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Town Hall Briefs: Town seeks input on Housatonic School; 100 Bridge Street gets final approvals; troubled Lake Mansfield Road to see a repaving

The Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire can finally proceed with its plan to build an affordable housing complex at 100 Bridge Street after receiving the go-ahead from the selectboard.

Great Barrington — After abandoning a proposal from a developer to lease the former Housatonic School, the selectboard voted on Monday to completely rewrite a request for proposals.

The former school, closed in 2005 when the Berkshire Hills Regional School District consolidated its buildings, has sat largely unused for several years. In the last eight years, the town has tried to find a buyer for the building and, to that end, had sent out several requests for proposals that yielded no fruit.

The Housatonic-based Grayhouse Partners had proposed to lease the school building but was rebuffed by the selectmen last month when the board refused to grant another extension to Grayhouse as it searched for additional funding.

See video below of the discussion on Monday of the Housatonic School:

The proposal called for an adaptive reuse of the vacant 110-year-old school on Pleasant Street near the center of the historic Housatonic section of Great Barrington. The mixed-use plan included so-called business incubator spaces, and collaborative workspaces for technology and business.

A small amount of housing on the upper floors was a possibility. Click here to see the most recent Edge story, which contains background information and links to the history behind the school.

Last month, the board directed town manager Mark Pruhenski and his staff to study the situation further and make a recommendation for action. Click here to read the staff analysis and three possible options.

Pruhenski and town planner Chris Rembold recommended that the board discontinue its agreement with Grayhouse, hold a community input session and submit a revised RFP based on that.

Selectboard member Leigh Davis suggested the RFP be broadened to include the adjacent town-owned community center, known colloquially as the Housie Dome, and Cook’s Garage, which the town acquired recently through a non-payment-of-taxes foreclosure.

At a July 22 meeting, Great Barrington town manager Mark Pruhenski, left, explains the staff recommendation on how to proceed with the Housatonic School to, from left, selectmen Steve Bannon, Ed Abrahams and Bill Cooke. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Davis, who is development director for the redevelopment of the former Eagle Mill in Lee, said including other properties might make it “a more transformational, bigger-scale project” that would be more effective at attracting developers and grants than simply including only the school building. It might even attract investment to bring natural gas service and fiber-optic broadband service to Housatonic, she said.

That brought sharp words from Housatonic resident James Bailly, who thundered that selling the Housie Dome would be “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard” and that it would be “selling out Housatonic.” Bailly’s brother, former Selectman Dan Bailly, who lost his reelection bid this spring to Davis, echoed those sentiments.

But Davis insisted she had been misunderstood, adding that she was “100 percent in favor of the community center” and that her idea centered around having a developer rebuild the Housie Dome, which was the gymnasium annex of the Housatonic School, and preserving it as a community center.

“I’m sorry if I led you to think that,” Davis said. “My kids play basketball there.”

With that, the board voted unanimously to schedule a community input meeting and draft a new version of the RFP based on the new feedback.

100 Bridge Street gets final nod

The Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire can finally proceed with its plan to build an affordable housing complex at 100 Bridge Street after receiving the go-ahead from the selectboard.

Tim Geller, who heads the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire, explains the proposed revisions to the 100 Bridge Street project to members of the Great Barrington Zoning Board of Appeals at a March 19 meeting. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The board voted unanimously to grant special permits to work in a floodplain and in the town’s water quality protection overlay zone. To see the documents CDC submitted to the board in advance of Monday’s meeting, click here.

The $17.2 million 100 Bridge Street project will build 45 new affordable rental units, known as the Bentley Apartments, and simultaneously relocate contaminated soil on the 8-acre site along the Housatonic River in downtown Great Barrington.

CDC executive director Tim Geller has also said he is negotiating with a company to build an 80-unit senior housing complex on the northern end of the property with both independent and assisted living.

The proposal, which has a long and controversial history, has been the recipient of some $16 million in state and local aid, including $15 million alone from the state Department of Housing and Community Development. In addition, the town’s Community Preservation Committee, over the course of three years, committed $450,000 toward the project.

A 2001 fire leveled the dipping tanks that were the source of the groundwater contamination at the former New England Log Homes site on Bridge Street.

The 100 Bridge Street location is the former site of the New England Log Homes factory, which used chemicals to treat wood for log cabins and homes there. The company closed in 1994 and what was left of the factory burned in a fire in 2001. CDC bought the property in 2007.

CDC tried to remove the PCPs and dioxins left by New England Log Homes through a process called bioremediation but state environmental officials put the kibosh on that in 2015.

Then CDC proposed to essentially remove the toxic soil and flip it with the cleaner soil beneath, cleaning up portions of the property as they were being built out. But that plan was ultimately rejected by the state as well.

CDC’s latest plan, since accepted, was to remove the toxic soil and pile it up on three separate berms on the property. The contaminated soil will be covered with a hard protective layer that includes Geofabric. Clean soil will then be added over the top and vegetation planted. Removing the contaminated soil, treating it and replacing it would have been prohibitively expensive.

Fisherman often share the narrow and pockmarked Lake Mansfield Road with motorists. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Lake Mansfield Road to be repaved

Department of Public Works chief Sean Van Deusen asked for and received authorization from the board to repave Lake Mansfield Road, which, he said “is disintegrating at a pretty high rate of speed.”

Great Barrington Department of Public Works head Sean VanDeusen. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Van Deusen is looking to repave the road this fall at a cost of between $30,000 and $50,000 using state Chapter 90 reimbursement funds. So while he will not be using town funds, he still needed authorization from the board to proceed. The portion of the road to be paved is between the boat launch and Whale Rock.

Last month, acting on a recommendation from the Lake Mansfield Improvement Task Force, the board voted to eventually close the road from the town beach to the boat launch. Click here to read about that difficult and complicated decision.

“We have no definitive answer on when that road is going to close, so in the meantime, we need to do something,” Van Deusen said.

The purpose of the repaving, Van Deusen said, is to stop ongoing erosion and to make the pockmarked road more passable for emergency vehicles that will still be able to use the road even after it is formally closed.

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