Village Closet scrambles to relocate after news of Berkshire Trail reuse

  • Annie Hazlett, of Charlemont, sorts through clothing at the Village Closet in Cummington, Aug. 21, 2018. STAFF FILE PHOTO/ANDY CASTILLO

  • Flyers for businesses and activities at the former Berkshire Trail Elementary School in Cummington. FOR THE GAZETTE/FRAN RYAN

  • The former Berkshire Trail Elementary School in Cummington. FOR THE GAZETTE/FRAN RYAN

For the Gazette
Published: 7/23/2019 4:09:36 PM

CUMMINGTON — Town officials have struggled with how to use the former Berkshire Trail Elementary School building since the Central Berkshire Regional School district closed the school in 2014. Now, according to Select Board member Monica Vandoloski, the tentative plan is to locate the hub for the town’s incoming high-speed internet service at the school and use rest of the building as municipal offices.

Before that can happen, however, the tenants who have rented space in the building are being evicted. For It Takes a Village, a non-profit family support organization, the news has sent it scrambling to find a suitable new location.

It Takes a Village operates the Village Closet, its donation and distribution site for free baby items, at the former school. The center has a large inventory of items such as baby clothes, blankets, car seats, strollers, diapers, and toys and is looking for a new space that can accommodate both their stock and an area for parent and family classes.

“We are looking for a place that is ideally 2,500 to 3,000 square feet and that is accessible,” said Mollie Hartford, co-director of It Takes a Village. “We can accept less and make due if we have to.”

Hartford said have been in discussions with a few possible leads, including a Goshen church and a space in Williamsburg’s Brassworks building. She said that no decisions have yet been made and they are still hoping for more options to open up.

“We are hoping someone knows of something, or that they may have a lead for us,” Hartford said.

The Village Closet has been located at the Berkshire Trail building for almost four years. Hartford said families throughout the Hilltowns have come to rely on this central location for support.

During its early beginnings, the Village Closet was located in a private home. But since then, the organization has grown from helping a handful of families to serving over 1,500 families throughout the Hilltowns and giving out over $250,000 in supplies.

Hartford said that if there is an emergency need during this time of transition, supplies can be made available.

“People can still call us if they are in crisis,” Hartford said. “This stuff isn’t going away; it will just be in storage.”

While the doors to the Village Closet will be closing on June 31, It Takes a Village will continue to run all of the other programs and classes it offers.

Select Board Chairman Bill Adams said that the board is trying to be sensitive to the fact that renters like the Village Closet may have difficulties re-locating.

On Monday morning, the Select Board met with Hartford to discuss a possible extension. This would give the organization more time to store their inventory and or move to a new location.

“We have asked to have until November first,” Hartford said. “As I understand it, the Select Board will vote on Thursday whether or not to grant the extension.”

Vandoloski said that the building is in need of repair and has been a liability to the town since the school closed despite having some tenant income.

“It is a very sad dilemma,” Vandoloski said. “We are sympathetic and we do understand their case.”

Adams said that some tenants could apply for a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals to continue operating in the location once it becomes a municipal building, but that the building still needs to be evacuated first, in order for the required inspections and renovations to take place.

Other businesses and groups using space in the building include Sunflower Yoga and Mindfulness, a family center, pre-K classes during the school year, and music and art classes for adults.

Ooma Tesoro’s, owned by Michael Tesoro, has been producing marinara sauce out of the former school’s kitchen since 2015. Tesoro could not be reached for comment.

“Unfortunately this is disrupting several important entities in the Hilltowns,” Adams said.

Vandoloski said that at this point in time, there are no plans for the Community House, which is located on Main Street and currently holds the town offices and auditorium.

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