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The Morningside fire station hasn't been used since 1970. The city has tried several times to sell the structure.

Pittsfield Soliciting Interest in Long Vacant Morningside Fire Station

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The final request for proposals for the development of the century-old Morningside fire station has been released.
Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer gave the City Council an update on some city projects Tuesday and said the RFP for the historic fire station was released earlier in February.
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi asked for an update from Ruffer via petition and wanted to know why it had taken so long to release the RFP.
"This has been moving really slowly, and we have been told back in November that an RFP would be going out," Morandi said. "We all know the condition that building is in and we are letting it sit through another winter."
The city has released RFPs on multiple occasions, the first one being in 2013 as well as subsequent ones in January 2014, March 2017, and in May 2017.
Ruffer explained that on these occasions, there were either no bidders or no qualified bidders. She said the city needs to make sure a potential developer actually develops the structure and it fits in the city's vision for the Morningside neighborhood.
"We want it to be redeveloped in a timely manner so it does not remain a blighted property," she said. "As the council knows, once it is in private ownership we have a challenge in being able to address blight."
She said her department took more time to develop this RFP to make the prospect more attractive. She said they included a hazard mitigation assessment as well as other analysis. 
"We wanted to make sure we made it as attractive as possible," Ruffer said. "We compiled as much data about the condition of the building as we were able to."
She added that they have offered possible developers more time in the building and wanted to be more active in showing the building.
It may be working because there has already been interest.
Alas, if there are no bites on this RFP round, Ruffer said the city will have to seek funds to demolish the building.
Morandi said he would not support this.
"I don't want to see that building torn down," he said. "I will be honest with you. I will fight that tooth and nail." 
Other councilors felt differently and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio remembered past notable buildings that although unpopular had to come down -- specifically an old market that is now a well-used parking lot.
"They are sad times but sometimes we have to take down a building," he said.
The 1906 building, which has not been used as a fire station since 1970, had been utilized over the intervening years for storage. It has decayed significantly since it was permanently closed in 2008. While structurally sound, the building suffers from an ailing roof, water leaks and other issues.
Ruffer also gave an update on the city's planned acquisition Hess gas station on Tyler Street.
"We continue to honor our obligation to be ready to take that," she said.
MassDevelopment is actively looking to secure the building, and Ruffer said she was limited in what she could say because negotiations are still underway.
"It is a very small property in the holdings of a very large company and the company acquired this property through a series of acquisitions of companies," she said. "It was three companies ago that site was in operation. It is a very small part of the owner's portfolio." 
Once MassDevelopment acquires the property, it will transfer it to the city. She said the city has already allocated $200,000 to clean up the site and ultimately turn it into green space.  
The council also received an update on the Fire Department training tower at the Peck's Road fire station. Fire Chief Thomas Sammons said the burn tower needs some repairs.
"The building was designed to be abused but it is nearly 70 years old and it's showing its age," Sammons said. "In my opinion, it is a liability. Firefighting is a dangerous occupation to begin with and we need to be able to train for fires."
He said he has met with a SK Design and toured the structure and will return with a report with different repair options.
The council voted to send the item to the Public Health and Safety subcommittee, which will also tour the tower in the spring.
The council also accepted a communication from the mayor in regard to the police station.
Maffuccio had submitted a petition last month asking for an update on the deteriorating police station across from City Hall and if the city had any plans to replace it.
Mayor Linda Tyer responded that at this moment in time, there has been no change in the status of constructing a new police station. She wrote that in the next six months, her administrative team will undertake a review of the next steps for moving the project into the next phase of development.

Tags: fire station,   municipal buildings,   RFP,   

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Local Woman Organizing 'Bear Hunt' in Berkshires This Weekend

By Rebecca DravisiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A local woman is spearheading a "bear hunt" this weekend - bears of the toy kind, that is.

Inspired by the book "We're Going on a Bear Hunt," which Susan Wrba likes to read with her 2-year-old son, Wrba is organizing a "bear hunt" across the Berkshires from Friday, April 3, to Sunday, April 5.

Families can participate in two ways: One, they can put a stuffed, toy or otherwise creatively designed bear in their front window or porch. (Wrba said her father-in-law is planning a mechanical bear of some sort at his home in Pittsfield.) Families who do this should go to the Facebook event page Wrba has set up here to let people know what street they can spot a bear in. And two, families can drive around looking for the bears -- safely from their car, or, if many bears are located in a single neighborhood, by taking an appropriately socially distanced walk along that neighborhood.

Wrba said she got the idea from a friend in Haverhill, where a similar project happened in March. It appealed to her not only because the book was one of her son's favorites but also because she was looking for ways to connect to the outside world during this time of isolation.

"I've been trying to think of ways to feel connected that aren't virtual," said Wrba, who lives in New Lebanon, N.Y., with her husband her two children, which include a 7-week-old baby boy in addition to the 2-year-old. "I love that you are able to be creative in your own home but also get out in a way that's safe and interesting."

Wrba said she was worried it wasn't catching on at first, but thanks to the power of social media and some friends with downtown Pittsfield connections, she's hopeful it will be a success. As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly two dozen people had posted addresses (posting a street names only is fine, as it adds a little challenge to the hunt and protects people's privacy) on the Facebook page.

"It's been great," she said, adding that the format of asking people to leave bears out over a three-day period will allow families to "jump in and participate" in a way that fits their schedule.

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