With ZBA approval, Ja’Duke one step closer to second location in Greenfield

The former Greenfield Community College building at 270 Main St. in Greenfield will soon be converted into Ja’Duke Inc.’s newest location for performance art, driver’s education and a preschool center.

The former Greenfield Community College building at 270 Main St. in Greenfield will soon be converted into Ja’Duke Inc.’s newest location for performance art, driver’s education and a preschool center. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Ja’Duke owner Kimberly Williams presents her plan to buy the 270 Main St. building to members of the Greenfield Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday at City Hall.

Ja’Duke owner Kimberly Williams presents her plan to buy the 270 Main St. building to members of the Greenfield Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday at City Hall. STAFF PHOTO/ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

By ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Staff Writer

Published: 05-20-2024 5:54 PM

GREENFIELD — With unanimous approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals, Ja’Duke Inc. is one step closer to opening its second performance art, driver’s education and preschool center at the former Greenfield Community College building at 270 Main St.

Ja’Duke owners Kimberly Williams and Nicholas Waynelovich came before the ZBA last week with a detailed plan to transform the 25,000-square-foot building into a facility equipped with a driver’s education classroom on the basement floor, classroom space to hold 35 infants and 45 toddlers on the first floor, and five preschool classrooms and three performance arts educational rooms on the third floor. Williams said she expects the facility will hold between 120 to 150 students per day.

“With a wait list of 120, you can’t just sit on your hands, you’ve got to do something,” Williams said.

Williams confirmed Monday that she plans on closing on the new property for about $655,000 by the end of June, with the goal of opening in 2025. Although Viva Tubes founder Dave Mell purchased the building for $700,000 in January 2023, Williams said it has remained unused since 2020.

Ja’Duke first opened in 2004 in the basement of the Colle Opera House before moving to its current space at 110 Industrial Blvd. in Turners Falls a few years later. It has grown to include driver’s education through the Ja’Duke Driving School, 75 weekly performance art classes under Ja’Duke Center for the Performing Arts, and 14 early education and child care classrooms through Ja’Duke Preschool.

Williams said Ja’Duke’s Turners Falls location will remain open for business as the company expands to Greenfield.

“[Child care and early education] is a much-needed thing in every community right now — I think it’s a no-brainer,” Williams told the ZBA Thursday. “This is mainly an expansion of learning into a more populated area.”

Williams said Ja’Duke expects to pay roughly $1.2 million to make numerous renovations to the Greenfield building, such as roof repairs or replacement, installation of new sprinklers, and upgrades to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

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Because the building is in a commercially zoned area, Ja’Duke needed to obtain a special permit from the ZBA to operate a private school.

Before the ZBA’s unanimous vote of approval, member Debra Gilkes noted that the board should consider the new business’ potential impact on traffic in downtown Greenfield, considering the school’s 120-150-student capacity and other large-scale projects being planned in the area, such as the redevelopment of the former Wilson’s Department Store.

In response, Williams said student drop-offs and pick-ups at Ja’Duke’s current location typically take place quickly and efficiently, mitigating negative traffic impacts. She said the vehicles come and go “like a stream.”

“[The building] used to be a bank, so it was the same story. ... I don’t think it’s going to increase traffic any more than that,” ZBA Chair David Singer said. “Maybe we’ll be busy downtown, but it’s a thriving community and I assume it can tolerate this.”

When a resident asked how the presence of nearby cannabis dispensaries might impact the driver’s ed and pre-school facets of Ja’Duke’s business, Williams responded that there are not cannabis dispensaries within 250 feet of 270 Main St., and that even if there were, the school would embrace the opportunity to educate drivers ed students on marijuana and the dangers of driving while under the influence.

Following the planned renovations, the company hopes to launch Greenfield-based programming in early 2025.

Anthony Cammalleri can be reached at acammalleri@recorder.com or 413-930-4429.