The city hopes to transform Conte School into a K-7 school and revamp Colgrove Park as a community space.
Architect Margo Jones, right, talks with committee members.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Building Committee is supporting a plan that would save Silvio O. Conte Middle School and construct a new school in the West End.
The proposal was the second of four options provided by Strategic Building Solutions Inc. and Margo Jones Architects Inc., the project manager and the design firm, respectively, to deal with space issues after the closure of Conte in 2009.
The assumption had been that the aging former high school would be abandoned and the focus would be on the elementary schools as they absorbed Grades 6 and 7; the eighth grade was relocated to Drury High School.
"When we walked out of here, Conte didn't play a part," Carl Weber of Strategic Building told the School Building Committee on Thursday night at the school. But the feasibility study done over the past months "made us look at this building and realize it had value, a lot value."
Instead, Conte would be renovated into a kindergarten-through-seventh grade school and a new school serving the same grades would be built behind Greylock Elementary, which would be demolished. This option would put Conte back into service and create a more energy- and cost-efficent school in the West End without having to dislocate pupils during construction. Each school would be renovated or built to serve 310 pupils.
The findings are good news to city and school officials discouraged at the thought of abandoning Conte and leaving another large, empty structure on a vital corner of the downtown. Within the past few years, three churches around the school have been vacated, along with a dentist's office and a funeral home.
"I always worried about what would happen to Conte Middle School if we abandoned this building," said Superintendent of Schools James Montepare. "I like the idea as the mayor does of trying to do something with it."
The committee agreed, voting to present that option as its preferred one to the Massachusetts School Building Authority this March; its second choice was renovating Conte and renovating and putting an addition onto Greylock, which would cost about an extra $1 million to relocate the kids — possibly to Notre Dame School in Adams — during construction.
The least favorite was an oversized school to serve 620 students. The only suitable place to locate a school that size would be at the Greylock site, which committee members and school officials thought would be too large for the neighborhood and too costly to operate. "The busing would kill us," said Montepare. "We'd have to bus everybody."
The renovations will create clusters of grades around a common space with separate areas for special education programs; above are some classroom samples.
A fourth option was to renovate Sullivan School along with Greylock. However, Sullivan's location on the side of a hill would create a school with five levels, some underground, served by two elevators. The complex and problematic configuration and lack of parking lead the committee to dismiss that option.
"I want to see Conte stay," said Mayor Richard Alcombright of presenting the options to the SBA. "If Conte were eliminated, it would have to be Greylock because I don't think Sullivan is an option."
The rough estimate was $18 million to $26 million for each 310-pupil school and $42 million for the 620-pupil school. The SBA would reimburse the city a maximum of 80 percent for eligible expenses (relocation of students, for example, is not reimbursed); the cost to the city was expected to be less than $10 million, including unreimbursed costs. The designers will now begin more detailed cost estimates, including yearly operation, and plans.
Weber said the SBA had funded only one project that covered two schools to his knowledge. It had left the door open by having the city determine the best way to serve 620 students.
"But I think we have to show a compelling need and reason for that and I think we have those compelling arguments," he said. "We think that some of these options are cheaper than a 620 school and the SBA, they look at dollars maybe more than anything else and they're trying to spend taxpayer dollars wisely."
Drury High School Principal Amy Meehan holds up one of the portfolios created for NAEYC accreditation.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city's kindergarten and preschool programs have been given high marks by the National Association for the Education of Young Children after two years of review for accreditation. The programs were last accredited in 2006.
"It is a boatload of work," said Superintendent James Montepare, pointing to the oversized, filled-to-bursting notebooks stacked along the window at Tuesday's School Committee meeting. "All the kindergarten teachers, the preschool teachers, I can't tell you how many hundreds of hours they spent."
Melodie Goodwin, curriculum coordinator, said the portfolios were created by the teachers in the nine kindergarten and four preschool programs and represented evidence for 10 standards required by the national accrediting organization. The portfolios are very much "a year in the life" of a kindergarten, documented with photographs, newsletters and reports about the children doing various activities.
"Everything from learning how to wash their hands, to lining up for a fire drill ... it's everything that happens throughout their normal day," she said, describing the criteria and the 150-page document the schools worked with as "pretty intense."
