By: Tammy Daniels On: 10:11PM / Thursday August 11, 2011
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — School officials rolled the dice on Thursday night, opting to move forward to build a new Greylock School and renovate Conte School into a K-7 configuration.
The School Building Needs Committee voted unanimously to take the riskier road of convincing voters to support the $52 million project rather than an easier path offered by Mayor Richard Alcombright.
The mayor, who is also the chairman of the School Committee, proffered a proposal to only build a new Greylock School — a move that would most likely be supported by the state School Building Authority, not require a Proposition 2 1/2 debt-exclusion vote and postpone a controversial decision between Sullivan and Conte schools for a later day.
"It won't solve but it will help the overcrowding issues," said the mayor. "It will allow the city to move forward with a project while giving us more time to analyze the Sullivan and Conte issues."
Building committee member Matthew Neville, director of facilities for the school system, said Sullivan School was becoming costly to maintain because of heating and other issues.
Committee member Keith Bona, a city councilor, said he supported the idea of doing two schools but didn't feel comfortable rolling the dice on the SBA approving a doubled project or voters giving the financial backing.
"I'm just looking at the special election that just happened and a big part of that was talking about how it would affect the schools and it lost," he said. "I just don't know if we do it all over again it would be much different."
But some of his fellow councilors and School Committee members were willing to throw caution to the wind.
"We need to move forward more boldly," said Councilor David Lamarre, who is running for School Committee this election. "We wring our hands about a lot of issues and a lot things but I think we need political courage, I think we need to recognize this is an opportunity that's not going to present itself to us again anytime too soon."
He advocated for a new Greylock, a option that has had wide support, and renovating the historic Conte over building a more expensive and problematic Sullivan School, despite protests by some parents. "I think it's a fabulous place to locate kind of the cornerstone of our public school system."
School Committee member Mark Moulton said a lot of the love recently expressed for Sullivan School was as much for the administration and staff as the location — and the staff would move with the school.
"I think we've really got to look at what's in the best interest of our schools, what's in the best interest of our kids," said Moulton. "The two-school project — Conte, Greylock — just makes all the sense."
Several others backed that conclusion, including Council President Ronald Boucher, who is running for mayor.
"I think you get one opportunity to do these two building projects," said Boucher, who agreed with Bona that "it adds up to a big number." "I believe you get an opportunity, and the worst they can say is no."
Later, the mayor said he wasn't surprised by the support for two schools, because it was a conclusion the committee had come to months ago.
"I have concerns about the next steps, how we can rally together as a community, rally around this and support it," he said. "Our job was to recommend the best possible educational solution for the students of the city and I think we did that."
Mayor Richard Alcombright proposed just building a new Greylock but in the end, the building committee stuck with its original decision to put forward two school projects.
Trevor Gilman, who came as a skeptic but became convinced of the need, said it was imperative the city's leaders present a united front if they wanted community support. "If we can eliminate the politics and just do what's best for the community then we can get the best thing for my 5-year-old."
Should the SBA reject the two-school project, the consensus at the meeting was to go with a new Greylock School. Another option presented by the consultants to build a larger Greylock for 390 students, reducing Sullivan to 230 in Grades K-5 was rejected as being inconsistent with the K-7 model being established.
The committee took three votes, all unanimous, to submit a two-school project, to reject a Sullivan/Greylock configuration, and to move forward with a new Greylock School and renovated Conte School. The city would receive an 80 percent reimbursement and the preliminary estimated cost to the city would be $10 million to $11 million, or about $70 on the average tax bill.
The City Council and School Committee will be asked to approve letters of support to be submitted to the SBA with the city's preferred options in November. According to the time line, the SBA at its March meeting will give final approval to set the budget and the final scope of the project. A debt-exclusion vote, which would allow the city to raise its levy limit to finance the project, would occur before summer.
"The school option is the best for our kids today and for the next 50 years," said Councilor Alan Marden, recalling how leaders had "the guts" to push for a new Drury nearly 40 years ago.
"We'll get through the financial thing, we'll figure it out. We'll sell it."
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.
These people are so wrong. There is no need to spend this kind of money with declining enrollment. Conte has far better uses than being used as a school. And Mr Marden please dont't ask us to approve this plan before telling us how it is going to be paid for. Hope you sell it better than you did a 2 1/2 override to the voters. Mr. Lamarre your another one who has no idea how the city will pay for these new schools. What is going on is not political courage but a case of insanity. Put the money into the classrooms and invest in the kids and not millions in renovating a 100 year old building that should be put back on the tax rolls.
