President and CEO Anne Nemetz-Carlson says the organization has been pursuing the million-dollar grant for three years to modernize security, access and function of the century-old building.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The historic Sarah T. Haskins School is about to get a $1.75 million facelift and modernization to better serve Child Care of the Berkshires and its programs.
The bulk of the funding, a $1 million grant from the state Department of Early Education and Children's Investment Fund was announced on Thursday afternoon with balloons and bubbles at the child-care center.
"I have to tell you we have chasing this grant for three years but the process started a long lont time ago," longtime President and CEO Anne Nemetz-Carlson said on the front lawn of the State Street school while children blew bubbles. "Rewards are so exciting that come late. They require hard work dedication passion and ... I am not just pleased but thrilled to get this award."
The goal, said officials, is to create an environment that is "warm, inviting, enriching and welcoming to both children and families. These improvements will transform the facility into an accessible, safe and modern space."
Over the next two years, an elevator will be added on the exterior; windows and interior and exterior doors will be upgraded for utility and security; the heating will be switched to natural gas; air-handling units will upgraded; bathrooms will be made handicapped accessible; the roof will be repaired and brick exterior repointed and the parking lot revamped; a new fire-suppression system will be installed along with updated technology; a new entrance will be designed with security and safety in mind; and a new classroom will be built on the second floor above the gym to accommodate school-aged children who now meet in basement classrooms.
"My program is going to benefit so greatly," said Kelly Phillips, director of the Monument Square Early Childhood Center. "Our school-age children who are blowing bubbles for you all will have a wonderful space to be in ... it's just so fitting that we have the families of North Adams [here] and how much we value the parents and the children and what they bring to our center and what we can bring to them."
The child-care program has been housed in the 1922 building since 1980 and initially shared space with the public school until it closed a few years later. There have been a few updates, including two small renovations of about $50,000 each that addressed flooring, storage, and rooms, particularly the renovation of an infant room a few years ago.
But the nonprofit has been limited in what it can do without triggering more extensive modernization to comply with state and federal codes, particularly the Americans with Disabilities Act. Nemetz-Carlson said a decision was made with the nonprofit's board to pull that trigger.
"We going to put an elevator on the outside that triggers all our building codes," she said. "It's just a really nice list of many, many projects to bring the facility up to code."
A clearly delighted Nemetz-Carlson said there were "a million things to do" that will probably start with a separate U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to begin addressing the bathrooms.
The grant, a big, thick application, took three years to be approved as the center pinned down the requirements — schematics, estimates, facts, and fundraising.
Nemetz-Carlson said the support of the board and especially of the faculty who ensure that CCB has a high-quality children's center — which is accredited and ranked by the state at Level 3 (4 being top) — were instrumental in obtaining the grant.
The board launched a capital campaign, run by former board member John Craig, that has so far raised $250,000 and has had 100 percent board participation.
"We had a lot of funders that really believed in us," she said, and received support from the Northern Berkshire United Way, Williamstown Community Chest, Barrett and Hardman funds, Adams Community Bank, the Ruth Proud Trust and Feigenbaum Foundation.
David Westall of Westall Architects was brought on to make the design plans submitted with the application.
William Robinson, chairman of the board, also gave thanks to those who helped with the grant application, including Mayor Richard Alcombright, CCB's landlord, who with the City Council approved a 25-year lease that gave the facility the site control needed for the grant to be approved.
"We're going to have a home here for the next 25 years ... without that wouldn't have this great opportunity," he said. "We have to do something if we wanted to do be here long term. ...
"To make this a state-of-the-art facility for child care that people want to be at for years to come."
The center serves 81 children ranging from infants to school age and sees some 2,000 parents and children a year. In addition to the child care, it operates the Family Center of Northern Berkshire providing parent resources and training, and a free clothing exchange. The Parent Child Home Program served 46 families in North Berkshire and, between that program and one in Pittsfield, conducted 2,650 home visits.
One of the requirements of the grant was that center serve a 25 percent population of low-income families; in fact, 95 percentof the children served through Child Care of the Berkshires come from low-income homes.
"The city of North Adams could not be more pleased to have this facility right here and guaranteed to be here for the next 25 years to provide services to families here that are just unprecedented anywhere in the region," Alcombright said.
Phillips later led a tour of the building, pointing out where improvements have been made over the years and where changes will be made. She's particularly focused on moving the school-age children out two rooms in the basement level and bringing them up to the new room that will be constructed by extending the second floor over part of the gym.
The plan is to continue keeping the gym as a place for movement and play as well as using its large arched windows to emit light into the new second floor room. The new room will allow the program to open up slots for five more children, for 30 total.
The building is not on the Register of Historic Places but the Historical Commission has asked CCB to continue to recognize Haskins, whose name is large across the front of the school. Haskins was a longtime educator in the North Adams Public Schools and had retired as principal of the former State Street School. Nemetz-Carlson said the name and her picture will remain up.
Robinson credited Nemetz-Carlson for her passion and perseverance — as well as her extensive contacts — in pushing the application through.
"She has such a strong vigor and so much clout through the state of Massachusetts," he said. "When they hear her name ... she puts North Adams and child care on the map of the the state."
Nemetz-Carlson is now focused on rejuvenating the nearly century-old school.
"We want it to be safe and secure and really warm and inviting," she said.
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