By Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Eagle.
GREAT BARRINGTON — The full extent of lead and asbestos at the former Housatonic School has always been a mystery.
But with grant money now in hand, town officials are about to demystify how many toxins are there, and how much it might cost to get rid of them.
“We need to put a number on that,” said Town Planner Christopher Rembold.
Rembold, speaking to the Select Board last week, said abatement costs, as well as what prospective developers have said are potential parking problems, might have hindered efforts to bring the historic elementary school building back into use after the Berkshire Hills Regional School District built its new schools in 2005.
After three rounds of requests for proposals over the years, the town has a taker that plans a mixed-use space with tenants who would lease from the town.
Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin has signed a one-year negotiating contract with Housatonic-based Grayhouse Partners in which the company’s team will investigate the building’s potential for affordable housing and as a business incubator.
Since the possible cost of certain problems over the years has kept progress at bay, Rembold said it’s better to know those numbers than not.
In addition to lead and asbestos, he added, limited parking capacity there could make a developer run. So the town will use about $40,000 of its federal Community Development Block Grant funds to study how to increase parking without cutting into the popular lawn and playground, he said.
“Right now, it’s a lot of asphalt and not exactly attractive to some new uses,” Rembold said.
Rembold said the design work will also look at how to “improve walkability and the streetscape appearance,” and will try to pin down costs of any changes that would be undertaken either by the developer or the town.
As for lead and asbestos, some federal Environmental Protection Agency brownfield grant money awarded to the town last summer will help pay to get a handle on costs of abatement.
All of the above, he said, will help Grayhouse or any future developer know what they’re getting into.
Heather Bellow can be reached at 413-329-6871, email@example.com and @BE_hbellow.
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