|Alchemy Initiative To Leave Former Pittsfield Church|
|By Joe Durwin, Pittsfield Correspondent|
12:15AM / Monday, May 28, 2012
|Alchemy Initiative seeks to bring together creative and environmental issues. Above, the nonprofit group's garden on Melville Street.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Three-year-old nonprofit Alchemy Initiative will leave its home at the repurposed former Notre Dame church, which has been put up for sale by its owners.
The former Notre Dame Church is back on the market, leaving the nonprofit Alchemy Initiative with no base.
In a press release, Alchemy announced that it will no longer operate out of the location at 40 Melville St., but instead continue to be active in the community in a "pop-up" capacity.
"The challenges of bringing the building up to code are beyond Alchemy Initiative's capabilities as a tenant, and the intended use of the space has been curtailed," according to the group's statement.
According to Executive Director Jessica Conzo, in the past few months Alchemy has had numerous issues using the space, resulting in the cancelation or relocation of several events.
The two-story, nearly 14,000 square foot former church has been placed up for sale at an asking price of $349,000.
Built in 1895, the building was purchased in 2006, along with an adjacent 7,000 square foot rectory, for $400,000 by Crispina ffrench and Chris Swindlehurst, owner of Brown Oil Co. in Dalton. The space became home to Ffrench's recycled textile business and the rectory was adapted into housing for their family and other tenants.
Alchemy Initiative was founded in 2009, when ffrench along with four other local women — Conzo, Jessica Rufo, Diane Firtell and Bridget Conry — combined their creative and environmental interests to create an enterprise that was a bit of both.
The effort grew over the following two years, finally coalescing into a recognized non-profit with a more formal board of director structure in the summer of 2011, and Alchemy became a tenant of the building, renting the basement level and outdoor garden area. ffrench left the board in recent months, which is now comprised of Diane Firtell, Jeanette Macquire, Helena Fruscio, Alison Basdekis, and Kerry Macquire, according to Conzo, who will continue to serve as director as it pursues its mission beyond the base of its former Melville Street headquarters.
"As building owners, Chris and Crispina have assumed a lot of responsibility to improve a property that has great potential," said Conzo, who hopes that "the city is able to work with them to make compliance more efficient and less costly."
Those challenges have been extensive, however. Since the beginning, the church's owners faced the need to make the building handicapped accessible add a sprinkler system, the cost of which alone was estimated some years ago at around $500,000, according to MassLive.com. Under Massachusetts General Law (Ch. 146, 26G), updated in 2010, public gatherings cannot be held at the building without such sprinkler systems.
Alchemy points to its accomplishments over the short span of its existence, such as the establishment its Holiday Handmade Festival and Earth Day Fashion shows, fostering a community garden and acquiring permits for chickens and bees, raising $5,000 for United Nations relief in Haiti, offering workshops, and implementing a program for at-risk youth in conjunction with the Juvenile Resource Center.
"While we are saddened that we will no longer utilize the former church space or manage our garden there, we are very excited about the potential of no longer being bound by bricks and mortar," said Conzo. "We see this as a real opportunity to expand Alchemy — to be more innovative and collaborative and to work more deeply within the community."
Because the zoning board permit is specific to that location, the bees and chickens will either stay there, cared for by tenants of the rectory building, or move with ffrench and Swindlehurst to Becket.
Some upcoming programs from the organization will include a mural project in partnership with the Boys and Girls' Club and Miss Hall's School as part of Pittsfield's "Call Me Melville" festivities, and curation of a roving monthly gallery exhibit as part of the new First Fridays Artwalks, with the first appearing at Mad Macs in July.
Alchemy Initiative also plans to announce some new "guerrilla gardening" projects in the near future.