The Berkshire Probate Court is under stress and requires $2.7 million in restoration and stabilization work.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A public presentation on the $2.8 million restoration of the Berkshire Probate & Family Court Building at Park Square will be held on Thursday, Sept. 5, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Courtroom 1.
The aging former public library is in serious need of reconstruction, said William Gillen, principal of Ford Gillen Architects Inc. of Amherst. The firm specializes in historical renovations, including Memorial Hall in Northampton and the New York Historical Society in Manhattan.
The front stone facade of the old athenaeum is buckling because of stress caused by the large arched windows and the installing of a second floor on the 1897 addition, now used by the Middle Berkshire Registry of Deeds. The library moved to its current location down the street in 1976 and the court later moved in. It was named for James A. Bowes, an attorney, county commissioner and former mayor of North Adams.
The 1876 building was underdesigned to begin with, Gillen said.
"It involves all the stone on the north elevation. The building dates to 1876 and since then there's been some movement and the stones have bulged, they've moved 5 inches," said Gillen. "The building was drastically changed in 1980, when it was changed from the library to a courthouse."
The stones will be removed one by one and a reinforced concrete wall will be constructed to handle the stress, then the original stones will be put back. The buckling stained-glass windows in the Bank Row building will also be restored.
The cost of the work triggered further renovations and upgrades for handicapped accessibility and current building codes. Two ramps will be constructed in the front, a steep, narrow ramp in the back will be replaced and the restrooms will be updated.
The building will also require a full fire alarm system and backup generator as well as programming to align the elevator to work with the system, lighting and emergency doors. Blown-in insulation will be added above the ceiling on the second floor.
Allegrone Companies of Pittsfield, which has experience with historic masonry, was awarded the contract. The project is being overseen by the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance.
Thursday's presentation will go over the design and what the building occupants and residents can expect over the 18-month project. Representatives from DCAM and local officials will be on hand to discuss the project and answer questions.
"We're going to be telling people what are the scope and the history of the project, and about our work with the Massachusetts Historic Commission to gain their approvel," said Gillen. "And then we will turn it over to Michael Mucci from Allegrone who will describe how he's going to do it."
The area in front of the building will be required for the stones and the building itself will be wrapped. Gillen said he believed there would only be a total loss of three parking spots but noted there was a lot of room in front of the building.
"It's going to make a big change for awhile," he said. "But a change for the good."