By: Tammy Daniels On: 12:03AM / Friday April 29, 2011
Parents and residents raise their hands to ask questions about the school building project at Sullivan Elementary School.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Parents and neighbors of Sullivan Elementary School expressed their displeasure for nearly three hours on Thursday night at the idea of closing the school in favor of resurrecting Conte School.
"This is a safe neighborhood and a great place to have a school," said one man. "Why are we going to invest in a school that's falling apart? ... I would rather have a new school rather than have a middle school in the middle of town."
More than 60 parents and community members, the largest crowd so far, sat at lunch tables in the stuffy Sullivan cafeteria to hear the latest presentation on options to deal with the closure of the middle school, which happened two years ago.
The architects flipped through the school buildings noting the pros — strong neighborhoods, good bones — and the cons — the lack of energy efficiency and program space, and outdated design. In the mix are Greylock and Sullivan elementary schools and Conte for five options for renovation and rebuilding to address the educational needs of 620 students.
Superintendent James Montepare, Mayor Richard Alcombright and Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco answer questions from citizens.
Renovating the century-old Conte in the downtown has emerged as the preferred option over Sullivan's problematic configuration of levels and tight space on the side of a hill.
While there has been little debate over renovating or building new at the Greylock site, the possibility of closing the 45-year-old Sullivan on quiet Kemp Avenue and sending the kindergarten through Grade 7 pupils to Conte has alarmed some.
Parents raised concerns over traffic, safety and small children walking to the downtown location. "I don't want my daughter walking down Eagle Street," said one. Another mother spoke of seeing suspicious characters watching the middle school children exit Conte when it was open.
Superintendent James Montepare said school officials were discussing the issue of children walking downtown, which has been raised as earlier sessions, but disputed the idea of people "lurking" about the school.
"There was always a police officer in the school and a police officer on the corner in a cruiser waiting for the kids to [get out]," said Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco, who conceded there had been problems with the middle school children.
"They were old enough to be trucking around by themselves," he said. "I do not see that problem when you're talking about grammar school children."
But the commissioner got into a bit of a shouting match with City Councilor Lisa Blackmer, who pointed out that two sexual assaults on children had occurred near Conte and at the library across the street.
"The one thing I keep hearing about is public safety," said Blackmer. "And the fact that nobody considered the traffic astounds me."
Morocco retorted that the downtown "is as safe as it ever was ... You show me the figures that show me it's not safe."
Blackmer said Sullivan should have more represention on the school building committee.
"I don't think anybody is really listening to their concerns," she said. "I have real apprehension about kids this age being in the downtown."
The school building committee and some city officials were pleased to see Conte as one of the options, but Sullivan supporters accused school officials of pushing the renovation of the former high school over Sullivan.
"It feels like the powers that be prefer Conte," said Angelica Parades, who said she'd rather see her son go to the Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School — on busy Commercial Street in Adams — than go to Conte.
Former Mayor John Barrett III weighed in, suggesting holding off on the project and ensuring the preservation of the neighborhood schools.
"I don't think we should kick the can down the road for the next generation," he said, urging the School Committee to have an "open and transparent vote" on their preferred option. "I think that the Conte School can be used for a better purpose."
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the question was not can we afford it, but "can we afford not to do it?" The MSBA's 80 percent reimbursement may not be there in the future and constrution costs are likely to rise, he said.
John Bedard, a frequent and outspoken critic of the plan, warned that voters won't forget if Sullivan closed.
"If you do push this agenda through you know it will be against the will of the people and it will show in the next election," said Bedard. "I probably have 400 signatures on a petition to save this school ... I'll drive this down to Boston to the MSBA to prove that we don't want this."
Montepare countered that other than Bedard and Thursday's audience, he had received no calls or emails against the Conte option.
"I'm not the one who's pushing Conte; all the questions that have been coming my way have been about Conte," said Montepare. "I'm happy to have two neighborhood schools anyplace."
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The Agenda for the Administration of North Adams is loud and clear. Put the children in the old Conte middle school to get the money to fix Conte in an effort to revitalize downtown. They said that our comments didn't fall on deaf ears yet they stood there for two hours arguing their case on why they are going to move the kids downtown if they have their way. Even being yelled at for 2 hours by their constituents did not waiver their support for their agenda. I hope the people don’t forget out what their leaders are trying to do to them come next election.
