St. Joe's preps to disperse equipment as end nears

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PITTSFIELD — A classroom wouldn't be a classroom at St. Joseph Central High School without a crucifix.

A small cross bearing the figure of Jesus Christ presides over them all, joined in half of the rooms by a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Today, eight weeks before St. Joe's final classes, that's a challenge as well as a hallowed tradition — because everything must go.

A crucifix blessed by a priest cannot be discarded. It must be buried. A months-long campaign by Principal Amy Gelinas is devoted to seeing that doesn't happen.

"We want them all to have a good home," she said Thursday.

The Springfield diocese announced in October this would be the 120-year-old Catholic school's final year, due to falling enrollment and multimillion-dollar budget deficits. Sister Andrea Ciszewski, the diocese's superintendent of schools, directed Gelinas to leave an empty school by the end of July.

This week, with students on spring break, the 22 Maplewood Ave. school opened its doors to several dozen groups interested in putting the school's possessions to new uses.

Nothing will be given away until after final classes June 16, because Gelinas wants the St. Joe's community — and its decades of accumulated gear — to remain intact until the end.

But to ensure that valuable equipment and treasured objects find appreciative new owners, Gelinas and her staff invited church groups, nonprofits, alumni and community members to come and express interest.

They trooped through this week, listing on yellow sheets the items they'd like to receive. Gelinas is compiling a master list of who wants what, using a priority system that gives first dibs to diocesan organizations, then nonprofits, graduates and community members.

The response was immediate, following Monday's holiday.

"Everyone hit Tuesday," said Michael Nichols, a 1969 St. Joe's graduate who volunteers in the business office and helped visitors log their preferences. He hopes to bring the crucifix that watches over him from a rear wall to his Pittsfield living room.

The most valuable artifacts are getting an extra close look, including the marble statue of St. Joseph that stands in the school's entry. The gold-colored statue of Mary nearby is expected to be moved to the church's parish center next door.

On the school's main floor, two other large statues of St. Joseph and Mary will also be moved along. A marble altar in the school's chapel will go to the Marian Fathers organization for a mission in New York State, along with vestments.

"We're trying to get the right things to the right people," Gelinas said. "I don't want to throw it in a Dumpster. Because that's what will happen. I feel obligated to get things where they will be used."

In her office, the stack of yellow sheets continued to mount Thursday, with groups listing objects from advent banners to the gym's stage curtain to assorted lecterns. People have until 2 p.m. Friday to visit — and make their wishes known.

WISH LISTS GROW

Alex Reczkowski, director of the Berkshire Athenaeum, visited this week with the reference librarian, Madeline Kelly. They noted they would gratefully accept shelving, furniture and arts and crafts materials, along with instruments, since the library is considering a music lending program.

"It was a little sad, I have to admit it, to think about it leaving," Reczkowski said of the school. He praised Gelinas for considering the best interests of others at a time of heartache inside St. Joe's.

"For them to reach out to the community is really top-notch," he said. "Of course we are all thankful for anything we can use."

Vicky Smith, a staffer at the nonprofit Christian Center on Robbins Avenue, visited with two others, walking the St. Joe's halls while students were away. Along with practical objects, like a floor buffer and a round table ("because these are all mismatched," she said of current furnishings), the center jotted down its interest in drums.

Smith said the center is working with Josh Morgan in a new drum program called Young Creative Genius Initiative.

On Thursday, a member of the Berkshire R/C Flying Club, led by Bob Contenta, stopped by to look at a model plane that's up for grabs. It had already selected other models and appears to be a shoo-in to get the gear.

"There's a couple that I think we can get running," Ron Alibozek, a club member, said of the models. The group would convert the planes from gas to electric power and likely use them to train young participants.

"We're trying to get younger people in," he said.

Representatives of Barrington Stage, just blocks away on Union Street, noted their interest in office equipment, since the company is moving May 3 to 122 North St. Carol Chiavetta, the company's director of marketing, said office chairs and desks would come in handy, should the company's request be fulfilled. The group also listed a Christmas tree.

"Because we don't have a Christmas tree," Chiavetta said later, with a laugh. "We were delighted to participate."

Other groups that filed yellow sheets this week included Soldier On, Pregnancy Support, the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center and nearly a dozen groups with church affiliations.

LITTLE TREASURES

As Gelinas' relocation plan advances, it is a bit like building a museum in reverse. She wants to move objects along not only to those who would use them, but to people who would treasure them.

For instance, some athletic trophies might go to a Berkshire County baseball museum that's taking shape, Gelinas said.

After this week's visits, Gelinas hoped to have an idea of where key pieces of the school's inventory will go. "Hopefully, we'll get rid of the big stuff, so we're down to the little stuff," she said.

But there are sure to be items no one wants. On Thursday, a representative of Pope Francis High School, the diocesan school in the Springfield area, came to look at the whirlpool bath at St. Joe's, used by athletes. Gelinas said the school may opt to buy a new one instead.

Old computer gear may also be orphaned. Gelinas is looking into a local group's offer to refurbish office and school computers for distribution to religious missions.

Separately, a small inventory of old athletic uniforms are being sold for $10 a piece, with proceeds going into a new college scholarship fund that current St. Joe's students can apply for as high school seniors, wherever they end up studying.

Amid all the purposeful searching this week, others have come not to own but to look and reflect.

"We've had people come by who just want to wander through the school," Gelinas said.

After June, that will no longer be an option.

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.


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