A better home for Baby Animals at Hancock Shaker Village

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PITTSFIELD — Nobody wants unnecessary distractions when baby animals are in view.

For years, the Hancock Shaker Village Dairy Ell's deteriorating condition may have caused some eyes to stray as visitors moved through the area connected to Round Stone Barn. Inside, pigs, cows and goats are normally on display during the living history museum's annual opening event, "Baby Animals."

"It was disgusting. It was very hard for people to view, and it wasn't really animal-friendly or people-friendly," Hancock Shaker Village Director of Farm and Facilities Bill Mangiardi said on Wednesday inside the Dairy Ell.

But a renovation project has ensured that if eyes wander this year, it won't be for negative reasons. In December, staff, contractors and volunteers began renovating the Dairy Ell and the two wooden silos nearby. Both areas will be restored by the museum's opening on April 14. The Round Stone Barn also had some beams repaired and electrical work done.

"That just lets Billy sleep at night," marketing and communications manager Maribeth Cellana said of the less-visible changes.

Mangiardi noted that the more mundane changes were decades-coming.

"The beams weren't replaced since 1968. Fourteen of them either had to be reinforced with steel brackets or three of them totally replaced, which was a big job," he said.

Changes to the Dairy Ell were more substantial. They included the application of a new roof and siding, window-glazing, painting and "a total revamp of the interior pens," according to Mangiardi. Essentially, it's now easier to view the animals occupying the cleaner space. At the same time, the Ell's original interior design and structure remains intact.

During construction, animals inhabiting the space have been moved at different points to pens in the Round Stone Barn or to Mangiardi's two farms in Pittsfield and Lanesborough. Caring for the animals is of the utmost concern for Mangiardi, so ensuring that the pigs, goats, cows and other creatures were comfortable amidst the chaos was vital to him. On Wednesday, the animals were safe and sound in the Dairy Ell, calling for Mangiardi when he entered the room.

"We don't give them credit for how smart they are," he said.

Soon thereafter, he walked into one of the black wooden silos. Their restoration was more improbable than the Dairy Ell's.

"They're obsolete," Mangiardi said. "They're not that high on the list. So when I was asked why you want to restore them, [I said] because it's the same reason you want to restore any other building here: It's part of the history."

Like all of the renovations, the silo project was entirely donor-funded. (The total cost of renovation was just under $200,000, with 321 donors contributing). Mangiardi acted as a general contractor on the project, coordinating the use of four construction companies, three tradesmen, two volunteers and a carpenter. A winter filled with inclement weather provided an obstacle to the renovations.

"It was trying, very trying," Mangiardi said.

One weather-related complication is that the Round Stone Barn's cellar isn't quite ready for use. Mangiardi had been hoping the space would be ready for the museum's season opening, but the recent snowfall has prevented the use of a machine required to implement a new gravel floor and stone walking area. Museumgoers will have to wait until at least late April now to view an area that hasn't been open since the 1960s. Still, Mangiardi, who has worked at Hancock Shaker Village for almost 14 years, is satisfied.

"I'm thrilled," he said. "I'm so happy that this is all restored."

And he thinks those attending Baby Animals will be, too.

"This was a way to give back to all the people that came [to "Baby Animals"] the last [15] years," he said.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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