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What's the future of Housatonic's former school building? A committee recommends saving it, but some would rather see it razed

The former Housatonic School on Pleasant Street.

GREAT BARRINGTON — In a conclusion bound to disappoint some and please others, a committee chartered two years ago to study what to do with the former Housatonic School building is recommending that the building be redeveloped, rather than razed.

During Monday’s meeting of the Select Board, the Housatonic Improvement Committee presented its conclusions regarding the dilapidated, town-owned building at the heart of the village. The town has been down this path numerous times since the school was closed in 2005, trying unsuccessfully to spur interest in the redevelopment of the 14,000-square-foot building.

The committee, which has been meeting regularly since June 2020, is pushing for the town to once again solicit bids from qualified contractors or otherwise guide efforts to ensure that the building “become viable and serve as an anchor for the Housatonic village center and be useful to the Town of Great Barrington,” it wrote in its executive summary.

The committee also has proposed a set of parameters for the building’s reuse, which would include market-rate or below-market-rate housing and commercial space.

Select Board Chair Stephen Bannon said Monday night that the next step is for Town Hall staff to prepare an executive summary for discussion at an upcoming board meeting.

“We will move along as quickly as possible,” Bannon said.

Residents continue to share mixed opinions about the future of the building, which has sat empty, vandalized and with a leaking roof. It was mothballed in 2013, when the school district moved its offices to Stockbridge, after using the former school.

The building is situated between two other town-owned parcels: one a playground and the other, the Housatonic Community Center, or “Housie Dome.” 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.

“The question of what to do with the Housatonic School has now been asked by a fourth town manager and select board, and the school has been closed for 17 years. No one has come forward with a viable proposal,” said Carol Bosco Baumann, who has led or been a part of various task forces through the years charged with the building’s reuse, in a recent letter to the Select Board. “Meanwhile, many of us who live in Housatonic have had to live with a degrading structure, in the center of town, watching it crumble and wondering how it’s affecting our property values.”

In a letter to the committee this year, Baumann wrote: “Take down the building, create a pavilion, make the park even better so people of all ages use it, and turn our attention to the bigger issues we face.”

In its report submitted Monday, the committee said redeveloping the building could cost as much as $7 million.

The town has $600,000 in designated money earmarked for a new roof and windows. The town is named as the responsible party to abate any hazardous materials in the building, which include lead paint and asbestos.

The committee’s report comes on the heels of a collaborative meeting it hosted in October to brainstorm options for the building. Five volunteer architects joined in drawing up plans for how the building could accommodate mixed uses and if the renovation for those uses was financially viable.

The report includes two similar alternatives that would put six to eight residential units on the second floor; nonresidential use (including office, meeting, studio and/or gallery space) on the first floor; and tenant space, a commercial kitchen and public restrooms in the basement. Each floor would be accessible by means of an elevator.

Since the design meeting, “we’ve learned that the renovation costs might be much higher and the Town would need to furnish funds to make the renovations to the building,” the committee’s report said.

If the town moves forward with the committee’s recommendations, a crucial decision would be whether the town would seek to maintain ownership of the building or to sell it with conditions on its use. In terms of the building’s redevelopment, the committee points to money that might be available.

“We feel like there may be other funds available through grants for various sources that the town has: Community Development Block Grants, Community Impact Funds, the Community Preservation Act, any ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] funding,” committee member Angela Lomanto told the Select Board. “So, that’s something that the Select Board will have to talk about.”

In its report, the committee said it believes that the building can generate rents to support a $3 million to $4 million renovation.

Dan Bailly, chairman of the Housatonic Improvement Committee, had a final request.

“In the event that this does not generate what would be an acceptable proposal,” he said, “we do ask that the Select Board bring it back to the Housatonic Improvement Committee prior to putting the final stamp on demolition of the building.”

Felix Carroll can be reached at fcarroll@berkshireeagle.com or

413-496-6391.

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