Of the 10 standards, the school district was commended on five by attaining scores of "100-plus": teachers, children's assessments, connection with families, community relationships and certification and training.
Melodie Goodwin, in back, explains the accreditation process.
The programs scored lower on technical areas such as physical environment (classroom size and equipment) and scheduled play time. "It was always worded as 'something to improve on'; it was never something that was negative," said Goodwin, who added that the district portfolio included a reponse to NAEYC's concerns.
The review began two years ago with an application for candidacy; then began a self-study with a survey of parents, the community and staff. The teachers spent a year creating the portfolios. The accreditation is good for five years but the district must do an annual report. Goodwin said Adams-Cheshire Regional School District recently received its accreditation.
Mayor Richard Alcombright, chairman of the School Committee, said the concerns on classroom size should be provided as input to the school building committee. The district is currently developing a feasibility study on options for the middle school grades.
Montepare said the rooms taken over for the expansion of the preschool weren't constructed with kindergarten or preschool in mind.
In other business,
• The board approved the use of Drury High School's gym and auditorum for the John Gaudreau Boys Basketball Tournament and Friends of the North Adams Library, respectively. The Friends will hold a trivia contest on May 7 and the tournament will be on Feb. 19. Cost of using the school is $250 plus other fees.
• The mayor said the budgeting process would begin early. Montepare said some larger line items — grant funding, the number of retirements and a new school transportation contract — had not yet been determined.
• The board met in an executive session related to bargaining.
Lab technician Jeremy Smith leads Sullivan Elementary School 3rd-graders in a pinkie vow to do their homework. The children are pupils of Anna Saldo-Burke and Megan Gorton.
The rainbow-hued flames drew oooohs of admiration on Friday morning as chemistry lab technician Jeremy Smith gave groups of third-graders some elemental lessons in how colors appear in fireworks.
Pupils from Sullivan, Greylock and Brayton elementary schools visited Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts as part of Berkshire County Goes to College, an initiative of the Berkshire Compact for Higher Education designed to familiarize children with college opportunities.
Pupils from Adams and Clarksburg were at the college on Tuesday.
A city woman has left the North Adams Public Schools a $40,500 bequest to aid its enrichment programs.
Frances R. "Frankie" Jones was a Pittsfield native who spent most of her life in North Adams. She died last year at the age of 69.
Her estate donated the money to the Gateway Fund administered by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation.
"We are so grateful to Frances Jones for her generous bequest," said James Montepare, superintendent of the North Adams Public Schools, in a statement. "Thanks to her, North Adams students will benefit for years to come with exceptional educational enrichment programs that might not otherwise be possible. In this era of budget cutbacks, the timing of her gift is especially welcome."
Some of the more recent projects aided with grants from the 8-year-old Gateway Fund were a digital photograhy book and a Kidspace residency.
Drury High School photography teacher Phoebe Pepper was given $1,000 to work with students on a high-quality book that incorporates original writing as well as images. The students will develop, write, edit and print stories inspired by their digital photos.
Kidspace, at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, also was awarded a $1,000 to have artist Portia Munson work in the schools with seventh-graders to create art installations at the schools and in empty storefronts in the city.
Berkshire Taconic established the Gateway Fund in 2002 and an advisory committee has built the endowment to more than $130,000 through contributions from the community. More than $25,000 has been awarded in grants since that time.
Jones was born in Pittsfield on Sept. 29, 1939, and moved to North Adams with her family as a child. She worked as a radiologist in the X-ray department of North Adams Regional Hospital for several years and was employed for 15 years in the Alumni Relations Mail Services Office of Williams College. Before retiring and becoming a full-time caregiver for her disabled sister, Dianne Petri, she was employed with Turbo Prop International Corp. She enjoyed gardening, decorating and traveling. Her husband of 32 years, Richard H. Jones, died in 1995.
To make a donation to the Gateway Fund, visit berkshiretaconic.org and click on "make a donation" or call 413-229-0370.
We don't have Mrs. Jones obituary listed, for some reason, and we'd like to know more about her and her family, and why they thought it was important to leave such a significant amount of money to help the city's schoolchildren. Post away!
:: 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.