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The Berkshire Eagle, by Tony Dobrowolski

Event Formally Recognizes Purchase of Mount Carmel

August 04, 2010

PITTSFIELD – The Brien Center on Wednesday formally acknowledged its purchase last month of the former Mount Carmel Church property on Fenn Street with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

During a brief ceremony inside the church, Brien Center CEO Catherine A. Doherty said the 90-year-old nonprofit had considered other properties to expand its services, including the former St. Teresa's parish on South Street. But Mount Carmel's proximity to the Brien Center's current administrative offices on East Street and its easy access for clients made the site attractive, she said.

“Many of our clients can walk or take the bus here,” said Doherty, whose organization is the county's largest supplier of mental health and substance abuse services. “It's a central spot.”

Following a year of negotiations, the Brien Center bought the former parish, which includes five parcels, for $877,500 from the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield.

The Brien Center also obtained a $3 million construction mortgage from the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency and a $1.5 million property mortgage from Berkshire Bank.

It is also launching a $500,000 capital campaign, Doherty said.

The Brien Center plans to relocate four programs to Mount Carmel by this coming spring. The first phase of renovations – improvements to the former church's rectory, school, parish hall, and convent – are expected to start within two weeks, Doherty said.

“We're very close to signing our final agreements” with the Tierney Construction Co. of Pittsfield, she added.

Plans call for the church building to be converted into a training center. The church renovations won't begin until the four other buildings are completed.

Founded in 1903 as a national parish for persons of Italian descent, Our Lady of Mount Carmel was one of six Roman Catholic Churches that the Diocese of Springfield closed in 2008 as part of a reorganization plan. It is the first of the six to be sold.

Mayor James M. Ruberto, who was baptized and confirmed at Mount Carmel, and also served as an altar boy, called the sale of the parish “bittersweet.” But Ruberto also said the Brien Center's decision to purchase the property was the best possible use for the site.

“To me this is a home run,” Ruberto said. “And it's a pleasure to see this church now being used for such a noble purpose.”

“What a great re-use of this beautiful building,” said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield. “The idea that it will continue to be a positive part of what is a vibrant neighborhood in Pittsfield Å  was incredibly important. Really, it's a win-win across the board.”

© Copyright 2010 The Berkshire Eagle.