Two bids were received for Sullivan School; the mayor is recommending a proposal to turn it into an advanced manufacturing center and business incubator.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Two vacant school buildings could become high-end apartments and an advanced manufacturing training center if the City Council signs off on their sale.
The council on Tuesday night will be asked to approve the sale three city properties — Johnson School, Sullivan School and undeveloped land in Vermont — for prices below their assessed values.
The city's been trying to sell off properties over the last few years with mixed results. But Mayor Thomas Bernard has said he would take a more "disciplined" approach to divesting surplus property. Requests for proposals were issued for all three properties in September along with 367 Houghton St.
He is recommending that Johnson School be sold to Moresi Commercial Investments LLC for $225,000, below its assessed value of $914,300.
The 125-year-old building is currently occupied by Berkshire County Head Start, which is planning to move to the United Cerebral Palsy building on Curran Highway when its lease ends August 2020.
David Moresi plans to put 20 high-end, two-bedroom apartments in the former school, with an eye toward professionals and young families. Amity Square Apartments will also offer common areas for storage, makers' space, bicycle storage and a pet/utility area. Changes to the exterior of the building will be largely cosmetic upgrades but a significant portion of the paved area will be returned to greenspace.
"North Adams has finally been discovered for the amazing gem that it is and with the ever-changing world of technology young professionals and families need no longer live in big cities to work in high-tech jobs," he wrote in his proposal. "We are in desparate need of good quality housing stock in North Adams and this project will address that need."
Moresi has a development track record in the city, first with renovating properties and later with property management. More recently, he redeveloped the Norad Mill into a retail and manufacturing center with more than 50 tenants.
Three times was the charm for Sullivan School, left vacant by the renovation of the old Drury High into Colegrove Park Elementary School. This time, the city received two bids but the mayor is recommending the lower bid of $1.
The 50-year-old school is assessed at $2.1 million, up from $1.1 million when it was first put out to bid in 2017.
Berkshire Advanced Manufacturing Training and Education Center, represented by its President Michael Therrien and Vice President Brad Dilger, proposes to use the building as a workforce training center and an hub for entrepreneurs, artists and established businesses. The school has classrooms and opens spaces that can accommodate training programs and equipment.
"We also envision utilizing the property as a makerspace to enable individuals and businesses from our community to use equipment and facilities that might be out of reach within their current operation or ownership," the proposals states. There is also the future possibility of residencies, live/work spaces and transitional housing for postgraduate students.
BAMTEC expects to invest $11 million in capital improvements and $3 million equipment, and have 10 full-time staff positions.
Also bidding was artist and real estate developer Eric Rudd, who offered $50,000 on similar proposal through the Barbara & Eric Rudd Arts Foundation but more arts related. The school would become economically feasible artists studios, providing suitable space for a wide variety of processes including painting, woodworking and welding.
"Although the work is not comparable to heavy industrial, it is also not compatible with a downtown commercial (retail/office) district," Rudd wrote. "With North Adams planned downtown growth, this is not an area where art studio work will be acceptable in the future."
Also, he noted, there is not much profit for developing spaces for artists and artists have difficulty affording spaces. "Even if the acquisition of the property is free, it's a 'break-even' proposition at best, mostly due to high utility costs."
He estimated more than 30 studios could be carved out of the North Adams Art Factory.
Bernard is recommending the advanced manufacturing proposal because it "responds to a critical workforce development priority in our region, and will position North Adams as a center of excellence in retaining current population, attracting new talent, and fostering a creative economy."
The 218 acres of property in Pownal, Vt., part of the Broad Brook watershed, would become conserved land under the Massachusetts Land Conservation Trust, which bid $175,000. The property is assessed at $378,300.
In a letter submitted with the RFP, Trust President Robert L. Warren writes that he hopes "that the city will view our proposal in a favorable light, as it assures the permanent protection of the entirety of the parcel while providing the city with a favorable return."
The 128-year-old trust is dedicated to preserving properties of scenic, ecological and historic value for public use. The 180-acre Mountain Meadow Preserve in Williamstown is directly adjacent the Pownal land.
"The Trustees [of Reservations]' proposed use of the property is for conservation purposes and public recreation in conjunction with The Trustees' adjacent 180-acre Mountain Meadows Preserve, a well-loved reservation originally established in 1998 which straddles the board between Vermont and Massachusetts. The land will be managed for woodland and riparian habitat, and be used for passive recreational purposes, nature study and photography,environmental education as well as fishing and hunting," according to the proposal.
The trust will register a forest management plan and "formalize" the trail connection between the Vermont woodland and Mountain Meadow, including wayfinding and interpretive signage and updated online and published maps.
The MCLT anticipates transferring the land closest to Mountain Meadows to the Trustees of Reservations and the balance to another conservation group, while working in concert with Green Mountain National Forest and Hoosic River Watershed Association
The purchase would not include about two acres with buildings on White Oaks Road.
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Retired North Adams Librarian Pens Book About Renovation
By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The story of the modernization and expansion of the historic North Adams Public Library has been written by the library director who the led the project.
"Preserving a Legacy: Building for the Future" was recently self-published by Marcia Gross, who was head of the library for the first decade of the century.
"She was so heavily involved in the planning for the library and donated a substantial part of her professional life to the renovation and expansion," Richard Markham, former library trustee, said. "I think she wanted to tell that story."
Markham helped Gross with the book and is doing the marketing and press for her.
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