The Bad news is the city wants to close Sullivan school. The good news is they chose an option which gets the decision back to the people, who were loud and clear during the public forums in their protest against putting the children downtown. The people will have the last say and it will be that they do not want five and ten year olds walking around main street unsupervised.
To "no need" "Putting money into the classrooms and invest in the kids" was the Prop 2 1/2 override argument, which you voted down. And enrollment is not declining. It's been 1600 for the past three years.
I was really impressed with Ron Boucher, who spoke about being in favor of the two school plan. It was the obvious "running for mayor" thing to support the cheaper single school option. But he seemed to be willing to put aside the politics to support what he thought was right for NA. I've been very critical of him over the prop 2/1 and budget issues where he seemed to have no opinion at all.
Bob Cardimino was at his worst. Didn't hear or understand anything said and was argumentative and obnoxious throughout. The entire crowd was just hoping he'd be quite.
Glad I am no longer in North Adams, my child would not be going to Conte for elementary. The best thing they did was shut that school down. How would it be so problematic to fix up Sullivan? How can fixing up the dump called Conte be any less expensive?
Editor: The architects say the Sullivan is not worth renovating because of structural and site issues. The only option they could come up with is building a new school at Kemp Park, which is estimated at $7M-$8m more than renovating Conte. It also would cost more to the city because the state won't fund all the site preparation.
These commitee members are out of their minds. They want to have two schools for 310 students. What happened to Brayton School. Conte is just a big waste of money. I can't believe that we can't put 4 clasrooms on Sullivan and Greyloch for about $10,000,000 a piece. I really believe our elected officials are a bunch of idiots. The way our population is declining we will need only two elementary schools in ten years. The money from the state will be there 5 or 10 years down the road when hoefully the economy is better. They are acting like this is a fire sale and they have to get the money right now or loose it. People stand up and tell those idiots to get real.
Editor: It is two schools for 620 students. It is not just a matter of space, the buildings no longer meet state and federal codes, there are structural issues, energy efficiency, etc. I expect $10M each would immediately trigger ADA compliance and the state would not reimburse the city.
You would spend $20M-plus for a few classrooms rather than $10-$11M for two new schools? I Agree (10) - I Disagree (4)
Editor, (or anyone), is the Debt Exclusion a one time deal, or does it increase the levy limit forever (like Prop 2.5)?
I think if it is a one time thing, people could support it.
Editor: Debt exclusion allows a municipality to increase its tax levy to cover capital projects through the life of the debt. Unlike like an override, the amount raised is not considered in the base calculations for future levy limits. This is what Adams-Cheshire Regional School District did last year. DOR explains Prop 2 1/2 and exclusions in pdf form here, go to Page 10. I Agree (3) - I Disagree (3)
Tammy, just once do your homework before you believe everything which is said at these meetings. If you do might find out that Dickie and his crew are not telling the truth. After the 2 1/2 vote I have lost all faith in this man as he suckered me in with his stories of devastation. Go look at their Vote Yes for North Adams site. Did any of those things happened that they claimed? There is no need to spend this kind of money when enrollment is dropping like a rock and no way the state will approve this boondagle. We all know it is your "Board", but at least check the facts and do your homework which should include a call to the state. If you were the architect which plan would you be pushing$$$?
Editor: I would be pushing the more expensive one if it meant my commission was higher - and these guys were pushing cheaper one.
What should I ask the state? DOE set the enrollment figures and the SBA agreed. The SBA's board will decide if it will "pay for this boondagle" and so will the voters.
And what's with this "my board" BS. I go to a meeting and I report what was said. Not my fault you don't like. I Agree (9) - I Disagree (3)
I meant 310 a piece. But what's going to happen to Brayton School. They can handle 310+ students. Now we are talking about three schools for 930 students. Something doesn't make sense. Your saying that they want to close Sullivan because of ADA and structural problems. What about putting an addition on Greylock. Contruction can be done sakely while schools is in session. Than we would have your two schools for 620 students. We just can't keep spending!
Editor: There are already more than 400 children at Brayton; some of those children will go to the new Greylock or Conte
. There have been multiple meetings and articles covering the building committees and the architects' reasoning and parents' input. Please read them. I Agree (9) - I Disagree (4)
Ok, so according to the site, it is until the debt is paid. So logically, if we could raise 1.2M in one year, we would do the 11m in say 10 years.
