Pittsfield Plans Demo For Onota Lake Caretaker House
By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent Print | Email
The former caretaker's house at Onota Lake is being demolished as part of the city's capital plan.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — An abandoned building at the outskirts of Burbank Park, which formerly housed a caretaker for Burbank Park on Onota Lake, will be demolished this summer as part of the city's capital improvement plan.
City officials say the simple, side-gabled two-story house, and adjacent shed structure at 538 Lakeway Drive, near the Controy Pavilion, have become unusable and now present only a blight to the park's integrity.
"At this point, removing the house is really the only viable option. It would take significant resources just to get the house back in service," according to James McGrath, the city's parks and open spaces manager. As of right now, it's a nuisance building, and the Conservation Committee has voted to have it demolished."
While the dilapidated wooden house, constructed in 1981, holds no redeeming structural or architectural value, its existence is a curious thread in the history of Burbank Park, according to the city's Form B historical inventory of the site.
In late 1980, the City Council unanimously voted to authorize the taking of the property at this address, to enable it to close Lakeway Drive so that Burbank Park would have only one drivable entrance, and to provide sanitary facilities after it was determined that high coliform bacteria levels existed due to use of the nearby woods as a latrine.
Just days following the vote, the property, which at that time contained an earlier, fire-damaged house, was sold by owner Thomas Ellis to Stephen Supranowicz at a cost of $15,000, $2,000 under its estimated value.
Two weeks later, the Pittsfield Conservation Committee notified Supranowicz that it intended to go forward with the acquisition, pending funds from a grant. Over the next four months, Supranowicz had the current structure built rapidly. In March, he refused to turn over the keys, saying that the "improvements" he'd since made had increased the value to far more than $17,000.
Supranowicz's attorney demanded $44,000 from the city, which ultimately settled out of court for the cost.
"I think at the time, the city saw value in having a caretaker's house there, and resources were set aside to have a caretaker to oversee the park," McGrath told iBerkshires.
"It wasn't a palace to begin with, it was a very simple, modest home," McGrath added. "It was a very unappointed house, very simple in its construction."
From 1993 to 2007, it was the home of caretaker Alan Pires, a semi-retired city employee who lived in the humble cottage rent free in exchange for security in additions to maintenance duties. In 2007, Mayor James Ruberto reorganized what was then the Department of Community Services, placing care of park grounds under the Department of Building and Maintenance.
Despite 14 years of service without a single known complaint, the administration notified Pires of his layoff with an eviction notice from the Berkshire County sheriff's department.
Like the Springside House, also vacated as part of the reorganization, it was hoped that the caretaker's house could be utilized to save on costs of housing AmeriCorps/VISTA volunteers the city was then using to staff various positions. At the time, Buildings & Maintenance Department Director Ernest Fortini and Conservation Agent Caleb Mitchell both indicated to local media that Ruberto's decision to eliminate the caretaker's position came as part of a plan to renovate the house for this purpose. No renovation took place, and the city's use of the VISTA program ended in 2010.
At the time of the City's 2009 Master Plan, the 30-year-old house was listed at an estimated property value of $66,000. Demolition, slated to take place within the next few months, will cost approximately $35,000 as part of the city's capital improvement budget this year.
"The house has fallen into disrepair," McGrath told iBerkshires. "I think it would still benefit the city to have a caretaker at that park. Unfortunately, we just can't accommodate one at this time."
"Removing it is going to reclaim that area of Burbank Park for other potential uses," he said. "It's really the only viable option now."
"Unfortunately, it is too expensive to fix at this point," Mayor Daniel Bianchi told iBerkshires. "We have to commit to maintaining our parks without a permit resident at the park."
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