It's been a long journey, said President and CEO Anne Nemetz-Carlson, as she welcomed family, supporters and financial backers to an open house at the Sarah T. Haskins School to see some of the progress that's been made.
There's a brand-new accessible bathroom and new doors on the first floor, new classrooms for school-age children on the second floor (moved from the crowded basement) and hidden but just as important work on utilities — a large underground oil tank was removed and three new smaller ones installed inside and the electrical was not only updated but shifted to commercial, which has helped contain costs.
"I knew there was some money out there and I wanted to chase it," Nemetz-Carlson said. "Now the board is a wonderful board they said, OK, good luck. Go for a million dollars. I want to tell you that I went three times for that million dollars. I got the first rejection. I got the second rejection, but the third was a great announcement."
The bulk of the funding is that $1 million grant from the state Department of Early Education and Children's Investment Fund, with balance coming from a capital campaign with significant support from local banking institutions, foundations, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The nonprofit has signed a $1.2 million construction contract with Souliere & Zepka Construction for the next phase that will include an elevator that will reach from the basement to the second floor, new accessible bathrooms upstairs, a fire supression system and other work.
This next step was celebrated with songs from the school-age and early childhood children and the cutting of a caution tape by Chappell siblings Jazlene,11, and Gioni, 5.
The child-care program has been housed in the 1922 building since 1980 and initially shared space with the public school until it closed a few years later. There have been a few updates, including two small renovations and building repairs. But the structure was lacking space, accessibility, updated utilities and security.
Mayor Thomas Bernard said the renovation will also have a beneficial effect on the 85 full and part-time staff who work in the building.
"It's going to make a tremendous difference on this building. But I think what we just saw and what we all know, is the impact of CCB isn't in the building or the facility," said Bernard. "It's in the people, the staff, the directors, the funders, the families who day in day out, come and those who show up to work on behalf of these precious, and these precocious, children. ...
"So we know renovating the building is important. It's long overdue. But we all know that it's what happens inside the building that matters."
The center serves nearly 100 children ranging from infants to school age and sees some 2,000 parents and children a year. In addition to the child care, it operates the Family Center of Northern Berkshire providing parent resources and training, and a free clothing exchange.
State Rep. John Barrett III, who became the city's mayor about the same time Nemetz-Carlson became CCB's leader, joked that he'd told her to do whatever she wanted as long as she didn't bother him.
But the condition of Haskins School wasn't a joke when the child-care agency first moved in under Mayor Richard Lamb.
"You build upon your past and saving this building was so important to me at that time," Barrett said. "I just left the fourth grade class as a teacher in January of 1984 and knew the importance of what you're about to embark on. ... We had no money in the city of North Adams and we knew we had to save this building. The place was literally falling apart at that time."
He said Nemetz-Carlson's vision and drive had been instrumental in not only keeping the building functioning with her dedicated staff and board, but in building a community to nurture the future of North Adams.
"What you have today is just a testament to a lot of people's hard work," Barrett said, declaring that at some point, Nemetz-Carlson's name will be enshrined in the structure in some way.
The work at CCB is more personal for former Mayor Richard Alcombright, who now has a granddaughter attending its program.
Alcombright said often military and public safety are lauded as heroes, and while it's right to do that, the work that so many do for the most vulnerable in our community — seniors, veterans, the disabled and the "most precious," our children — should also be recognized.
"She's been in this place 31 months and for 31 months, there wasn't a day I worried," he said. "She's cared for, she's fed, she's taught and she's learning. She's happy. She's encouraged but most of all she's loved. ...
"That is what this place is all about: love."
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