Another question though. Is the extra money earmarked for the school. Meaning does it have to be used only for the school building cost (I would think so but politicians are tricky)
I believe ron said he would be for it if the voters want to spend the money.....god forbid let the people decide. notice how he is not going out there saying the sky will fall and children will lose all their teeth if the voters do not vote for it.
This is crap. They decided months ago to go with Conte... Why even bother asking the people what they want, because it was OBVIOUS that no one at the Sullivan meeting wanted to close Sullivan. Guess it doesn't matter what we want. I refuse to have my kids at Conte, and if that means moving to a different town, then so be it. I've lived here my WHOLE life, and WANT to be where I am, but I will NOT send my young children to Conte - no way! Plus, I KNOW I am not the only mom who thinks this way, which was evident at the meeting they had at Sullivan. BOOOOO to the city! I will vote NO to the override, just so Conte doesn't get done. Sorry, this is the WORST mistake the city can make, and lately, there have been ALOT of mistakes. Not a fan, not at all.
Editor I do not know about the SBA's board , but the voters have already spoken . It seems that you also do not understand the word NO !!
Didn't someone say that , doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is INSANE !!!!! So over 1800 no's will never equal yes.
Just something to think about !!
Editor: I understand the word no. I also understand, which you apparently don't, that first the state FUNDING body and then voters will decide yes or no. It's not up to me. I Agree (4) - I Disagree (2)
Actually enrollment is not dropping, it is actually the opposite. Brayton Elementary had to start another Kindergarten class room because the number of new students was overwhelming. Not sure where you are getting your information.
Not saying I go one way or another, but what is so bad about Conte? I guess I just dont see what everyone else sees. And if Sullivan is not structurally safe for children to be in, why would you want to send your kids there?
There are several parents who think that if they send their children 400 yards towards downtown rather than 400 yards towards Windsor Lake, terrible things will happen. Some seem to think that traffic will run little Bobby over, even though the bus lanes drop the kids off 100+ feet away from the street. Others think that drug dealers and pedophiles will be lurking.
I can understand thinking that the trees and scenery around Sullivan are prettier, but the argument that terrible things will happen seems very strange to me.
Mom at Sullivan, I am a School Building Committee Member. We just took another long look at Sullivan because of the negative response at the Sullivan School meeting. We had the architects and engineers go back and see what they could do to make Sullivan work.
The end result was that it was proven that it is not practical nor affordable to renovate Sullivan in a way that meets the standards set by the state (Mass School Building Authority). To build a new Sullivan School, the cost would be millions more to the city (and you, the taxpayer) than any other alternative. You would lose Kemp Park and the playground, and it is still unknown if the site would even be a feasible location. It would have to be a three-floor school. If that was the only alternative to the city, maybe that was something worth pursuing. But I suspect even that solution would have met with resistance by many at Sullivan.
Sullivan School has many infastructure issues that maybe you're not aware of, including potential safety issues down the road. Have Matt Neville take you (and others) for a tour. There's doubts that this school can survive another 10 years, and if it does, it'll cost (you the taxpayer) lots of money. I'm sure you don't want your children and others to be in an unsafe environment.
Conte, if approved by MSBA, the City Council and the community, will receive a $24 million dollar renovation, costing the city ~$5 million (borrowed over 20 years or more). The state will pay the other ~$19 million. It won't be "Conte" anymore, either in infrastucture nor likely in name either. We can bus the children from anywhere to and from school, and we'll have crossing guards for those who choose to walk. The teachers and staff you have now will be at the new location. The kids will adjust - some parents may not.
I know none of this convinces you that this is a better choice for you or your children. We didn't take the concerns of Sullivan parents lightly. But there are many who believe this is the best option available to the city. This $5 million dollar investment (and $19 million by the state of Massachusetts) would be specifically to address what we feel to be the in the best interest of the kids, parents and staff of Sullivan School.
i can agree with the school board not wanting to build two new school totaling 20 million but one new school and remodel of a school with enough space to take two schools saving the tax payers 10 million in the long trim. Yes the kids will be in the down town area but think of all the trips to Mass Moca they go each year and how much money will be saved if they can walk there and not have to be bused. sullivan is a great school just not big enough or in the right shape for children to be in. In the winter do you want the kids to have no heat or be without water. how about stay home and not get the education they deserve.
