Some 60 parents, school and city officials and community members announced on Wednesday the formation of a group to advocate for the Conte School project. Left, Lynette Ritland Bond said the group's mission is to provide facts and motivate voters.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Parents, officials and community leaders turned out in force to stand behind the Conte School project on Wednesday.
The newly formed Friends for North Adams Schools spearheaded by parent Lynette Ritland Bond was introduced by Mayor Richard Alcombright on the steps of Colegrove Park in front of the school.
About 60 people attended, including a majority of city councilors, members of the School and School Building committees and a contingent representing Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
The school project has been approved by both school committees, the City Council and Massachusetts School Building Authority after more than two years of studies and engineering. But after the council authorized the $30 million bonding, $6.5 million of which the city will pay, a group unhappy with the Conte decision made a successful petition drive to force the borrowing to a public vote.
"I fully support, fully support that democratic process as allowed by our charter," said the mayor who is also School Committee chairman. "I am dismayed and I'm disappointed at the amount of misinformation that has been put out about Conte and about this project."
The Friends group says its job will be to get accurate information out and convince voters that the Conte project is the right decision.
"Our committee's mission is to provide the facts and motivate the voters in North Adams to overwhelmingly vote yes April 30 and approve funding for this project," said Ritland Bond, who said her motivation is her two kids who will be attending the school. "We cannot let this opportunity slip away, not for our children and our children's children. Conte School is our future."
"If we say no, we don't get anything," added her brother-in-law, City Councilor David Bond.
The process has been under way since the 2007 when the city first submitted its statment seeking solutions for the closure of Conte Middle School, which led to crowding in the three elementary schools. Opponents to the project have expressed concerns about costs, safety and the loss of Sullivan School, seen as a quiet neighborhood school.
Proponents for Conte point the new site plan with a reconfigured bus drop off, available play space double that of the other schools, large roomy classrooms, a large gymnasium that can be used by the community and the reinvigoration of an historic building. The state is reimbursing most of the project at 80 percent, leaving an annual bill expected to be offset by other projects being paid off in the next few years.
"We are in full support of this project," said Cynthia Brown, MCLA vice president of academic affairs, adding infrastructure for 21st century learning was critical. "We can't go backward and we're in support of this project and for the city of North Adams getting this done."
Alcombright said if the school vote goes down, the city will still have to sink money into "a sagging infrastructure that will see no reimbursement but that will obviously increase our debt load and buildign that will continue to fail us over time ... and that's what's so discouraging."
Committee members had little hope in what they called "the myth" of getting right back in line if the project failed. More likely, they say, the city would have to resubmit and go through the process again.
The MSBA won't commit to a project without community support, and a no vote is certainly an indicator that support is lacking.
Superintendent of Schools James Montepare said it would be another year just to submit another statement of interest and years more for another feasibility study. Hopes of renovating Greylock School in the next decade would also, inevitably, be pushed back.
The Friends of North Adams Schools are planning a full-court press with mailings, a Facebook page, new website with materials about the project, knocking on doors, networking with family and friends, and holding public meetings.
One of the first meetings is being hosted at MCLA's Murdock Hall — a historic building that has been completely renovated — on Wednesday, April 17, at 6:30. The architects will be on hand to explain the project and answer questions.
"We will, we will renovate this school," vowed Alcombright. "A building, by the way, that has been a school for 150 years."