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The Berkshire Waldorf High School project in Stockbridge Old Town Hall is underway, but over budget. A $4 million gift closed the gap

STOCKBRIDGE — Construction is underway at the historic Old Town Hall, slated as the new home of the Berkshire Waldorf High School, in time to welcome students and staff in September 2025.

BY Clarence Fanto
Originally published in The Berkshire Eagle on May 30, 2024.
PHOTOS: Stephanie Zollshan

Funds needed for the project have ballooned since it was first unveiled two years ago with an estimated project cost of $5 million, increased to $6.25 million last year.

The current “close to worst case” estimate is $8 million, caused by construction inflation as well as unanticipated but necessary structural improvements and more accurate estimates based on completed architectural and engineering plans, said Executive Director Stephen Sagarin.

But a recent $4 million contribution from a family foundation that prefers anonymity and privacy has helped close the gap.

“My understanding is that columns had to be added from the basement up to the roof,” Sagarin told The Eagle on Wednesday. Following demolition of the interior, contractors also discovered that subfloor sheathing wasn’t strong enough to cover current code requirements, he added.

“We’re hoping that the deeper into the project we get, the fewer surprises there are,” Sagarin said.

The complex project requires removal of asbestos and lead paint, installation of an elevator and sprinkler system, redesign of the interior for classroom space, offices, and a 186-seat community meeting room on the second floor, Sagarin stated. Historical features of the 1839 Greek Revival-style building are being preserved.

Currently, about $7.2 million is in the till, according to Patrick White, the chief financial officer for the private school founded 22 years ago, currently located in cramped, rented quarters on Pine Street downtown.

The Old Town Hall, also known as Procter Hall, has been vacant for 17 years since the town offices were relocated to the former Stockbridge Plain School on Main Street, just east of the business district.

Last February, following town board approvals of zoning changes, the school completed its purchase of the building on the Village Green owned by the adjacent First Congregational Church.

The church had owned the West Main Street land for nearly 200 years and has leased the building to the town for more than 100 years. Berkshire Waldorf acquired the land and building for $250,000. Under the agreement with the church, the school now owns the building and the land footprint’

Also by mutual agreement, the 114 parking spaces at the site will be shared by the school, the church and the adjacent Stockbridge Golf Club.
Berkshire Waldorf will double its space in its new location within walking distance of the town center, Sagarin noted, while creating additional, larger classrooms and science labs.

White, also a Stockbridge Select Board member, expressed confidence that the community will support the school’s ongoing capital campaign “and get us over the finish line.” Part of the sharply increased construction cost involves reinforcement of beams in the front and back of the building as well as the availability of electrical services.

“This location has so much history, spanning the Mohican era, the central role in the Indian Town experiment, and its place in modern Berkshire lore,” White stated. “We plan to honor history as we embrace this new era for the school and the community.”

He noted the preservation of the jail in the Old Town Hall, where Arlo Guthrie of “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” fame was held briefly during the 1965 Thanksgiving holiday weekend for dumping garbage on a roadside.

“The town of Stockbridge is well on its way of realizing its two–decades-old dream of finding a permanent use for this early 19th century historic structure,” said longtime Stockbridge resident Teresa O’Brient, chair of the school’s board of trustees and owner of the Stockbridge Country Store. “The community really stepped up to help us realize this dream.”

At the May 20 annual town meeting, residents voted 126-26 to approve $151,175 in Community Preservation Act funds for Berkshire Waldorf’s restoration project. After one resident objected, Sally Underwood-Miller, chair of the Community Preservation Committee declared that the Old Town Hall had been “an albatross” and that the school would bring in badly needed young families to the town.

The lead architect is Pamela Sandler, who’s based in Stockbridge, and Marois Construction of South Hadley is the general contractor handling the renovation.

Pamela Sandler Architect is an award-winning architecture firm based in the idyllic Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.

For thirty years, the firm has been creating residential and commercial spaces in Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut. Projects include new construction, restoration, historic preservation and renovation, each created with an eye towards unique design and joyful space. Pam’s designs have appeared in several publications throughout her multifaceted career, and she was an early champion for the use of green building materials and techniques, helping to found the Berkshire chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

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