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Great Barrington prepares to pitch redevelopment of the former Housatonic School

abandoned housatonic school

In the heart of downtown Housatonic, the former Housatonic School is abandoned and decaying. Town officials estimate that demolition of the building would cost about $1 million.

GREAT BARRINGTON — When it comes to the future of the dilapidated building that housed the former Housatonic School, “demolition is still a four-letter word.”

So said Select Board Chair Stephen Bannon on Monday evening. “I’d still like to think that's not a consideration yet,” he said.

His fellow board members agree.

Instead, the Select Board is poised to once again put out a request for proposals for redevelopment of the 14,000-square-foot town-owned brick building, either for purchase or some type of private/public partnership.

Next week, the Select Board expects to finalize the wording for a request for proposals (known in planning parlance as an RFP).

"As soon as we get the green light from the board, we'll begin advertising/marketing," Town Manager Mark Pruhenski told The Eagle on Thursday. "That could happen as early as late next week."

Once the RFP goes public, any interested parties would have 90 days to submit proposals to the town.

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After a recommendation made by the Housatonic Improvement Committee, the town intends to clearly state its objectives for the site. Drawing upon the committee's conclusions, a draft RFP, discussed and edited at the Select Board’s meeting this past Monday, listed a “primary goal” that the site “be developed in a manner which promotes the village center, provides housing and commercial space, and is consistent with the neighborhood character.”

That said, the board agreed that any and all proposals would be considered. But, not demolition — not yet, anyway.

“What I would suggest that the Select Board do is be as open as possible, and be upfront about what it would hope to see, but certainly not limit the potential uses,” said Town Planner and Assistant Town Manager Christopher Rembold. “A creative developer with expertise in reusing old buildings may come in with some fantastic ideas that meet some of the needs and opportunities that we see. … We're all anxious to see something happen with this building.”

Some in the village have advocated that the building be torn down and incorporated into a town park that would serve as the village’s centerpiece. Town officials estimate that demolition of the building would cost about $1 million.

chain and lock on doors of former housatonic school

A chain and padlock secure the front door of the former Housatonic School, which has been vacant since 2013.

The Housatonic Improvement Committee, in a report submitted to the Select Board in December, concluded that the building should be saved and redeveloped.

This would be the third time the town has issued an RFP for the site, which has been vacant since 2013.

Town officials acknowledge that this latest attempt to redevelop the building might be the last. With that in mind, Leigh Davis, vice chair of the Select Board, suggested that the town make a robust marketing push to entice potential developers.

"Just try to have every marketing front covered for the final hurrah here for the Housatonic School, I think would be appropriate,” agreed Select Board member Eric Gabriel.

Felix Carroll can be reached at fcarroll@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6391.

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