WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — This year's Williamstown and Lanesborough fourth-graders will be the first class to start a school year in newly renovated classrooms at Mount Greylock Regional School if the two towns vote to approve funding the project.
If voters on March 1 in Williamstown and March 15 in Lanesborough pass debt exclusion votes to allow the district to borrow the $31 million to $35 million local share of the $64.8 million project, the first phase of renovation could start this August.
The renovation of the gymnasium and auditorium would start in early 2017 with a targeted completion date of fall 2017, with the construction of the academic wing beginning in April 2017 with a targeted completion date of April 2018 — possibly in time for this year's fifth-graders to get a taste of the new classrooms before summer vacation but definitely before this year's fourth-graders start their middle school tenure in 2018 if the project stays on schedule.
"It's a very fast-moving project," Mark Schiek, chairman of the School Building Committee, told a couple dozen people who came to a public forum in the Williamstown Elementary School auditorium last Thursday. "It's aggressive but very achievable."
The forum allowed the public a chance to see details of the project and ask questions about it in advance of the debt exclusion vote, which reads: "Shall the town of [Lanesborough/Williamstown] be allowed to exempt from the provisions of proposition two and a half, so-called, the amounts required to pay for the town's allocable share of the bond issues by the Mount Greylock Regional Middle School and High School, located at 1781 Cold Spring Road, in Williamstown, Massachusetts 01267, and for the payment of other costs incidental and related thereto?"
The handful of citizens who did speak at the forum praised the building project but asked a couple of questions, including if work on the driveway leading to a blind left turn onto Cold Spring Road could be addressed, as well as if the athletic storage built into the proposal was sufficient enough for the equipment used by student-athletes, who compose a high percentage of students.
Schiek said those kinds of issues were outside of the scope of this project, although after the presentation, Mount Greylock School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene said those types of projects could be on the list of ways to use a $5 million gift to the district that Williams College announced earlier in the day before the forum.
"It will save money on the things we also need to do. There's a lot in terms of the need," she said, but cautioned that a list of priorities will have to be developed for the money. "Five million dollars can go pretty quickly."
Greene and Superintendent Douglas Dias expressed their gratitude with the gift from the college, which did not stipulate how the money be used — something Greene said was a "show of faith" from Williams officials that school officials would use the money wisely. The money, however, cannot be used to offset tax implications to the towns, as any private gift toward the project would lower the amount of reimbursement provided by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
During the presentation, Schiek said getting to this point in the highly regulated building process has taken 10 years and a "no" vote would send the district back to the beginning of the process.
"If we're not ready to take their money, there are people lined up behind us to take their money," he said. "It's a reality that this is a hard process to get into."
The money the district is eligible to get from the MSBA is just shy of 60 percent of the total project budget, or a maximum of $33.2 million. None of that money would be available should the towns vote no to accepting the debt, leaving the district with costly repairs to the 55-year-old building, including a non-compliant fire alarm system and accessibility issues; dysfunctional heating distribution and ventilation systems; and inadequate special education areas.
Should the votes pass and the project move forward, the town of Lanesborough would see a tax increase of between $1.61 to $1.81 per thousand dollar valuation and Williamstown would see a tax increase of between $1.42 and $1.60.
Schiek stressed that the School Building Committee is very confident that those numbers will not change during the actual process, as several estimates came in within 5 percent of each other.
"We're very confident the $64.8 million total project number is a good number," he said, explaining that decisions were made to keep non-reimbursable costs down and a "fiscally responsible" project in line with MSBA guidelines for an estimated student population of 535 seventh- through 12th-graders. "We don't have spaces they are saying you don't need.
"Our goal is to deliver this project under budget."
Williamstown residents will vote on the debt exclusion question on March 1 when they go to the polls to vote in the presidential election primary. Lanesborough residents, also voting in the presidential election primary on March 1, will be asked to return to the polls on March 15 for a separate vote on the debt exclusion. Prior to the ballot vote, the Lanesborough Board of Selectmen also will hold a special town meeting on Feb. 23 to share information regarding the project.
"We're asking people to come out and vote," Schiek said.
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