The Finance Committee heard a report Tuesday on the status of the Mount Greylock Regional school project from Superintendent Rose Ellis, left, and School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Last week, Mount Greylock Regional High School officials went to Boston to find out whether the state would put the district on the road to a new high school.
This week, a much shorter — but just as important — trip was on the agenda as the district's superintendent and School Committee chairman appeared before the Williamstown Finance Committee.
The MSBA partners with localities across the commonwealth to fund building rehabilitations and new construction. On Tuesday, the Fin Comm wanted to know more about Williamstown's potential obligations as a partner.
Superintendent Rose Ellis emphasized that Mount Greylock is in the beginning stages of the process with the MSBA, and there are not a lot of specifics available about the price tag for the district.
"The ink isn't even dry, I think, on the letter I received from the MSBA," Ellis said.
But school officials are looking to move through the process as quickly as possible, identifying an ambitious timetable that could have a new (or radically transformed) school open for business by fall 2017.
That means the first decision day for the district's two sending towns — Williamstown and Lanesborough — could come as early as town meeting next spring.
Ellis said voters could be asked in May (Williamstown) and June (Lanesborough) to approve funding for a mandatory feasability study, during which the MSBA decides how to address a building's deficiency (renovate or rebuild) and hires a project manager and architect.
"The potential cost is anywhere in that [$500,000 to $1 million] range," Ellis said. "MSBA reimburses the funding milestones based on the community, the wealth, the property values ... all by formula."
In 2009, the MSBA partnered with Mount Greylock on a renovation to repair a collapsed roof and a boiler. The reimbursement rate to the district that year was 55 percent.
At that rate, the MSBA would pay $550,000 if the the feasibility study cost $1 million — at the high end of initial estimates. That would leave a $450,000 bill to divide between Williamstown, which shoulders about 60 percent of the district's bill, and Lanesborough. In that $1 million/55 percent scenario, Williamstown voters would need to approve a $270,000 expenditure.
If the study costs $500,000 — again assuming a 55 percent reimbursement from the commonwealth — Williamstown's share would be about $135,000.
Of course, that's just phase one.
"The second milestone is funding the project," Ellis said. "This is later. We would be in the feasibility study [period] all next year. ... Then the following year we may be looking at funding the project — either the end of next year or . It's too soon to guesstimate.
"That's a very significant vote in both towns."
Although the building costs could eventually run into the millions for each of the towns, the cost of doing nothing at Mount Greylock also is high. Ellis said consultants have told the district it could cut its heating bill (last year about $267,000) in half with a smaller, more efficient footprint. And there are other annual maintenance costs — like mold remediation — that are necessitated by the outdated facility.
The district has made the building project a priority for the immediate future, but it has not abandoned its plans to expand the junior-senior high school district to include the elementary schools in Williamstown and Lanesborough. Currently, Ellis serves as superintendent for all three districts, and each has an elected school committee.
Mount Greylock spent last year studying whether a K-through-12 district would be advantageous to Mount Greylock and the sending towns. This summer, a study committee including representatives from town and school governments and staff voted to recommend expansion, but the Mount Greylock School Committee has not formally invited the two towns — an invitation that would put the question to voters in each community.
Expanded regionalization is not directly related to construction, but it is not unrelated, Ellis and Mount Greylock School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene told the Fin Comm on Tuesday.
"We have been told that if we expand the region, we could receive an additional three [reimbursement] points," Greene said. "If we invited in other towns, we'd be in a better position."
Neighboring Hancock and New Ashford currently tuition many of their junior and senior high school students into Mount Greylock.
"MSBA likes to see the kind of flexibility that comes with regionalization," Greene said. "They like to see you be able to shift grades around if there's a population bubble. They don't like to see additions like the 1968 addition to Mount Greylock.
"That's something to factor in in terms of the conversation we've been having with communities about expanding the district."
The focus for the Mount Greylock district is taking care of the building issue. The school district has been attempting to enter the MSBA program for six years, and the need is as acute as ever, Ellis said.
"I'm concerned about potential system failures," she said. "We could at any time have any system in that building go down on us. Last winter, when we had subzero days in January, it was touch and go at 3 or 4 in the morning whether we'd have heat.
"There are also energy costs. And there are health concerns — humidity and mold. Even though we're on top of it, we have staff with allergies. They come into our environment, and it's problematic. I have the nurse keeping track of how many people come in with sniffling and watery eyes."