is no exact date until the funding gap is resolved," he said. "However, it is our hope that we can go to construction bid by the second quarter."

In December, Boyd said the center would be completed by Jan. 1, 2017, but added that date represented "a very aggressive timetable."

On Wednesday, he said the current timetable calls for construction to be completed during the second quarter of 2017.

Although the construction schedule has yet to be set, activities conducted by the BIC's board remain in "full swing," according to Thurston.

They include the sponsorship of a recent robotics event, and seminars, including a speaking engagement with one of the BIC's partner organizations at Berkshire Community College on Feb. 24.

"They're not sitting still, but we want to get that in the ground as soon as possible," Thurston said.

In other business, PEDA board Chairman Maurice Callahan said Tyer is reviewing candidates for the two vacant seats on PEDA's 11-member board and expects to bring names forward for approval by the City Council soon.

The vacancies occurred when Patrick Reuss left the area to take a job in Connecticut, and when former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi was defeated by Tyer in the general election last November.

Unlike Bianchi and his immediate predecessor, former Mayor James M. Ruberto, Tyer has said that she does not plan to serve as a PEDA board member.

In a statement, Tyer said she plans to formally communicate these appointments with the PEDA board within the next week.

"I am in the process of considering candidates for the PEDA board," she said. "The goal is to have the right mix of experience and perspective. As soon as appointments are solidified, I will be happy to share more."

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.


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