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The School Building Committee tours the new academic wing.
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Mount Greylock Committee Presses for Guidance on OK'ing Demolition

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Laying tile in the new school addition. See more photos here.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock School Building Committee on Tuesday discussed a looming decision point at which the district will have to decide whether to tear down the current middle/high school or keep it for the start of the 2018-19 school year.
 
Committee members gave the district's construction team a deadline of June 5, the committee's next scheduled meeting, to come with a recommendation and a realistic assessment of any potential issues that could jeopardize the availability of the school's new spaces on or about Sept. 1.
 
"You guys are going to have to guide us through that discussion," committee member Hugh Daley told the construction team. "It has to be a thoughtful decision because, as we know, not opening is not an option."
 
Opening in the current may be an option, just not one that would allow the district to maintain its timeline of ending major construction activity on the campus in 2018. In order to demolish the existing building and restore the ground where it sits to its natural state, demo has to start as soon as classes are done next month. The existing building also has to be demoed before the renovated auditorium, which is attached to the old building, can be finished.
 
The issue is that while the new academic building is meeting its current schedule, that schedule has already been adjusted once. Originally, the district was supposed to move classes to the new three-story academic wing this past April.
 
That adjustment has School Building Committee members asking whether they can be confident that the district will have a certificate of occupancy for the new academic wing, media center, cafeteria and other spaces in time for the start of school in September.
 
The vice president and general manager of Turner Construction, the district's construction management company, told the committee Tuesday that this deadline will be met.
 
"When we look at the productivity now as opposed to five or six weeks ago … the production is there, we're getting the work done," Carl Stewart III told the committee. "Having walked several hundred jobs, my gut tells me we're good, but you can't go just by that. You have to measure.
 
"I ask [staff on the site] all the time, are we hitting these dates? And, within a day or two, we are. If we were constantly missing dates, that would be a concern."
 
Prior to the meeting, several committee members took a tour of the new academic spaces. They found that the third story of the classroom wing is largely ready to start receiving furniture and fixtures and the second and third stories are not far behind. They also were shown areas where Turner plans to start pouring sidewalks on the site this week.
 
"As I sit here today, I'm confident," Stewart said. "We've never not opened in the couple of hundred schools I've worked with, and this is not going to be the first.
 
"That matters a tremendous amount to the people on this side of the table."
 
Rich Cohen, Mount Greylock Regional School Committee member Carolyn Greene and the committee's newest member, Lanesborough Selectman John Goerlach, joined Daley, a Williamstown Select Board member, in pressing the point with the construction team.
 
"I recall three months ago, you told us there was a labor [shortage] problem," Cohen said. "If you tell us now there's not, that would give me confidence."
 
"As we sit here today, that's less of a concern," Stewart said. "We're not out of the woods until the kids are learning in the classroom, so we have to stay focused."
 
Daley told the construction team that the committee needs a "risk assessment" at its June 5 meeting.
 
"When you come to us with this schedule, we'd need to have a sense of, 'These are the three things we're worried about,' " Daley said. "If it's manpower, say manpower. If it's materials, say materials. You have to tell us what the risks are."
 
"When do we 'Go/No go,' " Cohen asked.
 
"In my opinion, we try on [June] 5th, and if we fail, there's another meeting on the 20th," Daley said.
 
The last day of school for the district is June 25.
 
If the School Building Committee and Transition Committee decide to "go" with the demolition plan, Superintendent Kimberley Grady has a plan in place for school and central office staff who will be displaced at the end of June and throughout July and August. Office personnel on a 12-month calendar will be housed at Lanesborough Elementary School, Williamstown Elementary School and Williamstown Town Hall.
 
The district has contracted with Diamond Relocation to move classroom materials which teachers are scheduled to have packed by the end of the school year, Grady said.
 
"Faculty will come in the week before school starts and set up their classrooms," Mount Greylock Principal Mary MacDonald told her fellow committee members. "We don't have a lot of lead time. And we don't have much buffer at all between when students finish classes and teachers need to pack up."
 
MacDonald, Grady, teacher Lyndon Moors and the district's business manager, currently a representative from Auburn's The Management Solution, are voting members of the School Building Committee, which also has representation from the school committee and town government in both Lanesborough and Williamstown.
 
Another district employee, Mount Greylock facilities supervisor Jesse Wirtes, stepped out of his role as SBC member and addressed his fellow committee members as a staff member on Tuesday night.
 
Wirtes told the committeee about a long-standing issue he has with the school's administration that centers around his role as both the supervisor of the existing facilities and a liaison to the construction team.
 
"My main priority was the health and safety of our students, staff and faculty as our building project advanced into a merged environment," Wirtes said in a prepared statement. "Also, I was part of bridging the gap between the building project and our occupied facility on a facility supervisor's level, which led to efficiencies on both ends.
 
"I stand here today because I have exhausted every effort for any support in the last 15 months from the MGRSD [administration]."
 
Wirtes told the committee that his request for a replacement to a recently retired part-time employee has been ignored and that Wirtes' own request for vacation time during the project was not addressed.
 
"It's unfortunate that I'm at this point," he told the committee.
 
After the meeting, Wirtes said that for at least five or six years — long predating the building project — Mount Greylock had a seasonal helper who assisted Wirtes in preparing the school's athletic fields and other maintenance tasks.
 
"When he retired, they refused to allow me to get a replacement," Wirtes said.
 
Since he has had to pick up the work formerly done by the seasonal assistant, Wirtes has been less able to be involved in the building project and learn about the facility he will supervise as it is built, he said. That is why he felt the topic was germane to the School Building Committee.
 
Wirtes said he did not want to bring the issue up in an open meeting but felt that he had no choice since his concerns were falling on deaf ears when raised with the school's administration.
 
"I have 14 months of documentation and emails," Wirtes said.
 
School Building Committee Chairman Mark Schiek recommended that Wirtes raise the issue with the district's Transition Committee, which governs the newly expanded PreK-12 school district. After the meeting, Wirtes said he had raised the concern in emails to members of the Transition Committee but may ask for a spot on its May 24 agenda.
 
Grady on Tuesday evening did not address Wirtes concerns at the SBC meeting. In reply to a request for comment on Wednesday morning, Grady answered:
 
"At the public meeting, Jesse raised an issue regarding his taking of vacation and his work assignments, these are personnel matters which are confidential and are not publicly disclosed," Grady wrote.
 
"I would note, however, that if he has issues the protocol is to go to his immediate supervisor, and if the issue is not resolved with the supervisor then the matter would be brought to my attention."

Tags: MGRHS school project,   

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