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Will the former Housatonic school become a 'body arts' museum? That's one pitch for the space

Housatonic school proposals

From the proposal by Linda Mason for The Mason Museum of Body Arts. 

GREAT BARRINGTON — Proposals to revive the building that once housed the Housatonic school in the heart of this village are in.

They range from apartments by a Berkshire developer who vows to keep rents affordable for middle-income residents to a hair and makeup museum.

There’s also a proposal by the Berkshire Innovation Center for a South County hub, or “BIC South,” that would feature technology labs like a digital design studio.

Housatonic school proposals

A rendering by Berkshire Innovation Center for its proposal for the Housatonic school building. 

“It will be a hub for coding, gaming, and robotics competitions and hackathons,” wrote B. Stephen Boyd, board chair of the center, located in Pittsfield.

The four proposals come in response to a third try by town officials to find a new use for a historic building, a place packed with nostalgia for residents.

These proposals come 16 years after the school district moved students to new schools off Route 7. The building was used for various purposes for a time before it was abandoned. It began a long slide into disrepair that has cost the town many tens of thousands.

Other attempts to redevelop the building flopped. Residents and town officials toyed with knocking the building down and establishing a park.

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Next steps

The Select Board will review the proposals at an coming meeting and arrange for times when people can comment.

The four proposals are described below. Click the links to see proposal details.

WDM Properties, LLC: 10, two-bedroom, market-rate residential apartments targeted towards “middle income residents,” at a monthly rent of $1,750. The company owns and runs other complexes in the Berkshires. Recent projects by WDM are new apartments at St. Mary’s church in Pittsfield and Wayfair’s new space at the Clock Tower Business Center. It would plan to begin construction in mid-2023 with a budget of $3.5 million that would include some public funds.

Housatonic school proposal

The proposal from WDM Properties, LLC to turn the former Housatonic school building into 10, two-bedroom apartments that are affordable for those with "middle incomes," at $1,750 per month.

Arete Venture Partners, LLC: 14 market-rate apartments, with three possibly designated affordable, and a “community flex-space” on the main floor “wherein one retail business shall operate, and various community groups and not-for-profits shall have shared access thoroughly the year.” Construction would begin in mid-2023.

Housatonic school proposals

A drawing from the proposal of Arete Venture Partners for 14 market rate apartments, three of which might be categorized as affordable, as well as a cafe and shared community space with an attached tent for events. 

The Mason Museum of Body Arts: It would be, the developers claim, the first museum in the world to focus on head and body decoration, and serve as a “permanent cultural institution that will engage the community in new and creative ways.” Founder Linda Mason, a makeup artist and entrepreneur who began her career in Paris working on runway shows, says the site would be a “Mecca, so to speak,” for those in the industry seeking inspiration. The museum would have permanent displays and ongoing artist programs, conferences, retail and a cafe. Mason proposes a 2025 opening.

Berkshire Innovation Center: The company is looking to grow after establishing the first “BIC” in Pittsfield in 2020, as a “central hub for advanced manufacturers and other technology-focused businesses in our region.” BIC also wants to expand to North Adams for a “BIC North.” By expanding in the county, it will help students and businesses outside of Pittsfield engage with the BIC, wrote B. Stephen Boyd, BIC’s board chair. Boyd is asking for a two-year exclusivity contract with the town to plan the project and pull together $10 million for it.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871.

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