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Nonprofit organization Roots Dreams and Mustard Seeds is seeking $200,000 to support its renovation of 117 to 129 Fenn St. into a community support and educational facility.

Pittsfield Historical Commission Supports Two CPA Applications

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Historical Commission on Monday deemed two fiscal 2023 Community Preservation Act applications as historically significant: a Fenn Street building restoration and a West Pittsfield signage project.

Nonprofit organization Roots Dreams and Mustard Seeds is seeking $200,000 to support its renovation of 117 to 129 Fenn St. into a community support and educational facility.  

The property includes a 19th-century home that was formerly a Union For Home Work space and a more modern, three-part storefront. The plan is to utilize two of the storefronts and the home when it is available.

A report from the Massachusetts Historical Commission indicates that "the early managers of the Union for Home Work, formed in Pittsfield in 1878, were among the first practical philanthropists in this country to establish successfully a central organization of which the purpose was to carry on all the various charitable works of a community."

"What's interesting is how what we're intending to do with it will make it hew more closely to the original use as this center of philanthropy, though we don't actually believe in philanthropy as such because that's kind of a thing you'd give to somebody. We more want to build people and organizations up," co-Director Michael Hitchcock said.

"But in the spirit of the times, it's really a straight lineage. I think that's an interesting thing that it'll be brought back after almost 100 years to this original community-based orientation."

He explained that the plan is to first use the former Lach's Lounge space and then expand into the church space next door.  

Rem Roc's Fried Chicken and Soul Food operates in the corner storefront at 117 Fenn St.

There are still tenants in the home, and the organization feels strongly about not displacing anyone in this process so plans will not extend into the rear property until the occupants choose to leave. When the home is available, Hitchcock said they would love to make it into transitional housing or for classrooms, a use that would be decided by the group.

Rehabbing the donated building is estimated to cost about $572,000 and includes roof, plumbing, electrical, and foundational work as well as a second egress for an upper-floor apartment.

Hitchcock explained that Roots and Deams and Mustard Seeds is an umbrella organization that works for uplifting regular people or "whoever is not a boss or a landlord" through the development of worker-owned cooperative businesses, cooperative housing, peer-led education, or any other program to improve a person's position.

He said they already have community classes interested in coming to the space and it will be the second location for food distribution.

"So any kind of program that you could think of that's with uplifting the working class, either through skills or resources or education, that's the general tone of what we do," Hitchcock added.

"And around half of our programming will be community-decided. It's not us telling the community what they need, but the community telling us what they need and it is developing it with them as peers so that we can inculcate community leadership."

Co-Director Nicole Fecteau added that the space will also contain a shared commercial kitchen.

Chair John Dickson reminded the applicants they will have to work within all of the historic preservation guidelines and Hitchcock said they are willing to work within any obligations or boundaries for the funding as it is necessary to complete some of the work.

Commissioner Jeffry Bradway pointed out that the storefronts look like the work of well-known Pittsfield architects Joseph McArthur Vance, who designed the Colonial Theatre.

The Historical Commission is submitting a $25,000 application on behalf of the Friends of Osceola 9Park group to "rediscover the Lost Mill Villages of West Pittsfield" with a number of interpretive signs, which the commission also deemed historically significant and voted to sponsor.

The friends group would like to highlight the 19th-century industrial landscape of that area, which they say has been "largely lost." They propose signs at 730 West Housatonic St., Osceola Park, Hungerford Street Lower Barkerville and the Osceola River Flouring Mill, Stearns School, Berkshire Environmental Action Team's Environmental Research and Education Center on Chapel Street, and the Barkerville Conservation area.

Commissioners agreed that it is a great project.

"The city needs more things like this to make people aware of the history and the interest," Bradway said.

Tags: CPA,   historical commission,   

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Pittsfield Council Puts North Street Ballot Question to Rest

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The North Street ballot question was put to rest on Tuesday.

In a 7-2 vote, the City Council rescinded a Jan. 24 vote on Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowsky's petition to place a question on the Nov. 7 ballot that asks voters if North Street should return to a four-lane way.

Because Councilor at Large Peter White announced his intention to motion to rescind, it required a majority vote rather than a two-thirds vote, as clarified by City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta.

Kalinowksy insisted that constituents want a say in the road configuration. She feels that the city did not properly consult the council and residents before making the change.

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