I personally like having an elementary school in the West End (Greylock) , one in central (Brayton) and one in the East Side (Sullivan). If more capacity is needed, it seems to make sense to build a new Greylock because of the land available and you wouldnt have to move those kids. Brayton there is no room for expansion so it will have to remain as is. Sullivan if there is no land to spread out, how come they cant rip it down and build a multi-level school there instead. Maybe move those kids "temperarily" to Conte until the school is finished. It sounds like noone wants Conte back up permanately since it needs so much work and has no land.
If the neighborhood is willing to lose Kemp Field, then they have flat land to build a school. If they are not, they better have a better plan, because the $$$$ involved in revamping and enlarging Sullivan are too high.
And Barrett is only laying the ground work for his sour grape revenge. Ignore him, lest he become another Cardimino.
There are a lot of neighborhoods near conte. I bet within a quarter mile there are more children near conte than any of the other schools. I'm proud of my neighborhood and don't like city councilor Blackmer making it sound like it's the gates of hell filled with rapists.
I hate to break it to you people but the City of North Adams can't afford any of this. We're in the hole already. We need to start living within our means.
The MSBA is going to give us the money but don't forget the tax payers have to come up with 10 million dollars for the balance. With no raise in three years, higher taxes, a sewer fee and the cost of living going through the roof I'm just about tapped out.
Not Fically Responsible. When this goes up for the Override ,we the tax payers will have the opportunity to put this to rest. Tell everyone you know to get out to vote to stop the spending spree the mayor and councilors have been on.
Proud - You are right. Blackmer was out of line as is the whole line of Downtown vs. Neighborhood. They would only be moving the school 1500 feet. I wonder how all the kids who went to Notre Dame ever survived all the supposedly horrible things in that neighborhood.
We'll see how this all shakes out. We have politicians, old and new, grandstanding during an election year. Who woulda' thunk it?
It is too bad people such as you want to chastise those who disagree with your friend the Mayor. I have great admiration for people who stand up to the Mayor and his cronies. Refering to their actions as "grandstanding" is unfortunate. People no longer trust this Mayor as he continues to avoid the tough questions which need to be answered. He better hope Barrett stays retired because he would beat Mayor Alcombright like a drum if he ran. After 15 months in office Dick Alcombright has put North Adams in such a financial hole it will take years to recover and more than likely the city will end of in receivership if he remains in office. The Mayor has used the word "receivership" on more than one occassion lately when talking about the failure of a prop 2 1/2 override. Dick Alcombright took care of the unions and gave them pay raises at a time when he should have been holding the line. It started on day one when he changed the position of secretary in his office to Mayor's Assitant so he could pay her $8000 more then what secretary's starting step should be paid. He then raised taxes and fees to fund these raises. We also have a City Council who approves these increases because as Mike Bloom states, "Dick Alcombright is a banker and he knows finances". The only cuts he made were when he took away benifits from the lowest paid people in City Hall. What the Mayor does understand is that he has the 4 B's on the Council, Bloom, Bond, Bona, and Boland who have not voted against this Mayor once in the last 15 months on any issue! Now he is trying to force a school plan down our throat that the people don't want. Calling people "grandstanders" because they dare to ask questions is not right. Remember the Mayor's slogan of two years ago, time for change? Seems like that slogan might be right on in 2011 as well.
When asked why the people of the community were not consulted in the decision process as to what would solve our educational infrastructure needs, Mr. Montepare Stated in the last meeting that “the committee members were chosen based on the MSBA Guideline”. In Accordance with Massachusetts 963 CMR 2.00, the School building committee shall contain members of the community and some with Architectural, Engineering and/or Construction Experience. I didn’t see this qualification being met by the City of North Adams when they introduced the School Building Committee? As far as I could tell everyone on the committee was either an employee of the city or from the school committee or City Council?
John, you keep making statements you either know are not true, or you just don't listen. There is a community member on the committee. The city building inpector is on the committee, who is an experienced contractor that meets the MSBA requirement. MSBA requirements for the building commitee are very specific and the membership makeup is required to be approved by them. Your position seems to be "don't confuse me with the facts".
John, your position always seems to be "don't confuse me with the facts." You continually either don't listem or deliberately distort the truth. The building committee has a community member. Also, the building inspector is a former contractor with considerable contracting experience and meets that MSBA requirement. The MSBA sets very specific regulations for the building committee make-up and doesn't approve it until it is in place.
