Berkshire Arts & Tech School Breaks Ground on Expansion
|BArT students dig in for a ceremonial groundbreaking of the charter school's planned expansion.|
On Tuesday morning, the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School held a groundbreaking ceremony for its long-awaited expansion.
By fall, the 10-year-old school, a former hotel and restaurant, will have added theater space, fitness rooms, a gymnasium and a cafeteria.
Although the expansion will not impact the state-mandated maximum enrollment of 363, it will allow the school to better serve its student population, currently about 325 in grades six through 12, Executive Director Julia Bowen said.
"We have a room right now devoted to fitness, but it's a classroom dedicated to fitness," Bowen said. "So we get to move all that equipment out, and now we have a classroom. Similarly, we've designed the theater space to have a folding partition door, so we're able to have a drama class happening on stage while fitness is happening in the gym. Spaces where we had drama before, we don't have to do that. ... It's really making more space to shift.
"The other really exciting thing is — our 'cafegymatorium' ... There are seven classes that border the cafegymatorium, so the noise often permeates into the classrooms. Just reducing that noise is fabulous."
No one was complaining about the noise on Tuesday morning.
After a groundbreaking ceremony that included remarks by Bowen, Adams Town Administrator Jonathan Butler and junior Kyleigh Castagna, the student body moved from the parking lot — soon to be replaced by a cafeteria — to the school's atrium.
As the students socialized and danced to the sounds of the ubiquitous Pharrell Williams hit "Happy," BArT staff cut and served pieces from two celebratory cakes, one of which read "Goodbye, Cafegymatorium."
The two-story atrium at the center of school will be repurposed as a library and study space — yet another academic enhancement to be derived from the expansion, for which BArT has so far raised close to $1 million from private donors and foundations.
The project was delayed a month when bids came in higher than expected; a number of items were deferred from the initial proposal and will be added in later. Boston Community Loan Fund is the lender for the project and Jones Whitsett Architects is the designer. On May 7, the school's trustees approved a construction contract with David J. Tierney Jr. Inc. of Pittsfield for $3,888,433.
The school bills itself as a "rigorous college prep school" at which students take college classes while in high school and of which 100 percent of the graduates are accepted into post-high school educational institution.
Starting in the fall, it also will be home for the Main Street Stage theater company. The artists collective founded in North Adams in 1999 has been without a permanent home since 2011.
"We have been working for the last year with one of their theater professionals, who runs our after-school program," Bowen said. "They will now call our stage home, and they'll move in with their equipment. Since our budget is so tight, that equipment is helpful for us.
"At the same time, they'll be working with our students during the school day in our after-school programs, our enrichment program. And they also have expressed great excitement about having our students intern in their productions."
Of course, school's core mission remains unchanged.
Castagna, of Pittsfield, talked Tuesday about how that mission changed her life, allowing her to grow personally and intellectually since coming to the charter school as an eighth-grader.
"At my old school, I struggled with depression, and when I went for help, the adults didn't take me seriously," she said. "I was looking for a school that really could understand me and help me. That's when I found BArT.
"When I came here, as most of you know, I really didn't talk much at all. It's just amazing now. You see me here talking in front of all of you. In the eighth grade, I wouldn't have been able to bring myself to come up here and talk."
Tags: BArT, expansion, groundbreaking, school building, school project,
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