GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Jeffrey Simon, the director of the Massachusetts Recovery and Reinvestment Office, got to see a little bit of South County's history as well as its future.
On Wednesday, Simon and other officials made a whirlwind tour of the county hoping to see the impact of recovery dollars on Berkshire County, including Pittsfield's solar array and the reconstruction of West Street in Lenox.
He was not disappointed when he and his team made a final stop to the future site of Iredale Mineral Cosmetics' headquarters. The exterior of the 17,700-square-foot former Bryant Elementary School (which has stood vacant for the last five years) as well as the surrounding parking lot have been gutted in preparation for construction. Despite the dust and the darkness, Simon was happy to be looking at a piece of history that could remain as part of the town's infrastructure.
"I find that most times, the hardest buildings do end up being the most interesting projects," he said. "There is no way that I can get a feel for what is going on this state by sitting in my office. I'm impressed by the creativity and care and thought that is going into this project. It's really a model for other businesses."
Even with the $4.6 million Recovery Zone Facility Bond, the company has not had an easy go of it. But Sharon Gregory, Iredale's vice president of development, said most of the challenges the cosmetics company has faced over the last six years are the result of exponential growth, not the other way around.
"See, you can see our old offices from here," she said, pointing to a two-story building across the street from the site. "Right above the laundromat used to be some living spaces and we sort of took it over. That was in 2005, so it wasn't that long ago. Once we grew out of that space we moved to another space, and then that got too tight. We keep saying that we want to hire more people but we don't know where to put them all."
Iredale employs 160; once the refurbishment/construction is complete, Gregory said the company plans on adding at least 70 more jobs within the next three years. She said the key to this project is maintaining a "balance" both structurally and within the community as a whole.
"There is a fine balance between not renovating so much that you lose the historical integrity of the building but on the other hand you can't use all of the space when it's done this way," she said. "There are so many other incentives for doing this. Of course, there is the reuse of the building, the employment it will provide and the real estate tax abatement that the town has granted us. This is all very important because a lot of companies are hit hard by taxes after making huge economic investments to expand. I think this is going to be a tremendous cornerstone for the town and the business community."
In this case, cornerstone is not just a metaphor. In the deconstruction of the school's interior, contractors were careful to preserve many of the original stones, maple flooring and other materials for reuse. In fact, during this phase of the refurbishment, workers uncovered an entire stone wall at the end of the building that will act as a central feature to the new structure. Additionally, the old chalkboards were carefully extracted and cut down and stamped with the Iredale insignia along with the insignia of the historical society. These "little pieces of history" are now for sale in honor of the town's 250th anniversary.
Simon seemed impressed with the many facets of ingenuity the project will offer.
"All of this is positive reenforcement," he said. "This is a signal that this company is looking to the future and really focusing on that."