Building Inspector Michael Card has ruled that no theater productions can be staged in the auditorium.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mount Greylock Regional High School is going to be asking the towns to help pay an estimated $850,000 for a feasibility study on a new building.
Meanwhile, the administration is scrambling to find a stage to hold the spring drama and musical because the building inspector ruled the auditorium cannot be used for theater.
"We can't use the auditorium for theater anymore," said Building Committee member David Backus. "We are allowed to use the auditorium for almost everything else."
A year ago, Building Inspector Michael Card told the school to replace an asbestos-filled fire curtain, which drops to prevent flames from spreading. Now, Card is closing the theater but because the district is in the process of building a new school, he cut them some slack.
"His current decisions are based on moving forward and staying the course for the building project," said Building Committee co-Chairwoman Carrie Greene, adding that Card is allowing other events but that the use of props and costumes raises the chances of a fire.
Principal Mary McDonald said she is now seeking a place to hold productions and dress rehearsals but regular rehearsals will be done in another room in the school — just without scenery props or other theatrical equipment.
The school has two plays scheduled for the spring and is renting stage space, use of technicians and transportation costs will be associated with moving them off campus. Auditions for "Guys & Dolls" were delayed until after the holiday break.
"At this point we are still going ahead. Auditions will start when we return from the break," McDonald said. "[But] it does change the game."
A new curtain will cost at least $68,000 and the School Building Committee is weighing the potential costs of off-campus productions versus replacing the curtain to buy five more years before the building is renovated or a new school is built.
"At that cost, it seems we have to recommend [buying a new curtain] to the School Committee," said member Chris Dodig, who said it is "sad and pathetic" that the school is in such rough shape. "I think that we should. And it certainly underscores the importance of this building project."
He later said, "I don't think there is any way that in three to five years, using an outside source would be economically viable."
The committee was unclear if a new curtain could be used in a new or renovated building — another question members want an answer to before recommending anything. The curtain wouldn't be able to be changed until the summer anyway.
"It is not something you can do over a weekend," Greene said.
Lanesborough Selectman John Goerlach, who attend Thursday's meeting, suggested asking Card if productions could be held if a firefighter is on hand during the shows. Committee member Paula Consolini said Williamstown Theatre Festival had to do that during one production, so the question is worth posing.
The fire curtain dilemma is just the latest for the troubled school. The district has been pushing for a new school for the last few years and recent repairs have faced a gauntlet of questions because of the building project.
But there is a milestone in sight. The committee will be asking the towns of Lanesborough and Williamstown to place warrant articles authorizing a feasibility study for town meeting votes in the spring. Rough estimates put the study at $850,000.
The district is expecting a 55 percent reimbursement on the study from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Each town would approve a warrant article for the entire cost; the district will bond the cost to pay for the study and, after it is reimbursed, the towns would split the remaining cost. Lanesborough would be looking at somewhere in $75,000 range while Williamstown would have to pay about $115,000.
"When all of the bills are paid, we then, the district, are able to assume some of the remaining cost or apportion the remaining cost to the town," Green said. "These are all estimates but it gives us a good sense of what we are looking at."
The committee also estimated building costs with a 57 percent reimbursement and then a 60/40 split between the towns. If the building is $55 million, Lanesborough would have to pay about $10 million and Williamstown about $14 million. The committee was cautious to say that there is still a lot to review before any costs are finalized.
"I'd rather work with the higher numbers and be happy at the end of the day than shooting low and then having to convince people that we knew what we were doing," Backus said.
School Committee members know the project could be a hard sell and an outreach task force has been formed to help build support. Already there has been some political tension.
Former Lanesborough Selectmen and current School Committee member Robert Barton allegedly wrote a note to the committee threatening to pull out of the district and asking it to consider looking into creating a larger one with North Adams.
Goerlach told the committee that Barton's letter does not reflect the town's opinion but, he, too, had concerns — particularly with enrollment estimates and little talk of rehabilitating the current building.
"I keep hearing new school, new school but nobody is talking about rehab," Goerlach said. "I do believe Lanesborough will support the project as it moves forward."
Dodig, a Lanesborough representative on the board, said Barton's letter shows how difficult the negotiations and finances will be in the future.
"There are going to be bumps in the road and people will have different ideas," Dodig said. "I think that trying to create a larger region including just that might just be noise in the bushes and not a viable option."
Greene said Bill Stevens, a Lanesborough Finance Committee member, did say tuitioning students into other schools could end up being cheaper than paying for the building project. But, Greene said Stevens agreed that the logistics of pulling out of the district would not be a long-term solution.
Williamstown could also be divided because of an array of building projects on its docket. Both towns will have to support the project and the relationship between the two over finances has been rocky for years.
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.