Williamstown Finance Panel Gets School Project Update
The Mount Greylock Regional Building Subcommittee laid out its hopes for a new school building to the town's Finance Committee on Thursday.
The toughest questions concerned the other audience the committee needs to reach: the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
"Doesn't the SBA see overcrowding as a bigger issue?" Finance Committee member Elisabeth Goodman asked, alluding to one of the few problems not faced by the aging junior-senior high school.
"We may not be in the category of overcrowding, but we're right up there as far as buildings falling apart," Building Subcommittee member David Backus said.
In the battle for state funding, bad is good.
And while Mount Greylock Regional is actually undercrowded, it is bad enough in so many other ways that school officials are optimistic the project will advance to consideration by the state funding agency later this month.
Goodman pointed out that the district had asked the MSBA to support either a renovation or replacement of the 1960s-era building several times in the last seven years and gave the school group a chance to explain what is different about the current statement of interest being considered in Boston.
"One of the reasons we did the studies and the testing was we wanted to supplement the [previous] SOIs," Building Subcommittee Chairwoman Carrie Greene said. "We did bulk it up with more data.
"We feel like we have a better line of communication into the MSBA. We started to have meetings in the community. We really want to get the word out about deficiencies in the building and the need to plead our case to the state."
The studies Greene mentioned include assessments of the air quality and levels of noise pollution in the Cold Spring Road facility. Both are among the reasons why the building itself is impeding education, Ellis told the Finance Committee and several dozen community members in attendance.
Ellis previewed the PowerPoint presentation at last month's meeting of the Building Subcommittee, and on Thursday she added a visual aid: an electric hotplate that one of the middle school teachers was forced to use to run an experiment in one of the building's deficient science labs.
"This is not acceptable at Mount Greylock," she said.
The school district is placing red suggestion boxes around town as a part of a community outreach effort.
Energy consultants have told the school it could cut its $230,000 annual heating bill in half with a more efficient system, Ellis said. She also anticipates savings on other utility costs and a major saving on building upkeep, which currently takes a $110,000 chunk out of the annual budget.
During the Q&A portion of the meeting, a member of the audience offered another economic argument.
Citing his own experience as an administrator at Bennington's Southwestern Vermont Health Care, Jim Trimarchi said a new high school can benefit the entire town, not just families with children.
"When we recruit physicians, they look at the school system in the community," Trimarchi said. "A good school system is critical economic development."
Ellis said Trimarchi's comment is just the kind of input the Building Subcommittee will be looking for this weekend when it places bright red suggestion boxes at strategic locations around the towns served by the regional school.
The boxes, emblazoned with a white "G" familiar to fans of the school's athletic program, are part of a broader community outreach program.
That outreach will be essential if the MSBA allows the Mount Greylock project to advance in its system. Once the project reaches the feasibility stage, the school district will need to demonstrate community support with votes at this spring's Williamstown and Lanesborough town meetings to fund a feasibility study, Ellis said.
Eventually, an even bigger vote will be needed — to bond construction or renovation, which would be funded both by the MSBA and towns in the district.
That is why Ellis and the Building Subcommittee were meeting with the Finance Committee on Thursday. The town Finance Committee is hosting a series of special meetings to educate the public about three large capital projects being proposed in the town: a new fire station, a new police station and the new junior-senior high school.
Each of the projects fall under different governing bodies. The Fire District made its case at an October meeting. Finance Committee Chairman Charles Fox said the Police Department will be before his committee in January.
Tags: Finance Committee, MGRHS, school building, school project,