From Are you kidding ?? What a line of B.S. Kids going without heat and water or staying home and not get an education ??? Do you really fall for that line ??
You had 1200 people that are willing to give more to the schools last time we voted . So anything over 2 1/2 send the bill to them. No override needed.
Mr. Bedard, if the new school receives approval, there will be a playground at the new school, space in front of the school (redone to provide more space than currently) and playspace on the north side as either a basketball court or whatever the community wants there. Kids today don't get a lot of recess time at any school anywhere, unfortunately. So more importantly, they'll be able to continue to run and play at Kemp Park and the playground near the current Sullivan building, after school (which they wouldn't have if we built a new school there).
The MSBA themselves questioned the lack of play space for the children at Conte. It just doesn’t make sense to move the children downtown and put them in cages when we have that beautiful, open and safe place on Kemp ave. Our forefathers chose that site for a reason. It is ridiculous to say that the park would have to go if a new school was built there. Margo Jones will say anything she is paid to say. Let's just call this what it is, a last ditch effort to do something with the Conte building and the empty block on Main street. Pretty smart of the committee to put the issue down for a while, let things cool off, then vote the conte option in such a hurry. The Mayor said he was going to have more public meetings at the school sites when this issue came back up. The more people were informed the more momentum grew against the Conte option and he couldn’t risk that again. This is not in the best interest of the children and everyone knows it. If the members of the school building committee had children going downtown for elementary school it never would have been voted that way. Some of the people on the committee have their kids in private schools. What does that say for how much they care about the North Adams School system? The West Enders must have some hellacious political pull. My son would survive without going to a neighborhood school but he probably wouldn't achieve the closeness and sense of community pride that I wish for him. My wife and I are natives of this city and we chose to stay here, give back and invest in it. What the city is attempting would damage the East Side Community as it did the North and South when they closed the neighborhood schools there. What we need in these uncertain times is to reinforce our communities not tear them apart.
This person claims to be on the committee. The point Madame Editor is that the person claiming to be on the committee not on it. If they were why didn't they speak up at the public meeting and give their reason for voting yes. We heard plenty of bluster but no facts. How about Ron Superneau voting a new school for his daughter, is that ehtical? Another member of the committee sends their kids to Pine Cobble and another reports directly to the Mayor. The whole thing stinks!
Editor: I agree with you - if somebody is going to post on here as a member of the committee they should say their name. I think others who comment should give their names as well. Mr. Bedard doesn't hide behind a pseudonym. He publicly stands by his words. I Agree (6) - I Disagree (2)
Unless everyone uses their name, no one should be expected to. If only one or two people use their names on a controversial topic, they become the target of the anonymous mob. Those who speak out publicly in this city are backstabbed and whispered about because of these comment boards.
A few years back I used to think that using my real name would be respected, but instead it just inspired people to be ***holes when I was being sincere. Because of this propensity towards hostility, my position has changed.
Anonymous speech has a proud tradition - Hamilton, Madison and Jay wrote the Federalist Papers anonymously. While there is nothing shattering in these comments, these threads contain the occasional interesting point. You have to wade through the crap and mudslinging to find them, but they exist. It's a good way to sometimes hear an legitimate argument or position that might not show up at meetings. For the most part, though, it is the same 10 or 15 people pretending that they are saving the world one key click at a time.
So, until you require real names and registration, I will remain comfortably anonymous. It simply is not worth it otherwise.
Editor: I think it's more the same four or five people doing the clicking under multiple names. But I do understand your argument. I Agree (2) - I Disagree (0)
I won't give my name on here for the same reason nearly everyone else on here doesn't give their names. This forum and others encourage personal attacks rather than meaningful adult conversation and discussion. It's the nature of the beast. My previous posts were an attempt to clarify positions of the committee, from my perspective as a member. It has quickly deteriorated into attacks again, including an unwarranted attack on Ron Superneau.
"Committee", if you were at the meeting, you would know there were facts and positions presented and I'm not aware of the member who sends their kids to Pine Cobble. But again that's a personal attack.
Mr. Bedard, your "forefathers" built Sullivan (formerly) East School, back in the 1960's. And the kids wouldn't be put in "cages" - you know that. Go back and look at my previous post regarding the reasons the committee made their decision. You don't have to agree with these reasons (and you clearly don't), but your statement that "this is a last ditch effort to do something with Conte" is just not true.
