PITTSFIELD — Another chapter in the Berkshire Innovation Center’s long history was completed Tuesday when local and state officials gathered at the William Stanley Business Park to officially break ground for the $13.8 million workforce development center’s construction.
Over 100 people attended the ceremony, held on soggy turf under a tent that had been set up to keep out a cold, relentless rain. But the dreary weather didn’t dampen the enthusiasm expressed inside.
The speakers, including Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and state Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash, touched on the long journey it had taken to get the project to this point, and the effect the two-story, 20,000-square-foot structure is expected to have on the region.
“Ten years ago, Pittsfield began planning for a life sciences center, and today, we break ground for the Berkshire Innovation Center,” said Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer. “Now, we’ve created an intersecting pathway for future workers and future employers in this amazing building that will rise out of the ground.”
The innovation center, also considered to be a key to the 52-acre, mostly vacant business park’s development, is expected to be completed during the third quarter of 2019.
The workforce development center will include training facilities, biotech wet space, clean rooms, and office and event space for small- to medium-size companies in the region. The structure is intended to support economic growth, jobs and private investment in the Berkshires.
“The measure of its success will be when the next generation of individuals who graduates stays here because the opportunity is here,” said Polito, referring to the number of young people who leave the Berkshires for better job opportunities.
Pittsfield High School senior Trista Dearstyne and second-year Berkshire Community College student Shawna Axenroth, who is majoring in engineering, told the gathering how much the innovation center will mean to their future employment prospects in the region.
“It’s comforting to know that I won’t have to travel to Boston anymore to get the training that I want,” Dearstyne said.
State Sen. Adams Hinds, D-Pittsfield, referred to the groundbreaking as one of the “critical milestones” in the city of Pittsfield “transitioning from a GE economy to a modern economy that is supporting our middle- and small-size companies so they can do what is right.”
The city of Pittsfield originally received a $6.5 million state earmark toward the building of a life sciences-related structure in the Stanley Business Park in 2008. But the project didn’t move forward until six years later, when the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center provided an additional $3.2 million, bringing the project’s total cost to $9.7 million.
Construction was scheduled to begin in 2015, but the project was delayed after the original bids came in $3 million higher than expected.
A public-private partnership of state, local and private sector officials finally resolved the funding issue this year, with help from an additional $2.3 million from the state.
Baker touched on those ups and and downs during his remarks, but he said officials at the state level were determined to see the project through.
“Our goal was always to take this high-concept. 40,000-feet thing and make it a program that we could make an investment in,” said Baker, who thanked Ash for his efforts. “We appreciate how much of yourself you put into this, because you really did.”
Ash said Stephen Boyd, chairman of the innovation center’s nonprofit board of directors, played a key role in making sure that the project went through.
Boyd called the groundbreaking ceremony a “significant milestone in terms of our ability to begin to shift the focus of the board’s work in a way that is related to program development and other aspects of what the Berkshire Innovation Center means and needs to execute on, in order to have its vision and promise become a reality.”
Boyd, who also is president and CEO of Boyd Technologies in Lee, didn’t join the project until 2014. He never doubted that the groundbreaking would take place.
“I always felt that we were moving forward,” he said. “I know that it has appeared to go in multiple directions and forward and backward. But to me, the pace may have changed, but it was always forward progress.”
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