Berkshire Community College lays off 10 food service staffers

Berkshire Community College has laid off 10 members of the food service staffers - including three full-time supervisors - as a result of the shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

PITTSFIELD — In an uncertain budget and operational climate, Berkshire Community College has announced a round of layoffs.

The college made an announcement on Thursday morning to faculty and staff that the cafeteria would remain closed "for the foreseeable future." That decision has resulted in letting go 10 employees, including three full-time food service supervisors.

"It was a very difficult decision," said college spokeswoman Christina Wynn, who described the food service staff members as "truly incredible people" — known for their homemade cookies, bisque, international food days and grand breakfast buffets.

"When food is a place of comfort, they were there for us in those ways," she said. "They were a big part of our family, they were so friendly, so sweet."

But, with few students, staff and visitors permitted on campus, keeping the cafeteria open was a challenge to sustain, as was creating work from home opportunities for the employees.

Members of the food service staff could not be immediately reached for comment.

Wynn said the college also let go a facilities carpenter and the assistant to the vice president for administration and finance. Andrea Wadsworth, the new vice president of administration and finance, will be coming on board in July, succeeding John C. Law.

Another student services staff member in the field of personal counseling and disability services is taking an early retirement, while the college will not be renewing at this time the position of coordinator of career services, which had been filled on an interim contract through August. The college employees just over 400 people.

Wynn said BCC also has decided to "reduce the operating footprint" by no longer offering courses in its South County Center, located on Main Street in Great Barrington.

Two staff members there will be affected, she said, but one has opted for early retirement and the other is shifting to a facilities role on the Pittsfield main campus.

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The building itself is owned by the Berkshire Community College Foundation, from which the college leases the classroom space. Wynn said that it is uncertain how that space might be used in the future.

"We really had hoped that we were going to work out some conditions, to find some way back to normalcy. ... Of course, we want to be able to provide a place to come together, to celebrate community, to live and learn," she said. "But given where we are and the uncertainty of our world, we don't see that happening soon."

To help reel in spending, sister institution Springfield Technical Community College has implemented a hiring freeze. Wynn said that's not the case at BCC, however; when a position become vacated, it's been the college's practice in recent years to reevaluate the need for the position and whether it or associated responsibilities can be shared or shifted among other staff.

Also like at the Springfield campus, BCC has yet to announce a fall reopening plan.

Greenfield Community College President Yves Salomon-Fernandez announced on May 15 that the college's fall semester will feature "a low-residency, rotating schedule for courses that need some in-person instruction," with the majority of courses to be offered online.

"This middle ground solution will help keep students safe and minimize the potential public health consequences to our community," Salomon-Fernandez wrote. "Here's to braving this new world!"

Students currently enrolled in Berkshire Community College courses have recently completed them remotely. The Pittsfield campus is only open to students and staff on a limited basis. While currently enrolling students for its remote summer classes, the college has canceled all face-to-face course offerings.

Most student support services are being offered remotely or by appointment in accordance with social distancing and face covering requirements. Wynn did say the BCC academic leadership team met earlier this week to discuss how fall course offerings could be moved online or into a hybrid remote modality.

"We aren't ready yet to say where we've landed completely, but we are a ready for remote environment for the fall semester," she said. "We will have a more firm announcement in a week or two."