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School Committee Endorses 2-School Plan

Tammy Daniels

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee endorsed on Tuesday night the recommendation of the school building committee to pursue a two-school option.

The board reiterated some of the points made during the building committee's session last month in updating School Committee member William G. Schrade Jr., who had not been able to attend.

The school building committee unanimously voted to present the Massachusetts School Building Authority with a $52 million plan to build a new Greylock Elementary School and to renovate vacant Conte Middle School into an elementary school.

Parents of children at Sullivan School, which would be vacated, had expressed doubts about the safety of Conte in the downtown and lamented the loss of a the quiet neighborhood school.

Committee member Mary Lou Accetta said she had spoken to "a couple of dozen" protesting parents who have since been somewhat assured after the superintendent said their concerns would be address.

"I think that has mitigated a lot of the fear," said Accetta, who recalled that "one of the parents from Sullivan spoke very eloquently and said that the essence that was Sullivan School was going to go with it. .. that it wasn't the building but the sense of community."

Schrade his concern was that in voting for two schools, the entire project was endangered.

"I'm a parent of Sullivan; the school is in dire need," he said. "I just don't want to see two schools, actually, possibly be lost because of this situation."

Mayor Richard Alcombright, chairman of the School Committee, said school officials shared the same concern but were swayed by the confidence of Margo Jones, the project architect, that the SBA would at minimum authorize one school.

"She very strongly said if they don't allow two schools you'll get one," said Alcombright. "The hands just went up ... I think the vote was not only affirmative it had a lot of mustard in it." 

The city will not know until November if the SBA will approve the project; should the state OK only one school, the mayor's opinion is that it would be Greylock.

"I think if it came down to one building, [the committee would] have to come together again, and take that through and figure out what the best solution is for the community," he said.

The School Committee voted unanimously to support the project; the mayor said he would bring a similar resolution to the City Council.

In other business:

:: The committee is closing in on completing a new policy handbook. The final sections were distributed for review.

:: The committee also discussed changes to policy on renting out the Drury auditorium. Superintendent James Montepare said the major change was to clarify that the very expensive audiovisual equipment was not included. Board members discussed raising the fee of $350 for for-profit renters.

:: The public schools will hold parent orientation programs on Tuesday, Sept. 13, from 6 to 7:30 at Brayton, Sullivan and Greylock elmentary schools. Parent orientation at Drury High will be Wednesday, Sept. 14, from 6:30 to 8:30 and will be preceded by a meeting for seniors and their parents at 5:30.

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School Building Committee Sets Meeting

Staff Reports

Agenda
      
I.   Call to order

II.  Reading and Approval of Records

a.   Minutes of 27 July 2011

III. Project Status Overview


IV.  Project Scope – 620 vs. 310 student school/s solutions


V.   School building options:  Greylock, Sullivan and /or Conte

a.   Building Committee vote on size of project and choice of school building/s


VI.  Schedule – MSBA Feasibility Study Extension Timeline

a.   Building Committee vote on approval of schedule to complete Feasibility Study and Schematic Design Phase

VII. Adjournment

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Building Committee will meet Thursday, Aug. 11, at 6 p.m. in the lower level conference room at Conte Middle School.

School officials are expecting to continue the discussion on the school building project's direction taken up at the last meeting.

Officials are debating the wisdom of moving forward with a two-school solution for the educational needs of 620 pupils in Grades kindergarten through 7. While the Massachusetts School Building Authority has agreed on the number of students and the continuation of the K-7 alignment, it has not specifically endorsed a two-school solution.

Sullivan School parents have also forcefully rejected the idea of closing Sullivan in favor of a more cost-effective Conte School renovation. The general consensus has also rejected building one large school but there seems to be agreement on either renovating or building a new Greylock School.

School officials are now debating whether to proceed with two schools, which would require a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion vote and an inevitably controversial decision on Sullivan or Conte. The other option would be to put forward one school, which would likely not need a debt exclusion vote but would only solve the educational needs of half the students.

The MSBA's approval in either instance is not assured.

School and city officials are looking to the public for more input and residents are encouraged to attend next Thursday's meeting. The project status from the last meeting is below.

 

 

 

North Adams School Options

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Committee Debates School Project Direction

Tammy Daniels

The School Building Committee debated options for the school project on Wednesday night.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — School officials and the School Building Committee are hashing out an educational strategy that will be financially and politically palatable to voters.

The easiest and cheapest solution is to build or renovate one school; the more difficult, convincing skeptical taxpayers on the need to pass a debt-exclusion override to build or renovate two schools. More than a few at the meeting thought that would be an uphill battle after the recent defeat of a Proposition 2 1/2 override that would have prevented school budget cuts.

School Building Committee member Nancy Ziter, the city's business manager, summed it up: "Are we ready to fight the fight for two buildings?"

The city is looking to resolve the educational needs of 620 students, a number approved by the Massachusetts School Building Authority and based on projected enrollment, the closure of Conte Middle School and the reconfiguration of grades into K-7 and 8-12.

The project, however, has been at a low boil since parents at Sullivan School objected vociferously to the idea of shuttering the 50-year-old hillside structure in favor of renovating Conte as a new K-7 building.

Meeting on Wednesday night, school and city officials failed to come to a consensus on how to proceed despite the already busted timeframe.

"Anymore delay for the MSBA is not a good thing," said Mel Overmoyer, principal with consultant Strategic Building Solutions, who facilitated the meeting. "They are already impatient with us. We have to put to them a new time line and we have to stick with it."

The nearly century-old Conte had been off the radar until Margo Jones Architects began a review of the school district's buildings. They determined that Conte's architecture would fit the grade-clustering concept well and would be cheaper to renovate at $24 million.

Mel Overmoyer of SBS counts votes as attendees deliberated on school options.

Sullivan parents, however, objected when it became apparent Conte would replace Sullivan, resulting in moving the their children to the downtown location.

Renovating or adding on to the multitiered Sullivan is considered impractical and building a new school on the current site or by taking over nearby Kemp Park would cost around $31 million. Some of the higher cost is because of the significant grading and site preparation (which would not be covered by state reimbursement) and for moving the children off-site during construction. Relocating the building to Kemp Park would mean the loss of the ballfield there and a prominent three-story building in the very residential area.

The group did agree on two things: There was support and need for a new or renovated Greylock School and there was no support for 620-pupil school.

But they were stuck on whether to pursue a two-school solution — one that the MSBA has not clearly stated it would support — or do one school, with the goal of doing a second in the future.

The Options

1) Two schools
   a) Greylock and Sullivan or Conte
   b) Requires override vote
   c) Not yet approved by MSBA

2) One school
   a) No override vote
   b) Only fixes half the problem
   c) Likely approval by MSBA


Committee member Keith Bona was concerned that the city was gambling with a two-school solution that the MSBA might not reimburse and that taxpayers wouldn't support.

The anticipated cost to the city would add about $70 to the average tax bill, said the city councilor. "When I hear that $70, I know that's just one part of what people are going to get hit with."

Doing one school, on the other hand, would not require a debt-exclusion vote if it did not raise taxes above the levy limit. The city is coming to the end of its debt obligations for the construction at Drury High School and Brayton Elementary, neither of which required votes.

"If we do one school, say $6 million to $8 million, with the debt falling off Drury and Brayton while this project is being completed, that bond is absorbed into the budget," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "The council approves it."

If the city went with one school project, likely Greylock, it could do some repairs at Sullivan in the meantime, said the mayor.

Building Inspector William Meranti, a member of the School Building Committee, warned that any significant repairs would trigger the Americans With Disa