Citizens Petition Calls for Vote on Conte School Project

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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A petition is asking that the Conte School project be put to a public vote.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A petition asking the City Council to rescind its borrowing order for the Silvio O. Conte School project was filed at 4 p.m. in the city clerk's office on Monday.

Should the council fail to rescind the order, the petition requests that the borrowing be placed on the ballot for a simple yes or no vote.

The council on Feb. 5 voted 7-2 to authorize the mayor to borrow a total of $29,692,594 for the renovation and reconstruction of the vacant school for use as a new kindergarten-through-Grade 7 facility.

The project, approved last fall by the state School Building Authority, is being reimbursed at up to 80 percent with the city's portion at $6.5 million.

Former City Councilor Robert M. Moulton Jr. filed the petition, sponsored by he, Katherine Montgomery and Hulda Jowett. The deadline for submission was 5 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 25.

"I think there are other options out there," said Moulton on Monday night. "I don't think it was the right time with everything going on. ... I'm afraid of what's going to happen down the road."

Moulton said he'd turn in 1,800 signatures. City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau said the signatures of 12 percent of the city's registered voters were required to move the petition forward.

The total number of registered voters was 8,751 on the Feb. 5, the date the borrowing order was given final approval. Pending an update on that number, the petition would have to have been signed by at least 1,050 registered voters.

Gomeau said signatures would be validated by the Board of Registrars.

The petition had been circulating around the community; Montgomery was soliciting signatures at WinterFest on Saturday and others had reportedly been outside D'Amours Big Y supermarket at various times over the last week.

Mayor Richard Alcombright early Monday evening declined to comment on the petition until he had had a chance to read over the language.

Gomeau said the city solicitor had been informed of the filing of the petition and its wording and would be advising on the next steps.

Moulton had last year suggested building a 620-student school at Greylock, the most expensive single option proposed by the city's architectural consultants.

However, he said on Monday that he had no preference other than the city go back and review its options again after speaking with citizens.

While the majority of councilors had said they'd heard 2-1 in favor of the Conte renovation, Moulton said that was not his experience.

"Most of the people I talked to weren't for it," he said. "I just think there's overwhelming sentiment out there that they're not comfortable with this."

Montgomery had called Conte an "inconvenient, unpopular school building" at a recent council meeting. On Saturday, she repeated her concerns that city had failed to research other land options to build a new school instead opting to put money into one with roof and site issues.

The century-old Conte was closed in 2009 in part because of budget cuts and needed repairs. A year later, a study was commissioned to review the city's academic structure and buildings, with goal of finding a solution for the housing and eduation of 620 students. Conte, thought to be out of the running, was put forward by the architects as a prime candidate for reconstruction.

Of the preliminary cost estimates to the city, Conte fell in the lower middle at $6.4 million along with a new school at Kemp Park, a new Greylock came in slightly cheaper at $5.6 and the other options ranged from $7 million to $10.7 million. After more than a year of discussion and study, and the state's rejection of a so-called "two school" option, the School Building Committee and School Committee voted to go forward with Conte.

"I'd go either way but let the people vote on it," said Moulton.

Tags: citizens petition,   Conte School,   municipal borrowing,   school project,   

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