What If: Engineer a New Use for North Adams Hospital
What if there was actually an exciting new use for the existing hospital building?
What if BMC and decisionmakers determine that the present North Adams Regional Hospital structure is simply too large for the present and declining population in North Adams and Northern Berkshire?
Besides the difficult road to recovery for all of the displaced employees for whom we as a community will need to do our very best to help become either re-employed elsewhere within the region or re-trained for new opportunities, there would then be the enormous task of re-utilizing the existing hospital structure.
What if we as a community and as a county were to re-imagine something radically new, something so fresh and different that, like Mass MoCA which was, let's face it, at the time, an extraordinary dream of seeming impossibility, it could actually work?
Quite a few years back Peter Fohlin, the town manager from Williamstown, shared with me an idea I always thought brilliant and have since shared in conversations with a number of leaders in our area, an idea whose time may really have arrived if indeed it is determined the hospital as it is can no longer be justified due to its size and the changes in health delivery today.
The idea is to establish an engineering college here in the Berkshires.
Until now, the idea didn't appear to be taken too seriously or was treated as too far-fetched. But with the looming possibility facing us that the hospital could end up empty and even emergency services might have to move due to the way in which the utilities are all tied in together with the entire building, now may be the time — just like when Sprague left.
What is needed when something as huge as the closure of the hospital is upon us is not to wring our hands and throw in the towel but instead to think new, bold and affirmative ideas. Out of every seeming problem is invariably an opportunity and quite possibly now is the time to seize upon this idea which has lain dormant and to run with it.
Boston has a state engineering school as does Worcester. North Adams has MCLA, Williamstown has Williams College and to build upon the educational and arts orientation of the northern area the addition of a state engineering school could be the shot in the arm (pun intended) that is needed with the closure of the hospital.
Others may have alternative suggestions but I can't think of another possible use that could bring more high paying jobs, more general employment and more income to the area than an engineering college and the spinoffs would be equally impressive. Such a school would not only help stem the tide of population decline due to the aging of the baby boomer generation in general but would bring youth and revitalization to the area so badly needed.
One need only look over the mountain at Northampton as an example of how much vitality and prosperity is brought to an area from education. Mass MoCA for all its extraordinary qualities primarily brings temporary visitor traffic. An engineering school would bring permanent change and activity and help rebuild our communities and local economy.
The hospital building, if re-utilized for an engineering school, might also be able to accommodate the emergency services area without disrupting that from the present location. The two uses could be entirely compatible. In fact it could even be quite feasible to reconfigure the hospital down to a manageable size, a fraction of what it now is, so that the city could in fact maintain a small local hospital alongside this proposed engineering school.
Peter Fohlin's idea may well have found its right time and place in the form of an engineering school in place of the hospital. What could be more vital in today’s world than a place to educate the nation's future for the needs and world of the future.
I put this out therefore to the public and to leaders and decision makers to discuss, on the local, regional and state level. We cannot allow this extraordinary event and the opportunity it presents to slip through our hands. The time is now to focus not just on the loss but more importantly, too, on the opportunity to transform the loss into something even better.
Paul Harsch, president and founder of Harsch Associates, a Berkshire County based real estate brokerage firm, is a licensed real estate broker in Massachusetts, New York and Vermont, serving a diverse residential, business, commercial and land client base for 40 years.