How convenient to use a city employee to fill the seat of “Community Member” on the School building committee. Do you really think that is what the MSBA meant when they specified “Member of the Community” I guess you found a loophole in the system. The administration had its mind made up before this process even started so we are all wasting our breath. The only thing that really needs to be said is anyone in their right mind with a conscience knows that moving the children from Kemp ave to Downtown is not in their best interest. I am not afraid to identify myself in saying this publicly because this is the fact. Why did they not choose one person with children that would be affected by this for the School building Committee?
Again, John, you don't listen. The building inspector is not the designated community member. The building inspector is the designated member with contracting experience. There is a designated community member, but that is not the building inspector. And don't make assumptions that this is a done deal. It is not.
Your probably right it will probably get voted down. But one thing I do agree with them on is that our educational infrastructure needs upgrades. I would vote yes if the city did the right thing by the kids(1 new school at each end of the city). I know that we have been taxed to the max the last couple of years but we needed it. We are all wondering what Barret would do if he were here and how he kept taxes down all the years he was in there. The present administration says he would have to raise taxes and fees too because we have no more money in the bank. We will never find out. If we are in that bad a shape that our Mayor is talking receivership if we don’t have a 2-1/2 override just meet expenses then maybe this isn’t the right time for such a project. I don’t think the MSBA is going anywhere soon but I do think things are going to get worse before they get better. We have been living off of stimulus money and when that runs out the feds should not print any more. Standard and Poor have stated that if the Country raises its debt ceiling again our bond rating will be lowered. Maybe we all just need to tighten our belts for a while
The reason for acting now is two-fold: We've adopted the K-7 plan which the current buildings are not adequate for; and interest rates are at their absolute lowest rates in decades. Waiting will likely cost more money, even if we borrow less.
As for how Barrett kept taxes low - he used all the money that was in the reserve accounts in his last two years and overcharged employees over a $1m for healthcare.
Editor: FYI: The city lost $2.2 million in the last three years because of state aid cuts. The reserve was used to cover that loss. The governor's spending plan for 2012 allocates $3.5 million for the city, a DECREASE of $2 million from 2009. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
Does anyone expect the taxpayers to come up with all the money the state has cut?? The mayor and city council knew last year that the state would be cutting back and did nothing to prepare for it . Thank goodness we have prop.2 1/2 to protect us . It will be up to the voters to slow down the spending or not ? The tax payers will decide if they can afford new schools or make due with what we have, not just the mayor and school board.
Editor- That is my point. Barrett could have raised taxes in '08 or '09, but he postponed the tough decisions - to 1) raise taxes or 2) lay people off and eliminate services.
While I think John should have raised taxes, I understand the desire to keep them low during a downturn (and an election year). Alcombright chose to raise taxes, and will still probably have to lay people off next year.
I have 5 children and know for a fact that Sullivan is a terrible sight. It's outdated and falling apart. We need a better school, and if its Conte or something up near the school sight now it will be an improvement. There are security risks at every school, and Sullivan is about the worst. Its surrounded by woods and you can get to a street in any direction. Create jobs and clean up the community and any sight will be safe.
Barrett did raise taxes in 08 and 09 but kept them reasonable. What he did unlike Alcombright is not give into the unions. Alcombright gave two years of back pay to the cops and firemen after Barrett said no the city could not afford it. The problem with Alcombright is that he didn't make the tough decisions and he gave out pay raises at the same time he raised our taxes 11%! Now he has the nerve to ask for an override of 2 1/2 while he is giving pay raises to the unions and never mind the sweetheart deal he gave them on health insurance. Alcombright has trouble making a decision never mind making a tough one. This guy is a disaster!
I can take the personal attacks. I am not afraid to identify myself when it comes to the children’s welfare. I absorbed the fact that the city is trying to “revitalize” downtown on the backs of our children.
:: Preliminary Election: Deadline to register is Wednesday, Sept. 7. (Office open from 8 to 8.)
:: General Election: Deadline to register is Tuesday, Oct. 18
Registration can be completed at the city clerk's office at City Hall.
Absentee ballots are now available at the city clerk's office for the Sept. 27 preliminary city election. Voters may come in between the hours of 8 and 4:30 weekdays. Written reguests for mailed ballots can be sent to City Clerk's Office, 10 Main St., North Adams, MA 01247. Deadline for absentee ballots is Monday, Sept. 26, at noon.
The preliminary election will be held Tuesday, Sept. 27, to narrow the field of three mayoral candidates to two. The general election to select nine city councilors and a mayor will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8.