The asbestos curtain in the Mount Greylock auditorium has to be replaced before any theater productions can be mounted there.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee has decided to make one significant upgrade to a building that many hope will be replaced.
Mark Schiek, chairman of the School Building Committee, said Tuesday night he supports making a short-term investment in the aging junior-senior high school's infrastructure: the replacement of the stage curtain in the auditorium.
In December, Williamstown Building Inspector Michael Card informed the district that the auditorium was off limits to theater productions until it replaces an asbestos-filled curtain.
The School Committee voted Tuesday night to find money in the budget to replace that curtain and treat some remaining curtains with fire-retardant materials.
The cost of the project, which would not be completed until this summer, is estimated to be about $68,000.
"Most of the cost we're talking about is abatement," Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene said, referring to the cost of dealing with the carcinogenic asbestos in the existing curtain.
The school is working on off-site solutions to stage its two remaining productions this school year, but the committee decided it would be onerous to send productions off-campus for an undetermined period of years. Even if the school is successful in the Massachusetts School Building Authority process and its member towns ultimately approve a major renovation or new building, such projects are years down the road.
"I think I will certainly vote in favor of replacing it as quickly as we can," committee member Chris Dodig said. "I don't see any way financially or in terms of benefit to our students, we can justify going off site."
The school's auditorium has major building code issues, including inadequate egress and ingress, but Greene said Card said replacing the fire curtain would be a step in the right direction and could buy the district a few more years before a major overhaul – or new school building – is necessary and possible.
A Jan. 16 letter from Card circulated by Greene identifies the fire curtain as the most critical concern.
"Following the ruling from [the state Department of Environmental Protection] the curtain can no longer perform its life safety function of safely separating the stage from the audience in the event of a fire," Card wrote. "I deemed this to be a hazardous condition and have directed the school not to use the stage for theatrical purposes until this condition is corrected."
The school can still use the auditorium for other events, but plays present special danger for fire because of the costumes and scenery, Greene explained to the committee.
Superintendent Rose Ellis said the district may be able to use money it earmarked for early retirement of the debt for the 2009 locker room/boiler project.
"We made an agreement to pay that off sooner in anticipation of the building project," Ellis said. "This is a more critical need. ... We've paid about $600,000 already on the outstanding loan. I think we should extend that out because the curtain is much more important."
The committee voted unanimously to work money for the curtain replacement into the budget it will recommend to Williamstown's and Lanesborough's spring town meetings.
Note: Elements of this article were part of a longer piece on Tuesday's School Committee meeting that ran late Tuesday night. It has been retitled and more information added.