Work begins on transforming Cheshire factory complex

Work begins on transforming Cheshire factory complex

reporter photo

CHESHIRE — A nonprofit group’s efforts to restore the former Ball & Socket Factory are slowly bearing fruit. 

This week, contractors wearing safety masks and protective clothing pried off the wooden boards that had long lined the property’s Willow Street-facing building.

The building is referred to as “Building 2” in the group’s overall plans. The hope is to fully renovate it while the group raises funds for the larger “Building 1” project. 

Building 2, when completed is expected to house a gallery, multi-purpose room, office, studio space and a commercial tenant.

Kevin Daly, one of the founders of Ball & Socket Arts, the volunteer group pushing to revitalize the former factory, hopes to have that building open in 18 months.

“I expect that remediation portion of it will be done within six months,” he said. 

This current phase of the project, including the planning, will cost about $2 million, said Ilona Simogyi, treasurer and a co-founder of the Ball & Socket Arts group.

The group has relied on grant funding from the state Department of Economic and Community Development, donations and other fundraising. The cost to renovate the entire complex will probably be around $15 million, Simogyi said.

While the group is planning to hold future fundraising events, Simogyi said they are also seeking gifts from large donors.

“We do need to raise capital, so we’re doing whatever work we can with the resources we have. Any movement forward is beneficial to us and the neighborhood,” Simogyi said. “We still have a couple million to raise.

“We’re going to be more about contemporary art exhibitions and a social space for people to have dinner and see performance,” Simogyi added.

Because the project encompasses historic preservation, arts development and environmental cleanup of a former industrial site it was a candidate for DECD funding. The current asbestos remediation projection is being funded through a $750,000 DECD grant, which the town applied for on Ball & Socket Arts’ behalf.

So far the site has five spaces slotted for retail, Daly said. The site also calls for a restaurant that would also serve as a teaching space for up-and-coming chefs. The group has also been discussing the possibility of utilizing a portion of the space as a brewery.

The reformation two decades ago of a former factory in North Adams, Massachusetts into a contemporary art museum, gallery and performance space known as the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art — or MASS MoCA — has served as the group’s main inspiration. 

The plans at Ball & Socket are on a smaller scale, as the overall site is not nearly as large as MASS MoCA.

“I think we have, from the very beginning viewed it as a mini MASS MoCA,” Daly said, adding the Ball & Socket group did meet with MASS MoCA’s founders to learn how that project happened.

“MASS MoCA just came in and really transformed North Adams in a big way,” he said.

Town Council member Patti Flynn-Harris said she has been a supporter of the project since its inception.

“We’re getting some work done,” she said. “It’s been a long laborious process. This is going to be a great cultural asset to the town.”

Fellow Town Council member Silvia Nichols is also optimistic.

“I am delighted to see the progress being made on the building,” Nichols said. “I think that will go a long way to reassure the residents it is being done. It’s a long project, [it’s] not going to be done quickly. It needs the support of the town.”