PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Adult Learning Center will relocate from its longtime home at 10 Lyman St. to a new space at 141 North St., following a 7-4 vote by the City Council to authorize a lease at the new location.
The new five-year lease, which was unanimously approved by the city's School Committee at its June 6 meeting, was the result of a request for proposals put out by the center in February as the school department's current lease with Massery Realty for the Lyman Street building is set to expire June 30.
An offer from GDL Associates for equivalent quarters at the Brothership Building (formerly the W.T. Grant building) on North Street would save about $21,000 per year, or $105,000 over the next five years, from the city's school budget expenditures.
Kristen Behnke, school business administrator for the center, said the request for proposals and bidding process was a requirement of Massachusetts General Law, rather than a reflection of any dissatisfaction with their current location. The North Street space offered by GDL Associates rated higher overall on a set of criteria laid out in the RFP, in addition to its lower price.
"It's a nine dollar per square foot price, as opposed to Massery Realty, which came in at $13 per square foot," said Behnke.
The four councilors in opposition Christopher Connell, Melissa Mazzeo, Anthony Simonelli, and Christine Yon, cited concerns about the center being a good fit in this largely retail-oriented sector of the city.
"I think that location should be set aside for retail," said Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli, "It's prime real estate right downtown on our North Street."
Other tenants in the Brothership Building include both retail stores such as Persnickety Toys and Bisque Beads and Beyond as well as office spaces, including Meridian Associates, which provides mental health outreach services.
Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon pointed to a five-year planning document completed by Downtown Inc. last year that called for preserving called for preserving the first-floor spaces on North Street for retail, restaurant or cultural uses.
"When we do things like Juvenile Court, what that creates on North Street is what they call 'retail black holes,'" said Yon. "You have to walk a long distance to the next retail; it doesn't make it conducive for shoppers or even retailers to want to set up little retail shops on North Street."
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said the Adult Learning Center would be an additional draw and reason for people to frequent the revitalized North Street area.
"I know we want to keep particularly businesses, retail, going in there, but we do have empty storefronts," Morandi said in support of approving the lease.
"This is an opportunity to not only save the taxpayers money, but to bring more people downtown," agreed Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop.
Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said he was sympathetic to the concerns about losing space that was prime for retail on North Street, but questioned whether it was the council's role to impose that onto the ADL's lease approval.
"We're not really a permitting authority here, we're just accepting a lease," said Krol. "Because frankly, if Mildred Elley wanted to go into this space, we wouldn't have any control over that, it would just happen."
The Adult Learning Center provides adult continuing education classes, GED testing, family literacy programs and a number of other free community resources. About 125 individuals utilize the center daily, between day and evening classes.
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