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A group of local residents is hoping to find support in the community to save the 1863 structure.

North Adams Group Wants Conversations on St. Francis' Fate

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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St. Francis' Church, built in 1863, commands the corner at Union and Eagle streets. At left is Rite Aid; a CVS Pharmacy has proposed demolishing the church to put in a new building and drive-through. To the right behind Conte School is the steeple of Notre Dame, owned by the city. That section around Church, East Main, Union and Willow Dell is one of the oldest intact sections of the city. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A local group is hoping to build grassroots support to preserve the city's oldest Catholic church and prominent landmark along its busiest corridor.
 
The fate of St. Francis of Assisi has been uncertain since being shuttered five years ago. The recent disclosure that CVS Pharmacy — long rumored to be interested in the property — was proposing to demolish the building has jump started a discussion about the possibility of saving the structure. 
 
"We need to get people motivated and get people involved," said resident Kurt Kolok. "It's not against anyone, it's for the church. It's telling people this is at risk — do you want to save this building?" 
 
Kolok hosted a meeting of nearly a dozen residents Sunday night with some experts in the field — Susan Holland, executive director of the Historic Albany (N.Y.) Foundation, a nonprofit organization that's had some success in saving buildings and provides technical assistance, and Don Rittner, an historian and author from the Capital Region.
 
Their message: It won't be easy. Any plan will need legal counsel, willing partners, money, and strong community support. 
 
"Figure out what your goal is to save it," advised Holland, who encouraged the group to come up with a "common sense" plan it can present to the community.
 
The first step is raising awareness, but the group also says it wants to accommodate the needs of the North Adams Catholic Community that has been dramatically consolidated in recent years and struggling with vacant buildings.
 
The city's decision to assess the 1.39-acre St. Francis lot and its two buildings for more than $25,000 in property taxes since 2010 has further squeezed the parish, which is now located at St. Elizabeth's Church.
 
Last month, the Rev. William Cyr released a letter castigating the city and Mayor Richard Alcombright for blocking attempts to sell the property to CVS. Alcombright, a parishioner at St. Elizabeth's, said he couldn't agree to a proposal for a variety of reasons, including the historic nature of that section of the city and traffic issues already caused by the existing franchises on the north side of Union Street. There are more suitable spots in the city for CVS, he said.
 
"I'm just old enough that I vividly remember what the city was like before urban renewal," said the mayor, who sat in on part of the discussion. "I very vividly remember what the downtown use to be like ... all that stuff resonates with me."  
 
He likened the loss of St. Francis' steeple to "knocking a front tooth" out of the city's skyline.
 
"The bishop and the diocese have been very patient with me and with respect with some of the things I've had to do to stand in front of this," he said. That includes a one-year demolition delay ordinance passed by City Council last fall.
 
"The issue isn't so much a burning desire to tear this down," said John Malcolm, adding that offering a viable use that works economically and saves the building would likely be welcomed.
 
Recent reuses of churches include two downtown churches purchased by Eric Rudd for use as museums; in Williamstown, the Methodist church has been taken over by a community day-care center and St. Raphael's for affordable housing; in Pittsfield, the Mount Carmel complex is now headquarters for the Brien Center and "clothing alchemist" Crispina ffrench has her studio in the former Notre Dame.
 
Finding a use for the St. Francis, which needs about $1.2 million in repairs, could be put off at least temporarily, said Holland, to focus on stabilization. Rittner, however, suggested encouraging residents to envision possibilities for the church. 
 
More important, agreed the group, was building a conversation in the community about the 150-year-old church and its more immediate future as a significant element of the "Steeple City." To that end, the group is looking for submissions in any media for an art exhibit about St. Francis as part of Downtown Art, and soliciting memories, stories, ideas and photos about the church.
 
A Facebook page has been created called "Save St. Francis" and those interested in finding out more or getting involved can contact savesaintfrancis@gmail.com.
 
"This has been happening in the background and that needs to change now," said Kolok. "We can't let this quietly happen and go away. ... We need to get louder and make some noise and get people to support this."

Tags: church reuse,   historic preservation,   historical building,   vacant building,   

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Governor Baker Delivers 2020 State of the Commonwealth Address

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker delivered his State of the Commonwealth address from the House Chamber of the Massachusetts State House on Tuesday night. 
 
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
 
"Mr. Speaker. Madame President. Members of the House and Senate. Members of Congress. Fellow Constitutional Officers. Members of the Governor's Council. Mr. Chief Justice and Members of the Judiciary. Members of the Cabinet and my Administration. Sheriffs. District Attorneys. Mayors. Local Officials. Reverend Clergy. Distinguished Guests.
 
"To our Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, my partner in leading this administration. I want to take a moment to extend gratitude on behalf of all of us here today. For your work as chair of the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Council, co-chair of the STEM Council and for your tireless work helping us build strong communities.
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