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South County business owners listened to plans for reuse of four major sites.

Great Barrington to See Four Major Projects Within the Next Five Years

By Nichole DupontiBerkshires.com
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Edward McCormick presents plans to renovate the old firehouse on Castle Street into a counseling and training center.
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — The economy may be slow but that's not stopping developers in South County from forging ahead.

Several developers outlined their plans on Friday for reusing some of the vacant historical buildings in town at an economic development breakfast hosted by the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Lee Bank at Crissey Farm.

Perhaps the biggest project in terms of jobs is the refurbishment of the 20,000 square-foot Bryant School on Church Street that will become the new headquarters for Iredale Mineral Cosmetics.

"We're looking to employ more than 70 people over the next several years," Sharon Gregory, Iredale's vice president of development, told the crowd. "Hopefully, the renovation of that building will set a tone and generate momentum surrounding the whole complex."

Along with Gregory were representatives from Castle Street LLC, the Housatonic Mills Overlay District and St. James Place presenting their refurbishment and reuse plans for four buildings and complexes that have stood relatively abandoned until now: the old fire station on Castle Street, the Bryant School, St. James' Church on Main Street and the Housatonic Mills.

Edward McCormick for Castle Street spoke first, outlining plans for the adaptive reuse of the fire station that has long been on the town's agenda.

"This building is of personal interest to me," he said. "It was my second home growing up. My father was the fire chief and now I'm the deputy fire chief. We've done our due diligence in finding out if it was feasible to renovate the station."
 
A purchase-and-sales agreement is being negotiated with the town and the group is going ahead with plans to convert the old station into a community counseling and vocational center aimed at training and employing area youth in the hopes of keeping them in the Berkshires.

The first floor of the station will be converted into a woodworking shop offering furniture-making and cabinetry classes as well as a for-profit sales room, a cafe called Local Canvas that will "utilize the farm to table concept" and a gallery and repository for the Great Barrington Historical Society. The second floor will be used as office space for career counseling and retail space, said McCormick.
 
"We hope to begin Phase 1 within 45 days of the purchase-and-sales agreement," he said. "The structural restoration will begin in the spring of 2012 and that will take about 18 to 24 months. In 2013 and 2014, we will finish the third and fourth phases of the renovation and be open to other proposed utilization. The emphasis here will be on educational programs, with a primary focus on teenagers in our community. We want to retain our youth in the community in order to perpetuate the community."
 

Sharon Gregory of Iredale Mineral Cosmetics spoke of the jobs that will come with the renovation of Bryant School.
Just down the street from the old firehouse, the former St. James' Church (built in 1857) is currently undergoing renovation to become a nonprofit cultural center spearheaded by longtime parishioner Sally Harris. The $5.7 million renovation will include the sanctuary as well as the parish house and will act, above all, as a performance space for musical events and a home for community organizations.
 
"There's over 17,000 square feet of renovated space in downtown Great Barrington," she said. "This is a performance space that could seat 150 to 200 people. This could become an arts district but it's going to need more than a coat of paint, I'm telling you that."
 
Harris said she and the board of St. James' Place have identified feasibility, emergency repairs, sanctuary restoration and parish house restoration as the four major construction items. Those, of course, and money.
 
"My family foundation stepped forward and made the purchase of the church possible," she said. "We do have $2.2 million in federal and state historic tax credits and some grants. We've raised over $600,000 in donations so far. We want the money to keep pace with the construction itself."
 
Keeping pace is exactly what Gregory is hoping to do at the century-old Bryant/Searles complex that is being redeveloped as a mixed-use project through RiverSchool Development LLC. Iredale's section is undergoing preparations now.
 
"We've already begun drilling in that area to see if the ground support will be enough for the reuse structure," she said. "We have a long period of remediation. There is asbestos in the building and some soil contamination."
 
Gregory said she will be handing over the reins regarding the construction to Denis E. Guyer, former state representative who joined Iredale last month as special projects manager, so she can "get back to work" with her duties at the cosmetics company.
 
Not too far removed from the reuse projects in downtown Great Barrington is the neighboring construction and rezoning of the Housatonic Mills Overlay District. Kate McCormick, who is representing the mills' buyers, said that thus far the project is conceptual but she hopes the plans to repurpose the largely abandoned mills along the river will go through smoothly.
 
"Housatonic has a lot of zoning issues and those have moved to the top of our list," she said. "We drafted a bylaw change and the [Selectmen have] accepted the offer. We want it to be flexible enough to promote reuse. We need a special permit to create substantial structural changes. The mills were built in 1851 and the original use is still permitted except for bulk fuel storage and sales."
 
McCormick said the general uses for the overlay district would be along the lines of revitalization in the village center.
 
"We want to encourage revitalization and preserve this underutilized structure," she said. "We also hope to provide both short-term and long-term employment and maximize pedestrian activity."
 
The changed zoning regulations and bylaw for this project will be on the warrant for town meeting, scheduled for next month.
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