To informed, you did a nice job trying to explain the sittuation. My grandfather used to say you can leed a horse to water but you cant make em drink. Everybody has the right to their opinion dont get sucked into answering some of these ridiculous comments
To; John this is in the best interest of the kids and the tax payers, the city will get 2 new buildings for estimated cost of 11 million, you need to look in the future both buildings are in need of rehab Sullivan because of its original design will be more costly to rehab than the old Conte. The city can not afford to move kids out of a school for the rehab because the state will not pay for it, the state will not pay for any site work over 8% of the cost of the project. I have no children in the system or grandchildren but I will support this vote because I believe this is a investment for the better of the city of North Adams
The People don't want their young children going downtown to school. It was loud and clear in the public meetings that were held in the spring. It might be the cheapest way out and solve the issue of the dead Conte building but if parents say it is not in the best interest of their children, who are politicians to say otherwise. Government is supposed to be the voice of the people and in this case the government turned against the people and said we don't care what you want, this is what you are getting.
We are broke and cannot afford $11,000,000 anyway so all of this is just for the sake of discussion. The vote will never pass.
Nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the room. That would be a state government that is allowed to dictate what towns do by providing or withholding money at their discretion. They can control towns by using this method and oh boy, are they ever controlling North Adams right now.
Editor: No one really knows what the state will decide. Some on the building committee were concerned that asking for two schools would jeopardize any project; others weren't. But yes, the state is a major factor. I Agree (3) - I Disagree (0)
Another elephant in the room is ADA compliance. This is not in the past where one door needed to be compliant. Now everything has to be and that's a huge part of the cost of government building upgrades. Redoing Sullivan School as-is would be a breeze financially, but not with the new regulations.
The regulations are beyond the control of North Adams, but people should be aware that the new regulations are costing education and government institutions millions of dollars to upgrade, as well as stopping new projects that would help turn the economy around.
I have every sympathy for the disabled but serious overreach has occurred with the new regulations.
Is it true that if the city doesn't use conti as some type of school, it has to be returned to the Drury estate? And if so, is that why they are so hard pressed to bring the kids back. Just a few years ago, they said it was in such bad shape, that they feared for the children's safety, and it wasn't worth putting that much money into it. Look how much property the city has on State St. Put a big school there, and sell the Conti property.
Editor: There is apparently some sort of clause in the deed saying it needs to be used for educational purposes but there aren't any Drury descendants around to take it.
The structure is actually in very good shape (they knew how to build way back when) but it doesn't comply with modern codes and standards for schools. That's what would have to be upgraded. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (1)
are you sure there are no descendants around? I have not seen any legal advertising done by the city to determine if that statement is true....and FYI...there was no \'deed\' to the city...the clause, (and i paraphrase), \' ...to be used for the education of the youth of North Hoosac....\' appears in the will of Nathan Drury.
Editor: I would think the will would be easier to get around than a deed.
According to a short history of North Adams from 1909, Drury left $3,000 in his will for the betterment of education; a board was formed and then the property was purchased and a school built. If that's true, IMHO the family has no claim to any property; at best, they might get the $3K back. But if there's no perpetuity clause, I doubt they have any claim. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (2)
Tammy...I am really disappointed in your above comment. I always thought of you as a REAL journalist...Mr. Drury's will can be seen in two places...Berkshire Family and Probate Court, and (I believe), in the City Clerk's vault. I read the original in the Probate and Family Court, and I believe that the pertinant clause is on page 4.( it has been a few years since I read it, so the page number may not be accurate) Please put aside some time, and go read the document, instead of an individual's 'interpretation' or second hand knowledge of the will.
Just curious - how is it that the North Adams school populations are on the rise while the overall population is in a rapid decline (-5.9% from 2000-2009)? The average family will be quadruple the count of the lone retiree (and they are passing away in droves) - is the general demographic profile of the city changing dramatically?
What are the projections for school populations if the population continues to decline by 6-7% per decade?
Editor: The superintendent said the state has predicted a decline in the school-age population but it's not being borne out by actual enrollment. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
Regarding the school age population versus the general population - This is easily explained by fact that North Adams has almost double the percentage of retirees than the state has overall.
Our population decline is in large part due to moving for retirement and healthcare reasons. And it is shrinking faster than the school age population is growing, but it is growing thanks to in part to North Adams being a cheap place to live. Lot's of young and poor folks moving/staying in town.
:: 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.