Ruling won't stop opening of Adult Learning Center

Saturday September 1, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Despite a legal ruling in July that temporarily prevented a move to a new location, the School Department plans to open the Adult Learning Center at its new site at 141 North St. when school opens next week.

The move to a new location was temporarily put on hold in July when a Berkshire Superior Court judge found Pittsfield had violated portions of the state’s Uniform Procurement Act when the city awarded the new lease to G.D.L. Associates of Pittsfield, which is run by downtown entrepreneur Giroa "Jerry" Witkowski.

The lawsuit was filed by Massery Realty of Pittsfield, which owned the space the Adult Learning Center had occupied at 10 Lyman St. for the last 12 years. G.D.L. and Massery were the only firms to submit proposals when the city put the lease out to bid earlier this year.

Due to the uncertainty surrounding the legal matters, the School Department in July signed only a three-month lease with Witkowski, which expires at the end of September.

But School Department business administrator Kristen Behnke said the department expects to sign a one-year lease that contains two one-year options for renewal with Witkowski once the city issues the Adult Learning Center a certificate of occupancy for the North Street space.

"We anticipate that it will remain there," Behnke said.

Fire and Building Department inspectors conducted a walk-through Thursday of the 5,800-square-foot North Street space that was last occupied by Mountain One Financial Partners, and have another one planned for next week. The issuance of the certificate appears to be a formality.

"The items that need to be brought up to code are minor items that we’re not overly concerned about," Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said. "It’s a matter of a couple of sprinkler heads that need to be replaced. Š They have contracts and we know the work is going to get done."

Conceived in 1972 and founded in 1976, the Adult Learning Center offers several continuing education initiatives for adults, including General Education Develop ment (GED) and English as a Second Language programs. It serves around 275 students a year, according to director Vincent Szymanski. It is one of only four programs in the state that offer an adult diploma program.

Originally located in a storefront at 697 North St., the Adult Learning Center moved to the Mercer Administration Building on First Street, before relocating to Lyman St. in 2000.

After deciding to move the Adult Learning Center to a new location for next year, the city put the lease out to bid in March. Although five potential bidders received bid packages from the city, only G.D.L. Associates and Massery Realty responded to the request for proposals by the April deadline.

The city awarded a new five-year lease to G.D.L. Associates, which submitted the lowest bid. But three days after its previous lease with the city expired on June 30, Massery Realty filed a complaint in Superior Court alleging the city had violated portions of the state’s Uniform Procurement Act when it awarded the contract to G.D.L. Associates.

On July 16, Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini issued a preliminary injunction that prevented the city from entering into any contract with G.D.L. Associates because it had violated sections of the state law regarding access for people with physical disabilities and parking requirements in the original RFP.

"The Masserys felt the minimum bid specifications set forth in the RFP by the city were not met by the other bidder," said Massery Realty’s attorney, Michael Hashem of Pittsfield. "Specifically, the mention of 20 parking spaces that were required, and more importantly, that the premises apply with the handicapped accessibility process."

According to Hashem, Agostini’s ruling stands until a final hearing can take place. The case could be dismissed or the parties could go to trial.

"But I don’t expect that to happen," Hashem said.

The School Department, however, had already moved the Adult Learning Center from Lyman Street to North Street before Agostini issued his ruling. Because the litigation is still pending, city solicitor Kathleen Degnan declined to comment when asked how the School Department could move the Adult Learning Center while the case was still unresolved.

"I can’t comment except to say we’re not doing anything illegal," Degnan said.

The city also decided to put the lease for the Adult Learning Center out to bid again, but this time only G.D.L Associates submitted an RFP by the Aug. 27 deadline. Philip Massery, a principal in the realty company that also includes his brother, James, said the firm decided not to re-submit an RFP because it had found a tenant for the Lyman Street space "who just fell out of the sky."

"There’s no animosity," Massery said. "If anything, I should send them a thank you card because I got such a great tenant out of the thing."

Although the original bid contained a five-year lease, Behnke said the city decided to offer a one-year term with two annual renewal periods when it sought RFPs the second time because there is interest in exploring the former Hibbard Alternative School as a permanent site for the Adult Learning Center.

Massery Realty’s original contract with the city was for five years with a five-year option. Massery rented the space to the city on an annual basis over the last two years.

About the center...

Founded: 1976

New location: 141 North St.

Offers: Adult education initiatives including GED programs

Fall Registration: 9 a.m. to
3 p.m. and 5 to 7:30 p.m., Sept. 4 and 6.

Information: (413) 499-9503.


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