School officials and teachers joined Superintendent Jonathan Lev, center, and Vincent Guntlow to discuss the preschool project at Wednesday's Selectmen's meeting.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Town and school officials are hoping to schedule an information session about the proposed preschool prior to town meeting.
The preschool would occupy a former kindergarten classroom on the second floor of Town Hall, the former Briggsville School, and is expected cost about $265,000, including design and engineering services.
"Maybe as we get closer to town meeting, we could have some kind of forum or something for people to try to help them understand more of it before we actually go to town meeting," said Superintendent Jonathan Lev at Wednesday's Selectmen's meeting. "So people have an understanding of what we're trying to do and why, and how much it's going to cost."
He also encouraged residents to attend School Committee meetings with questions and opinions.
School officials and parents say children are already being tuitioned to preschools outside of town, including Stamford, Vt., and Gabriel Abbot Memorial School in Florida. Two children requiring specialized services are being sent to North Adams at a cost of $6,000 per child, plus transportation; the district also has to provide therapists whose time could be more efficiently used within Clarksburg.
More importantly, said Principal Linda Reardon, preschool or pre-kindergarten programs are becoming essential to children's early education needs.
"Without preschool, it's really hard to access the kindergarten curriculum," she said, noting that children attending other preschools may not be getting a curriculum aligned with Clarksburg's.
Lev said the development of an early education program may be inevitable as states and the federal government seem to be moving in that direction.
While town officials have endorsed the project, the greatest concern has been how to pay for it.
"If the economy was up where it was, we wouldn't have any problem and we'd say go for it," said Chairwoman Lily Kuzia.
Officials have publicly discussed options for funding, including dipping into the school stabilization account and school choice funds, applying for grants and borrowing. Savoy and the town of Florida use early education grants to pay its preschool teachers, said Lev, and there is the potential for opening up slots for out-of-town children at a higher tuition.
Selectman Jeffrey Levanos said it was critical that the school department have firm numbers in hand, along with the argument for the educational needs of the children. "We will need all that at town meeting."
The Selectmen also quizzed Vincent Guntlow of Guntlow & Associates of Williamstown on Wednesday about aspects of the study his firm recently completed, and what could possibly be trimmed.
Guntlow estimated a three- to four-month construction process; formal design and bidding was estimated at $25,000.
The project would include asbestos and some minor lead paint abatement; the installation of exterior ramps and interior lift; encasing of part of a staircase as safe shelter; and the creation of a unisex bathroom for handicapped accessibility.
Guntlow said the upgrades are triggered by the change in use, explaining that Chapter 34 of the state building code allows "you to comply to the fullest extent practical." Thus, the staircases could be modified rather than torn out as a practical solution to keep costs under control.
Selectmen said renovations to the deteriorating entrance as part of the project would be a positive improvement for the building. They also asked Guntlow if he could firm up the project's cost.
"We need solid estimates for the work to bring to town meeting," Town Administrator Thomas Webb said. "If everyone wants to go forward, that's the next step."
In other business:
• Interviews with three applicants for the town administrator post being vacated by Webb on Thursday were canceled because of the snow storm bearing down on the region. Webb said 15 applications had been received so far.
• A request from the Veterans of Foreign Wars to waive the post's sewer fee was referred to town meeting. Webb said he would look into the post's request to join the town's oil purchasing group.
• The town election will be held Tuesday, May 22. Nomination forms are available in the town clerk's office.
• The town is soliciting interested citizens to serve on the Zoning Board of Appeals and for a seat on the Finance Committee to replace Rebecca Buck, who is not seeking re-appointment.
• The town's Web page project is moving forward under Treasurer/Collector Melissa McGovern. The five-year hosting fee is $180, which will have to put in the technology budget for town meeting or requested from the Finance Committee's reserve account.