The Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School in Adams, Massachusetts held a ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday for a $3.9 million renovation and expansion.
Students dug into a pile of dirt in the school’s parking lot, which will be consumed by the expansion, to kick off the project. Construction of an additional 11,000 square feet on two floors will begin this spring at BART, adding fitness rooms, faculty office spaces and a more secure entrance. Julia Bowen is the school’s executive director, which is celebrating its 10th year operating out of the converted building that used to house a hotel, restaurant and private offices.
“With the expansion we will have a multi-purpose space that has a stage at one end” Bowen said. “The seating area will be the size of a half basketball court. That will allow us to put on productions in a way we haven’t been able to historically. Right now we have what I affectionately call our ‘cafegymitorium’ that is a cafeteria, gymnasium and auditorium not designed for any of those functions and not large enough. It’s about the size of a quarter basketball court.”
Fitness and health teacher Jennifer Choquette says physical education classes currently take place in the multi-use atrium.
“Sometimes we try to do circuit training where we have a jump-rope station and a push-up station,” Choquette said. “We do have some bike stands with mountain bikes where we’re able to turn our mountain bikes into stationary bikes, but they’re 30 lbs a piece plus the bike so it does require a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of set-up which takes away from being able to engage for a full hour.”
The fitness rooms may see even more use as BART will expand its athletic program next school year. Currently boasting a cross-country team, the school will add boys and girls soccer, basketball and ultimate Frisbee, participating in the River Valley Athletic League. Junior Brandon Gregory plans to play soccer and basketball during his senior year.
“I’m excited for it because it’s giving a new expansion to our building and giving more meaning for people to actually stay at the school,” Gregory said. “Usually people, as in students, leave the school because they don’t have enough sports or they’re not doing too much. They look forward to it.”
While the fitness spaces won’t be used for games or competitions they will allow students to train. Here’s Choquette.
“We’ll have a yoga/dance studio where one class could be doing yoga,” Choquette explained. “We’re going to have a cardio center where they could be lifting some free weights or on the stationary bikes. Then we’re going to have the gym space where there’s going to be a half-court with a basketball hoop. So we’ll be able to offer more options.”
Meanwhile, the dedicated theater space comes as a great relief for BART’s music and drama teacher Allen Livermore.
“When we go to the state drama championships we are kind of at a slight disadvantage not having an actual space to rehearse in,” said Livermore.
The North Adams-based theater group Main Street Stage will call the new theater at BART home. Livermore says that will expose students to the lighting and technical aspects of theater as well as professional acting.
“It will give more of a sense of a performance,” Livermore said. “If you’re rehearsing in a classroom or a multi-purpose space that’s one thing, but to rehearse on a stage gives it much more of a sense of gravity and seriousness.”
The only charter school in Berkshire County serves 325 students grades 6th through 12 from 15 area towns. Junior Kyleigh Castagna says the additional space will allow students room to grow.
“It gives us more space to become a unique individual,” said Castagna.
The school has raised $1 million and will use a commercial loan to pay for the project. Renovations are set to be completed in time for the start of the school year while the expansion will continue into the fall.