Principal Mary MacDonald explained the potential uses of an outdoor learning space at Thursday's School Building Committee meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Building Committee voted Thursday to keep the parking lot rehabilitation in the building project if the latter continues to have a healthy contingency budget.
The committee reasoned that it makes sense to proceed with the parking lot repaving and pay for it out of the bond for the $64.7 million project because it would allow the work to proceed next summer, when the site is still a construction zone and it would allow the new parking lot to be paid for with money borrowed at low interest rather than depleting a potential endowment that could pay for capital expenses down the road.
"My understanding is there's a strong feeling that we want to keep it in the project because of the strong need to have an endowment fund with the Williams money," building and School committee member Al Terranova said, referring to a $5 million capital gift from Williams College. "I don't want to say it's a no-brainer, but it's close to a no-brainer to have a large endowment fund. If we eat up the endowment for the parking lot, we know that 10 or 15 years down the line, every building will need some sort of improvements.
"If the architects and the people who do this stuff can come in with a number, I think the Greylock [school] committee feels strongly we want to keep this in the project."
No specific number was voted at Thursday's monthly meeting, an occasion highlighted by a hard-hat tour of the renovated spaces and new construction on the campus.
But the district's owner's project manager said the prospective work would cost "around $700,000."
All of that expense would be borne by the district without reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, Trip Elmore of Dore & Whittier Management Partners explained.
"MSBA has a site cap of 8 percent [of the project budget], which this project has already exceeded," Elmore told the committee. "Anything around the perimeter, as soon as it exceeds 8 percent, any dollar over that is now unreimbursable."
Committee members pressed Elmore for details about when the district would know for sure whether it had money in its contingency line to cover the cost of the parking lot. But the owner's project manager said that will be an unknown for some time, partly because the MSBA does not finalize its reimbursement number until close out.
"When do we know we absolutely have the contingency for it? At the end of the job," Elmore said. "I don't mean to be flippant about it.
"You have indications along the way that you're heading in the right direction. But we still have the space we're sitting in that won't be taken down until next summer. This is a big unknown. We have taken down other parts of the building, so we have an idea of what we'll find, but we can't know for sure."
Demolition on the school's current academic wings and cafeteria is set to begin in the spring after a planned move into the new three-story academic wing during April vacation.
Another reason cited on Thursday for bringing the parking lot back into the building project is that design work for the lot already has been paid for as part of the estimating process.
"My understanding is that if we say no and do [the parking lot] as a stand-alone job, even though it's already designed, we'd have to hire a new architect," committee co-Chairwoman Paula Consolini said.
The School Building Committee voted unanimously to recommend the parking lot's inclusion in the project to the School Committee, which meets on Sept. 19. Absent from Thursday's buuilding committee meeting was member Robert Ericson, who represents the Lanesborough Board of Selectmen on the panel. In the spring, Lanesborough officials pressed the district to pay for the parking lot out of the Williams College gift.
The committee took no action on a second "site work" project under consideration: an "exterior learning environment space" on the west side of the school.
The outdoor learning area is a pared-down use for space originally envisioned as an outdoor amphitheater during the school's design phase.
"It's a differently designed space that could provide a learning environment as well as a performance environment," Principal Mary MacDonald said. "There can be seating should there be a performance … but it can also be a class space."
MacDonald noted that some use of the outdoor space in question has been part of the concept for the addition/renovation project since Day 1.
"Part of the original visioning process was we wanted to take advantage of our environment," she said. "Mount Greylock has always had classes that would go outside.
"We're going to have to do some landscaping there regardless. The idea was to take advantage of the slope and use rocks to create a flexible space."
The new plan for the space is not as elaborate as the $250,000 amphitheater proposal that drew criticism earlier this year.
"It's just terracing the slope," committee member Richard Cohen said. "It really is a grading effort."
Elmore told the committee the district would have to decide on the exterior learning environment space by the end of the year.
"I like the way it's headed, and I think we should get a price on it," said member and Williamstown Selectman Hugh Daley. "If we're lucky enough to come in way under, and the parking lot fits, this could be an incremental add because we'll be landscaping there anyway."
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