Katie Kinne

Should Great Barrington tap Community Preservation Act for $50,000 study of Housatonic School building?

Katie Kinne
Should Great Barrington tap Community Preservation Act for $50,000 study of Housatonic School building?

By: Eoin Higgins

GREAT BARRINGTON — In the latest effort to market the former Housatonic School, the town is considering spending $50,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to study the cost of repairs to the aging structure.

But some wonder if such a study would be worth the added expense.

"Is this building not moving because we haven't marketed it or because nobody's interested?" asked Community Preservation Committee member Kathleen Jackson during a meeting last week.

The school was closed in 2005, and in 2012, the Berkshire Hills Regional School District moved its offices from the building to renovated space in the Stockbridge Town Offices. The town has since taken a number of steps to find another use for the building, which costs taxpayers about $50,000 a year to maintain.

In 2010, a Request for Proposals netted a response from the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire for mixed use that didn't meet with Select Board approval. In the winter of 2014, Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin announced the town was moving forward with another RFP, but that attempt stalled.

And Tabakin told the Select Board in September the town is looking to put the building, built in 1907, on the National Historic Register in hopes of enticing developers with the prospect of tax incentives that come with restoring historic buildings.

Now, the town is looking to use preservation act funding for a study to determine exactly what needs to be done to repair the building, said Town Planner Chris Rembold.

The state Community Preservation Act, approved by town voters in 2012, raises funds through a property tax surcharge to preserve open space and historic sites, create affordable housing, and develop outdoor recreational facilities, according to the Community Preservation Coalition website.

The committee will vote on whether to approve the study and other proposals for preservation act funding in November.

During the recent discussion on the matter, committee member Jeremy Higa said that the study could help potential developers understand the cost of repairs without having to go through the process themselves.

"Doesn't this help someone who wants to keep the building in one piece?" he asked. "It's not only money; we're providing an investment of time."

But Jackson said she was not convinced the town could sell the building even with the study.

After all, she said, if the town has already put in a lot of effort on the sale without any results, maybe it's a lost cause.

"If not," she said, "maybe we need to try harder to sell it now."