Berkshire Community College opens new environmental center

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PITTSFIELD -- Like moths to a flame, students can't help but be drawn into the newly renovated Hoffmann Environmental Center at Berkshire Community College.

Unlike other buildings on campus, the building now has a bright yellow exterior with green trim, and a new greenhouse standing alongside it.

"During the first few days we re-opened, we had a couple of kids who have been here for a few years walk in and wonder if they were in the right building," said Tom Tyning, a professor with the environmental studies department.

Today, the 100-plus guests expected at the center's open house will enter into an approximately 400-square-foot lobby that was previously a garage. Now its walls are painted golden yellow with maroon accents. Large windows offer lots of natural light. Student-painted art and terrariums with live flora -- and soon, live animals -- decorate the space. Students and faculty can also enjoy plush new moveable red furniture pieces and Wi-Fi.

"It like it. This is my favorite study space. It's peaceful," said engineering student Robert Gaspardi, who takes a conservation class in the building.

The center is now formally known as the Ralph Hoffmann Environmental Science and Sustainable Energy Center, and re-opened this fall after $1.5 million and nearly 18 months of renovations. Updating the center, which was built in 1976, has long been discussed at the college.

At one point, the college was "really ready to just tear this building down," said BCC facilities director Scott Richards.

The administration under previous college president, Paul Raverta, and through the advocacy of Congressman John Olver, BCC secured $750,000 in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development funds to help cover construction and design costs. An additional $200,000 came from the Northeast Utilities Foundation to allow for the purchase of photovoltaic, solar thermal and wind energy systems training equipment for the center's new sustainable energy training program.

Richards said the college put the project out to bid and he worked closely with Dietz & Company Architects of Springfield, which designed the renovations, and Westfield-based Forish Construction which did the work, with help from local subcontractors.

"Retrofitting the building turned out to be better than expected," Tyning said.

The laboratory spaces remain the same, but a former storage space has been converted into a sustainable energy workshop with mobile workstations for hands-on instruction with energy meters and power generating systems. That program is currently being promoted by current BCC President Ellen Kennedy and her administration.

In addition to energy workshops, introduction to meteorology and an environmental advocacy courses will be offered during the spring semester.

Forty-two students are currently enrolled in BCC's environmental program, which has six faculty members. The building is also used by the biology departments as well as adjunct professors teaching other various courses. All students are required to take at least one environmental course, likely to be taught at Hoffmann.

The Hoffmann Center lecture hall has been renovated to offer tiered levels and whiteboard technology, newly painted walls and taxidermy on display.

The greenhouse annex offers a living laboratory with community donated plants and trees, and plans to integrate a butterfly-raising program.

New living terrariums bring non-native habitats like the desert and Amazonian rainforest to students who may otherwise not get to travel there.

In the rainforest terrarium, for example, a tiny poison dart frog hops about orchids in different stages of bloom.

With the approximately 70 percent increase in instruction space came a loss of storage space, said Tyning, an issue that the college is working to resolve.

If you go ...

What: An open house for the newly renovated Ralph Hoffmann Environmental Science and Sustainable Energy Center at Berkshire Community College. This public event will include brief presentations and tours.

Where: 1350 West St., Pittsfield

When: Today, 4 to 6 p.m.

Information: (413) 236-2106.


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