Michael Therrien explains to Councilors Paul Hopkins and Marie T. Harpin how the classroom spaces could be used.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The windows are boarded up, the floor tiles are popping and there's an odor of abandonment throughout the 51,000 square-feet school.
The Finance Committee took a tour of the building on Tuesday afternoon to get a better sense of the condition of the J. Stanley Sullivan Elementary School as the City Council has been weighing an offer on the property made more than two months ago.
The 55-year-old structure has been closed since the opening of Colegrove Park Elementary School in January 2016. Clarksburg School officials had also walked through the building several years ago in anticipation it could be used temporarily during a building project that was ultimately rejected.
Sullivan has sat vacant since but not without activity: There have been numerous incidents of vandalism over the past four years.
In 2017, two juveniles were arrested after setting a half-dozen fires in the building. They set fire to a pallet of ceiling tiles that while not readily flammable, covered the walls of the cafeteria in smoke and burned a large patch in the floor.
"It keeps getting broken into," said Building Inspector William Meranti. "There are endless calls to the police in the middle of the night."
He pointed out missing windows at ground level that have been boarded up with plywood. As one was covered, the vandals would move onto the next. There were chunks of glass on the floor of one classroom, others had some spray paint but suprisingly not a lot of tagging.
The school is still full of furniture, books, materials and scattered trash. The lobby is being used for storage.
Michael Therrien sees potential in the building. The president of the newly formed Berkshire Advanced Manufacturing Training and Education Center assured the councilors in attendance — Committee members Marie T. Harpin and Wayne Wilkinson, along with President Paul Hopkins and Jason Laforest — that he was aware of the vacant school's condition and has walked through it twice.
The school classroom sizes and configuration can be easily modified, Therrien explained. Standing at the end of a series of classrooms, he said interior walls were modular and removable.
"We took take them all out and have all this space," he said, pointing toward the far classroom. "Or we could divide the space smaller."
The City Council had balked at selling the building to BAMTEC, concerned that the new organization didn't have all its finances in a row. There was also some discussion over the price of $1 — when another established real estate developer had offered $50,000.
Wilkinson had suggested the tour so that the Finance Committee could see the condition of the building. Bundled up in coats and using a couple flashlights, the group walked through building that's been without heat and electricity for years.
Prior to that, former Historical Commissioner Alan Horbal joined the group to make officials aware that there might be a legal impediment to the sale of the school. Kemp Park, to the school's north, had been gifted to the city in 1882 by Sylvester Kemp for "sanitary purposes, pleasure and enjoyment" of the citizens and Horbal thought it could be linked to the school land.
He said he could not find any covenant on this land, as had been found for Colegrove Park.
However, it's not clear if the school site had been connected to the park and it is currently listed as two separate plots on the assessors map, with the school dated from 1964. A 1963 article in the former North Adams Transcript reported that the park could not be transferred to the school department because of the terms of the 1882 deed and that this might affect the amount of recreational space for students at the proposed East School. In articles discussing where the school would be built, the location is referred to as "the wooded site" to the south of the park.
The grammar school had been planned as a project in conjunction with a new high school that would go on land across the street between the Mohawk Trail and Kemp Avenue but the high school portion was dropped because of the construction of a housing project taking up too much acreage. At the time, the school department was expecting an enrollment of 3,334 children in the fall of 1963 — 363 of them kindergartners.
northadams.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.