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The School Committee on Wednesday heard an update on the progress of the Taconic High project.

Pittsfield School Officials Urge Public Input in School Design

By Joe DurwinPrint Story | Email Story
The School Building Needs Commission will be seeking input from the students and the community about plans to revamp or rebuild Taconic High School.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A firm has been chosen to begin designing options for overhauling Taconic High School, and city school officials say now is the time for the public to voice input in the feasibility study about to unfold.

"They want to have a vibrant community discussion," said Mayor Daniel Bianchi of Drumney Rosane Anderson Inc., chosen by the Massachusetts School Building Authority this month. He told the School Committee on Wednesday, "they want to hear from the people of Pittsfield on exactly what they want to see."

"That was one of the charges in the RFP, that you had to be able to answer how you would reach out to the community," added Bianchi, who sits on the committee by virtue of his office, "and I have every reason to believe that we can have some great, dynamic community discussions."

School officials have been working for several years with the MSBA 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 for qualified expenditures. This includes $1.3 million already set aside by the city for the feasibility study.

Drumney Rosane Anderson Inc. was chosen in a narrow vote of 26-25 by the MSBA's Designer Selection Panel, with participation by local school officials, on Jan. 14, over the next top choice from nearly a dozen architectural groups.

Though it was not one of the three top choices originally put forth by the city's School Building Needs Commission, Superintendent Jason McCandless noted that the architect from the Waltham-based company who will be supervising the feasibility study is himself a 1983 Taconic grad, Scot Woodin, and an alumnus of the school's vocational drafting program.

"This firm really understood that it's not an annual thing or even an every decade thing, that Pittsfield gets a new school building, that Pittsfield has the opportunity to do work of this magnitude or this importance," said McCandless. "I think there will be great, great care in understanding that this building will be for the entire city."

Widespread confusion among residents about the school building process, and the issue of the public having a say in the final decision of what would be done at Taconic, prompted a failed effort in 2011 by City Councilors Melissa Mazzeo and Joseph Nichols to put forth a non-binding ballot question on the direction of the process.

The other nine councilors at the time believed question was premature since it followed a $200,000 pre-feasibility study conducted earlier that year.   

The MSBA previously determined in 2009 that the Taconic school building, though 39 years younger than Pittsfield High School, was in more dire need of a complete overhaul, including redevelopment of its vocational educational programs.

Committee member Cynthia Taylor asked if students would have an opportunity to offer their input, echoing sentiments from a student representative in December who pointed to this desire by Taconic student to participate in the process. 

"They will be getting into the schools and surveying kids, and having conversations there," said Bianchi. "But I would encourage the kids to get involved in the grown-up sessions as well."

Committee members suggested that members of the public may wish to attend the next meeting of the School Building Needs Commission this coming Monday, Jan. 27, at 5:15 in the Pittsfield High School library, noting also that there is a public comment period at the start of every regular School Committee meeting in which residents can voice their opinions on the high school building issue.

Correction: Mr. Woodin's name was given incorrectly in the original post; iBerkshires regrets the error.

Tags: MSBA,   school building,   school project,   Taconic High,   

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