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PITTSFIELD When Berkshire Place built its new $10 million facility at the site of the former St. Teresa's Church five years ago, the plans for its former location at 89 South St. were unclear.

At the time, Executive Director Edward Forfa even said that Berkshire Place might sell it.

But, Berkshire Place decided to hold on to the 19th-century structure that it has owned since 1888 and renovate it. The results of that $5 million renovation project were unveiled Tuesday, when Berkshire Place officially opened its new independent senior living community, known as 89 South St.

The project was funded through donations, operating expenses and a $37,000 grant from the Feigenbaum Foundation, according to Forfa. Also, the firm has obtained a $4 million mortgage on the property from Adams Community Bank.

"This is a very special day," Berkshire Place board Chairman Dick Herrick said at the opening ceremony, which drew about 50 people, including Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer and representatives from state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and state Sen. Adams Hinds' offices. "Some would say it's a long time in coming."

The three-story brick building had been vacant since the firm opened its new facility at 290 South St. in fall 2014. Allegrone Construction took about a year to construct and renovate the new facility after gutting the interior of the old one. On Tuesday, Forfa said Berkshire Place had been discussing what to do with its former headquarters five years ago, but decided to wait while it got its new facility up and running.

"From the board's perspective, we also took the time to see what does the community need, how it could be complementary to the new Berkshire Place, and what was the highest and best use of the building," Herrick said. "The age of the building was substantial."

Those problems were resolved after Berkshire Place conducted a feasibility study three years ago, Forfa and Herrick said.

The new facility has 18 living units, primarily one- and two-bedroom setups that range in size from 500 to 1,100 square feet, according to Forfa. Each unit has a refrigerator, freezer, washer and dryer, and modern amenities like Wi-Fi. Some units even have the kinds of historical touches often found in 19th-century buildings — a first-floor unit comes with an electric fireplace. Although the opening ceremony took place Tuesday, occupancy won't begin until the end of August, Forfa said. The new facility has room for 31 residents, he said.

Monthly rents range from $2,995 to $5,900, which includes meals.

The old facility had room for 44 beds that included private and semi-private units. A number of assisted living functions that were located in the old building now are located at the 290 South St. headquarters.

"With the independent living, there's more space,'' Forfa said.

"It's getting back to what it was," he added, referring to the structure's original purpose. "Originally, it was senior independent living. It evolved to more medical over the years, but the nature and the purpose has remained the same over the last 130 years."

Berkshire Place was established as a retirement home for women — it was known as the Berkshire County Home for Aged Women until 1960. The facility didn't accept men for treatment until 2006.

The building was built and given to Berkshire Place by the sons of Zenas Crane, a third-generation paper manufacturer at Crane & Co. in Dalton who also established the Berkshire Museum in 1903. The structure is located on South Street, between the museum, which is next door, and the equally historic Colonial Theatre.

The building's location between two cultural venues, and within walking distance of other downtown Pittsfield attractions, made it a good candidate for use as a senior independent living facility, Forfa and Herrick said.

"If we hadn't retained this building in this location, we probably wouldn't be doing this," Forfa said.

One of those new occupants will be former Pittsfield Police Chief and City Council President Gerald Lee, who attended Tuesday's opening ceremony. Forfa believes Lee will be the facility's first occupant. Lee is planning to move in at the end of next month.

"I want to stay in Pittsfield so I can vote," he said. "I can afford it and it's beautiful."

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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