Manos Unidas pushes to stop razing

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PITTSFIELD -- A group trying to stop the city from razing its former community center plans to continue its push in court this week after a judge declined to intervene on Friday.

Recent recipients of a large donation to fix the Fenn Street building, the leadership of Manos Unidas (Hands United) gained some extra time when the contractor hired to remove the house delayed the demolition originally slated for today because it had fallen behind schedule.

"We are going to use this precious window of time to keep pushing our message for justice," said Anaelisa Vanegas, founder of Manos Unidas.

A donor recently promised the multicultural organization $100,000 to fix up its former hub, which has fallen into disrepair since a fire in 2007 from which the group did not have the money to recover.

At an injunction hearing on Friday, a judge ruled to uphold the demolition order of the boarded-up building, which has now been pushed back to next Monday.

Colleen Hunter-Mullett, the city's purchasing agent, spoke at the hearing about the condition of the building.

"It's just not safe," she told The Eagle on Sunday. "I don't believe it can be fixed."

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The contractor, New Hampshire-based Jay-Mor Enterprises, has already begun its removal of asbestos-containing materials, Hunter-Mullett said, leaving the already deteriorating building with holes in its floors.

Vanegas and Nicole Fecteau, clerk to the Manos Unidas board, said they disagree with the city's assessment of the building's safety. This week they plan to file an amended motion to try and stop the demolition.

Diego Vanegas, the owner of the house and Vanegas' husband, told The Eagle he felt the session with the judge was unfair because, as a person for whom English is a second language, he did not comprehend the terminology and did not have a lawyer or translator to assist him.

Manos Unidas plans to turn 335 Fenn St. back into a center to help at-risk youth and immigrants, Anaelisa Vanegas said, and she hopes the city will see the building as a chance to foster community spirit and curb crime in the Morningside neighborhood.

"We're helping those very people, and I feel like [the city is] standing rigid with their regulations," she said. "But there should also be a tiny space in their heart for the enthusiasm of building a community."

The city's original decision to raze the house today, Martin Luther King Day, cut close to the bone, Vanegas said.

"The irony was they would set it for that date, meant to be a date for multicultural justice," she said.


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