Mount Greylock Building Committee members Paula Consolini and Thomas Bartels at Thursday's meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — With annual town meeting season just around the corner, the Mount Greylock Regional School Building Committee on Thursday focused on how best to persuade voters who will decide on the fate of a feasibility study needed to advance the district's building project.
The message from the committee is clear: The member towns now have an opportunity to renovate or replace their failing junior-senior high school with state money, and if they lose that opportunity, local taxpayers will be footing the bill on their own.
"We know from 10 years of work, based on what we've heard from a variety of parties, including the building inspector, we have to do major maintenance and a code upgrade on this school," committee member Thomas Bartels said. "We heard at our last meeting that some people think that's 'scare-mongering' or something, but that's a fact of life.
"In 2006, it was estimated the cost [of maintenance and upgrades] would be $22.5 million. That money would come directly out of the coffers of Williamstown and Lanesborough. There's no [state] reimbursement.
"That's the most important point we need to make."
It's a point that hit home with Williamstown Selectman Ron Turbin, who represents the town governing body on the Building Committee.
Turbin said he was impressed with School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene's presentation at this week's Selectmen's meeting, and he thought the overriding message was a powerful one to bring to the towns.
"[Williamstown Chairwoman] Jane Allen kept talking about there being a small window opportunity that we have," Turbin said. "That's good language to include in our pitch to the towns.
"If we don't jump at it, it goes away."
Williamstown's and Lanesborough's annual town meetings will be asked to authorize the Mount Greylock Regional School District to bond for up to $850,000 to pay for the feasibility study required by the Massachusetts School Building Authority to continue in its program.
That $850,000 is reimbursable to the two-town school district — as any school building project would be — at a rate of 53.32 percent in state money (Greene reported the update reimbursement rate on Thursday night).
That means, it would cost the district up to $396,780 for the study, and the district itself has committed to pay for $150,000 of that from its operating budget.
That would leave $246,780 to be split between Williamstown and Lanesborough on a 60/40 basis (based on the enrollment formula the district operates under for all funding).
The bottom line for Williamstown would be $148,068; for Lanesborough, it would be $98,712. Those bills would be payable over a two- to three-year period beginning two years from now, according to a fact sheet created by the Building Committee.
Another message that the committee plans to drive home between now and the town meetings (May 20 in Williamstown and June 10 in Lanesborough): The towns are only going to be asked to authorize the feasibility study. Voters in each town will have a chance in the future to decide whether they want to undertake a building project.
Down the road, there could be a number of possible solutions to Mount Greylock's myriad problems, ranging from repairs to a rebuild.
But Mount Greylock cannot continue down that road until the district does a feasibility study.
"There is no other way," Bartels said. "We have to go through the feasibility study. That is [MSBA's] tool ... to really find out what the school as it is is all about and if it makes sense to do minimal upgrades or is that a total waste of taxpayer money."
Greene pointed out that the MSBA is invested in the project to the tune of 53 percent of the final cost, so it is not going to let the district waste money on more of a building than it needs to serve its student body.
The alternative to staying in the MSBA program would be to embark on a wasteful road, committee members said.
"One of the realities of piece-mealing is when you're in a crisis, you're not in a position to be efficient," Paula Consolini said, referring to the prospect of the towns paying to make all the needed repairs without MSBA help.
"You're going to have to pay through the nose. It will be a huge expense in dribs and drabs over a number of years."
In other business on Thursday, Greene told the Building Committee that the MSBA had responded to Mount Greylock's request about finding a "compromise enrollment" between the 450, member-town only projection, and the 535 number that reflects a continuation of School Choice and tuition students as Mount Greylock currently accepts.
"The position of the MSBA is, 'No. If you're not a choice and tuition school, your number is 450," Greene said.
In other words, the district must either pick one number or go with the "study enrollment" plan of studying building options with both enrollment projections, she said.