Berkshire Venues Receive State Support For Renovation Projects

Mar 5, 2015

Credit Facebook: Berkshire Botanical Garden

Ten Berkshire County venues are included in the latest round of grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Facilities Fund. The grants total $2.5 million.

Within the next year, the Berkshire Botanical Garden plans to plant the seeds for a roughly $1 million renovation of a former home that dates back to circa 1770. Executive Director Mike Beck says a state grant of $270,000 will help defray some of the cost.

“It’s a wood structure and it has a center chimney that opens on both sides of the main rooms,” Beck explains. “It has been added to over the years. So what you see today is basically the older structure on the left side of it and then there was a structure that was cobbled together from a free-standing garage and other types of buildings and combined into one. So one of the things that we want to do is while preserving the most historical parts of it and making that accessible, we really want to revisit the addition – make it a lot more accessible and expand it slightly in its footprint.”

The grant requires a matching amount. Currently housing staff offices, Beck says the renovation of the Center House aims to make the building more energy efficient and create educational and workshop areas.

“We have a kitchen right now that the staff uses,” he said. “It’s not very user-friendly and it has to be shut down in the winter because we don’t have enough insulation there. We are really hoping to have a beautiful expanded kitchen that we can use for our many classes that we have that involve farm to table type activities. Harvesting fruits and vegetables and turning them into foods – it’s a very appealing thing right now. People are very interested in that kind of programming.”

The gardens’ 15 acres in Stockbridge draw 11,000 annual visitors between May and October on top of another 12,000 people during the off months. Beck expects renovation to last a year.

Also set to receive state support for a facilities upgrade is the town’s library. Having celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2014, the Stockbridge Library is in the midst of a roughly $3 million renovation. Included in the work will be the addition of two bathrooms and an elevator to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Massachusetts Cultural Council bookmarked $600,000 for the upgrades. Library Director Katherine O’Neil says access to all three floors, home to more than 55,000 books, DVDs and artifacts, will be simplified.

“Our museums and archives are on the lower level so if anybody has any type of difficulty with stairs, they can’t see that collection,” O’Neil said. “We are repository for Stockbridge history so we felt that is was really important for us to provide access for all our patrons.”

The library plans to fully reopen this fall. In Great Barrington, Saint James Place has been picked for a half-million dollar grant. The non-profit was set up by Fred and Sally Harris, who purchased the condemned Episcopal church in 2010 after a crumbling wall slated the mid-19th century building for demolition. A $7 million project is under way to turn the church and parish house into a multi-use space. Sally Harris says about two dozen organizations have shown interest in using it; even speaking with groups like the Yale School of Music.

“We want to create a space that would be a home for multiple small to mid-sized arts organizations,” Harris said. “Many of them have been in existence for 10 or 20 years, but they’ve always bounced around from venue to venue. There’s office space and three performance spaces – they could be used of rehearsals or lectures.

Other sites pinpointed for grants include: Berkshire Theatre Group, Dewey Memorial Hall in Sheffield, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, MASS MoCA, the West Stockbridge Historical Society, Ventfort Hall and the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. The Community Music School of Springfield and Easthampton’s CitySpace are also slated to receive grants. The money in a capital bond bill is yet to be released.