The city is hoping to have a design firm in hand by next week to begin a feasibility study of Taconic High School.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Department is nearly ready to begin working with an architect on the long-anticipated process of overhauling of one of the city's two public high schools, Superintendent Jason McCandless told the School Committee on Wednesday.
School officials have been working with the Massachusetts School Bulding Authority to plan what will be either a major renovation or a replacement of Taconic High School, which opened in 1969. If approved by the MSBA, the city will be reimbursed up to 78 percent. This includes $1.3 million already set aside by the city to undergo the upcoming feasibility study.
McCandless, Mayor Daniel Bianchi and School Building Needs Commission co-Chairwoman Kathleen Amuso will visit the MSBA next week to present the city's progress with the current step, that of selecting a design firm for the study. Taconic is the only item agenda on the Designer Selection Panel's Tuesday morning meeting.
Thirteen design firms toured Taconic and Pittsfield high schools on a recent site visit and 10 put forth proposals, which were vetted through a subcommittee of the city's school building commission.
"We really did go through them with a fine tooth comb," said McCandless. "We came out with three finalists."
Dore and Whittier, Kaestle Boos Associates, and the Mount Vernon Group were the favorites, and will be presented to the MSBA along with the rest next week. Consultants with Skanska USA Building Inc. have been working with the city through the pre-feasibility process.
McCandless said he hopes to emerge from next week's meeting with a design firm finalized. However, the superintendent indicated, the three Pittsfield officials will have only three votes out of a committee of 16 at the MSBA meeting, and may need to return in January if the views of the overall committee do not square with theirs.
"We may be coming home with our first or second choice in hand, ready to negotiate with them to finalize this, or we may be in a position to have to head back down to conduct interviews," McCandless told the committee.
Whichever firm takes on the job, slated to begin this summer, will be tasked with providing design options both for an expanded renovation and a brand-new school, both options crafted with an eye toward updating and improving the district's outdated vocational technical programs and facilities.
McCandless praised the help and expertise of Skanska in this process as "tremendous."
"They certainly were helpful in helping us work through the rubric that the MSBA provides us," McCandless said.
Committee Member Terry Kinnas raised concerns about how much the costs and overruns of other projects by these firms had been considered in the selection process.
"I believe one of those firms actually ignited the change in the state operations to the School Building Needs Commission," said Kinnas, citing one project that where the cost of the building had allegedly "doubled." (The state revamped the school building process in establishing the MSBA because of out-of-control building costs.)
Student representative Kylie Mason, of Taconic High, brought up concerns of some peers that more student input be sought in the process going forward.
"Who knows the school better than the students?" said Mason, "I think getting their insight would be a different point of view from the teachers and administrators."