Town's Housatonic School options: $5.3 million to revive, $1 million to raze

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GREAT BARRINGTON — New estimates to fix and remediate a now-abandoned elementary school at the heart of Housatonic village have pegged the cost at as much as $5.3 million if the town maintains ownership.

If a private investor were to take on the deteriorating Housatonic School, the cost could be lowered to about $3.2 million, according to the June estimates developed by staff from the Department of Public Works.

And demolishing the building would run about $1 million.

Window repairs and replacements, design, engineering and a new roof are among the priciest items.

"They are high, but we think that they are in the realm of reality," said Christopher Rembold, director of planning and community development.

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Rembold presented the findings to the Select Board on Monday. The school remains at the top of the board's priority list.

The Berkshire Hills Regional School District closed the school in 2005, when it forged a new campus off Route 7, though it kept its offices there for a time before moving to Stockbridge. The town also leased space in the former school until 2013, when it mothballed the 14,000-square-foot building.

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The town last year earmarked a total of $1.3 million for future repairs and work on the school, built more than 100 years ago, which costs about $5,000 a year to maintain.

Solutions for the school remain elusive, and town officials remain frustrated by nearly a decade of attempts to lure investors who ultimately found obstacles to redevelopment insurmountable. Two requests for proposals have yielded no takers, and a third was aborted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a community listening session last year, residents gave town officials their ideas, including tearing down the building for a community green space that already is adjacent to a park and playground. On the other side is the community center known as the Housy Dome. And residents overwhelmingly said they wanted the historic landmark to stay in town hands.

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The path forward remains uncertain.

"Unfortunately, it's still up in the air," said Dan Bailly, chairman of the Housatonic Improvement Committee, who also attended the school.

Bailly said the committee is only just now absorbing all the information, and will keep discussing — and gathering community input — before making a recommendation to the Select Board.

"They're staggering numbers," he said. "It will likely be a few more years before something happens."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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