Officials urge start of Berkshire Innovation Center construction, even with $3 million funding gap
PITTSFIELD — Pittsfield Economic Development Authority officials and the city's state representative urged Wednesday that groundbreaking come earlier, rather than later, for the long-planned Berkshire Innovation Center.
An expected construction launch earlier this year for the center at the William Stanley Business Park was put on hold after bids for the work came in higher than expected last year and a funding gap estimated at $3 million emerged.
The state has pledged $9.7 million for the project, and PEDA and BIC board members and state reps have been lobbying for additional funding to close that gap.
PEDA Executive Director Corydon Thurston said during a morning meeting of the authority's board that, regardless of the funding available, "In my opinion, we absolutely have to get shovels in the ground and start [construction] soon. Hopefully, we will."
Thurston had briefed the board on prospects for additional state funding, saying that with the state budget totals now determined, "and all the state agency budgets set," he believes PEDA and the BIC board will hear soon whether new funding will be allocated and how much.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, who attended the session, echoed that sentiment.
Local officials and residents "are really anxious to see something started here," she said, adding that the companies and educational institutions that have joined the nonprofit BIC, or are considering joining, "want to see this beyond [architectural drawings]."
"I agree," Thurston said, and PEDA board members present Wednesday also seemed in agreement.
The officials said they believe that having construction under way, even if the entire center cannot be built out initially, would spur renewed interest and attract new company members and additional funding.
The BIC has been planned as a facility offering use of sophisticated equipment for the creation of product prototypes, along with training and programming related to advanced manufacturing. Local firms are expected to benefit through access to equipment that businesses their size could not afford to own and access to employee training and the exchange of ideas and information.
Among members are a dozen local manufacturers and a number of institutions, such as Williams College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and UMass-Lowell, and Berkshire Community College, along with Taconic High School and McCann Technical School in North Adams.
"I really am going to beat the drum on this," Farley-Bouvier said. "Let's get shovels in the ground."
Rod Jane, project manager for the BIC, could not be reached Wednesday for an update on progress toward securing additional funding.
However, he told city councilors during a briefing in June that officials hoped to hear soon whether new funds will be forthcoming for the BIC.
In 2014, $9.7 million in funding was approved by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center for the 20,000-square-foot manufacturing innovation center — including $2 million for equipment. That estimate of the full cost was based on conceptual plans, however. When a full construction design was prepared the following year, BIC officials said it became apparent the final cost would be higher.
When bids for the project were received in 2015, "they were much higher than anticipated, and there were fewer bidders than anticipated," Jane told councilors in June. He said that since then, BIC representatives have been discussing with state economic development officials the possibility of additional funding.
Plans for the center include space designated for small manufacturing firms for research and development, conferencing, biotech wet lab, accelerator and incubator testing and development activities, along with a PC lab and server room and training classrooms for workforce development and similar programs.
The BIC is a private-public partnership between the city and PEDA that is run by a nonprofit organization with a board of directors with representatives from industry, higher education and vocational education and research partners from around the region.
Operational funding would come from dues from member firms, donations, sponsorships and grants, and from renting use of the sophisticated testing and product evaluation equipment and other space to firms, providing workforce training and education and allowing collaboration among the firms and institutions.
Jane said in June that it would take about 16 months to rebid the project and complete the center. He said it would take an additional six months or more if a redesign is necessary.
Plans include space designated for small manufacturing firms for research and development, conferencing, biotech wet lab, accelerator and incubator testing and development activities, along with a PC lab and server room and training classrooms for workforce development and similar programs.
Also on Wednesday, the PEDA board discussed planned "open house" events at the William Stanley Park for the public and for company officials looking for industrial space. The events are scheduled on Aug. 24 and 31 and Sept. 14, said board member Christina Barrett in a marketing committee report.
She added that new signage for the park, an enhanced website, preparation of hand-out materials about the facility and walking tours also are planned.
Information on the open house events can be found at http://williamstanleybp.com/open-houses.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.
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