Representatives from Berkshire Children & Families toured the Tyler Street firehouse on Monday to consider its suitability as a community center.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Children & Families is exploring possibilities for reuse of a mothballed city building as a kind of community center in the Morningside neighborhood.
"We want to make a commitment to families and the neighborhood," said BCF President Carolyn Burns, who said the rapid growth of its Kids 4 Harmony program, currently based out of the nearby Morningside Community School, has prompted the organization to look at a broader vision for the future of this and other programs.
BCF and members of the Morningside Neighborhood Initiative took a tour on Monday of the former Tyler Street fire station, assessing the toll from years of vacancy and lack of maintenance and discussing options for purchase and rehabilitation of the structure.
The 1906 building, which has not been used as a fire station since 1970, had been utilized over the intervening years for storage and been the site of legendary haunted house tours in the Halloween season, but has decayed significantly since it was permanently closed in 2008. While structurally sound, the building suffers from an ailing roof, water leaks and other issues.
In 2013, the city issued a request for proposals
to take the challenged building off its hands, and a second one later that year after the first failed to produce any viable offers. Under the terms of the RFP, a potential buyer would need to purchase the building "as is" and set about rehabilitating it in a timely manner. Some in the community, including Tyler Street Business Group leader Diane Marcella, have suggested that the city should seek public funds to remediate some of the issues to make a purchase more palatable.
"You're getting to the point with that building where it's become a hazard, or at least a blight," Marcella said at a recent public meeting
. "If we can't get the RFP going, we're either going to have to decide to level it, or do something to make it so that somebody could take it over."
The city has also made stipulations that a prospective buyer maintaining certain original architectural elements of the building's exterior.
"Especially the facade," said city Permitting Coordinator Nathan Joyner. "Trying to retain that historic character is really part of the intention of the city."
Now, Berkshire Children & Families is in talks with the city and other neighborhood stakeholders about their concepts for reuse as kind of multi-use community center. Burns said the Kids 4 Harmony program, which since 2011 has grown to include 55 students, is quickly outgrowing its home at the neighborhood elementary school, an issue that has also highlighted a lack of community space in the city's most densely populated section.
"What I became aware of is that the Morningside, there are not any gathering places," Burns told iBerkshires. "Aside from the school, there is no place for people to come together and grow community."
"The symbolism of a fire station represents something about safety, and well-being for a neighborhood," added Burns. "I thought if we could create a really out-of-the box community center, a 21st century community center that would be focused on learning, opportunity, music and art. ... and then embed other programs in it that would be of interest to the neighborhood."
Burns said there are two facets to the process going forward. The first is assessing the costs and feasibility of rehabilitating the building, and secondly to work with the community to plan the types of desired programs to design accordingly.
"We're trying to start with the biggest dream possible, because it's always best to start with a very broad vision," said Burns. "There's endless possibilities if we can make it work with this building."