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North Adams Council Puts Johnson School on 'For Sale' List
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
02:58PM / Wednesday, September 11, 2019
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The city will solicit for proposals for the reuse of Johnson School.


The council approved several matters and confirmed new members for the Mass MoCA Commission.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday gave the OK for Mayor Thomas Bernard to solicit proposals for Johnson School.
 
The 125-year-old building is currently occupied by Berkshire County Head Start, which is planning to move to the United Cerebral Palsy building on Curran Highway.
 
Bernard said Head Start had a three-year lease with two one-year extensions and has exercised the final extension that will expire at the end of next July to provide plenty of time for their relocation.
 
"We'll put out the purchase and sale with the understanding that the close date would have to be as of Aug. 1, 2020," he said. "So that anybody who's purchasing it can do their due diligence, get ready and be able to close as soon as Head Start moves out, which would immediately put the property on the tax list."
 
The mayor, in response to questions, said the city would solicit requests for proposals as in the past — along with 367 Houghton St. and rebid Sullivan School and the watershed land in Pownal, Vt. — that the zoning would remain residential and that the city was interested in selling it and getting it on the tax rolls, not demolishing it, as had been tossed about on Facebook. 
 
Councilor Wayne Wilkinson referred to the postings that discussed whether the city should keep it for its historic value. 
 
"I've been in the building professionally," said the commercial appraiser. "And it's in rough shape, it's going to take an exorbitant amount of money to bring it back to being the same condition people remember it as a school. Obviously, city doesn't have that kind of money."
 
He and Councilor Benjamin Lamb agreed with the mayor that its potential would probably be in condominiums or other housing. 
 
"Financially speaking, it's far more valuable to the city for someone to renovate an existing building with historic precedent than it is for them to build new," said Lamb. "The actual valuation on the property is maintained with older structures much better than it is with newer structures."
 
The council also approved for 367 Houghton St. was acquired with the assets of Housing Opportunities Inc. The single-family home has been empty since 2014. The mayor explained that any proceeds would return to the Community Development Block Grant account, which had provided the money through HOI for a first-time homebuyers program. He said he was unaware of any restrictions on the funds other than those put in place by the federal program. 
 
There are a few other properties that the city holds the rights to as assets transferred by HOI a couple years ago but they are not in default, like the Houghton Street property, said Bernard. HOI still has one more property — the former Sunshine Cleaners — and an account that are still in the process of being transferred, pending cleanup of the site. 
 
In other business,
 
Councilor Jason LaForest questioned why the crosswalk toward the Brayton School was still in existance on Brickyard Court after being found unsafe according to federal standards. He said school officials had done a good job in educating students and adults to talk the long way around the park to the school but "there is no indication that students or adults should not be using that crosswalk."
 
The mayor said the commissioner of public services and the School Department's facilities director would be taking care of it immediately.
 
Passed to a second reading a zoning change that would put all the parcels of the former St. Francis' Church property into one zone. Buddington was the lone vote against on the basis that the city should not be making zoning changes for singular parcels but rather seeing how it fits into long-term planning. Lamb said the change is already accounted for within the new zoning map that is working its way through the approval process.
 
The council also passed to a second reading an ordinance to allow parking on the east side of Ashland Street and filed a communication from Cohen about a possible "food desert" in the West End following the closure of Price Chopper. Cohen said the communication prompted a lot of discussion with local service organizations and a study by Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts students.
 
Her fellow councilors thanked her for raising awareness of the issue and promoting discussion.
 
• The council also confirmed appointments to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art Cultural Development Commission of Jason Moran, Dawn Vadnais and Gina Puc for terms to expire Feb.1, 2021, and Jane Lamarre and Amy Meehan for terms to expire Feb. 1, 2022. They will join the six commissioners already in place. The museum property is owned by the city so the commission has oversight. It has not met in some time. 
 
• Approved a transfer of $3,000 from the Tinker fund for cemetery repair and maintenance at Hill Side Cemetery being done by a volunteer restoration group. The fund was established by the Tinker family for perpetual care of their mausoleum and the cemetery and currently contains $44,610.56.
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