LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Mount Greylock Regional Middle and High School will not open on time.
The Transition Committee voted on Wednesday to delay opening day until Monday, September 10. The change only applies to the middle and high school and not the elementary schools and was caused by delays in the construction of the new $64 million building.
The district has yet to be issued a temporary certificate of occupancy and while school officials believe that will be coming soon, they still want ample time for teachers and administrators to settle into the new building.
"Right now, we've run out of time," Superintendent Kimberly Grady said. "As this project is winding down, the construction team is turning over a building. Mary [MacDonald] and I and others need to turn it into a school."
Grady said another reinspection was completed on Tuesday. There was documentation needing to be submitted to Williamstown inspectors. Grady said by Wednesday afternoon that had all been received. It could be any day now that a temporary certificate is issued allowing staff to work out of the building.
But, classes were scheduled to start next Thursday. Grady and Principal Mary MacDonald said that isn't enough time for staff to feel comfortable in the new school nor is there enough time for students to be able to take tours and get oriented.
MacDonald crafted the idea of pushing off school until the following week. She said that will give parents and students an expected four days to walk visit and see the building since it will be new for all students. And it will allow staff time to do the same, set up classrooms, and get used to the new technology inside it.
The move removes two school days from the start of the school calendar. MacDonald is proposing a full day of professional development scheduled for Nov. 6 be turned into a half-day. That would make up one of the two days students would have to be in school. The other day would be made up at the end of the year. The teachers will be expected to arrive at work on Sept. 4 and Sept. 5, both of which will count as professional development days.
"On short notice, this seems pretty well thought out," Chairman Joe Bergeron said, adding that the union was notified and was reportedly OK with it if it was necessary.
The new building failed an inspection last week and multiple Transition Committee members said they'd rather have to delay the opening for a few days now than to find a safety hazard years in the future.
But the last week hasn't been easy for school officials as issues over the lack of a certificate of occupancy and an outstanding bill for permitting fees have collided. The town of Williamstown is still waiting on some $300,000 worth of permitting fees and that has created a kerfuffle among officials and residents.
Bergeron took a moment on Wednesday to make it clear that the town of Williamstown is not delaying permits because of the unpaid bills, which many in the community have questioned. But, he also said Williamstown wants those bills paid.
"They are definitely not holding up the TCO on the account of permits fees," he said.
The question over the fees dates back to what would be colloquially known as a gentleman's agreement made in 2015. Bergeron and Committee member Carrie Greene believe school officials put $300,000 into an account for permitting. But, permitting is not a eligible for reimbursement and there were still concerns about the anticipated budget. It was reclassified as an other expense category and officials in Williamstown said the town would hold off on billing the district for fees until the very end. At that point, if there were still concerns about the project being overbudget, Williamstown would opt not to collect those fees and allow that money to go toward the building.
Now Williamstown has sent the invoice asking for the fees.
"Their intent was always to wait until the end of the project, when the dust was settled, and if we had enough funds to cover it all, they fully expected the fees to be paid in full," Bergeron said.
However, there is no paperwork in place outlining that process. Now some are questioning why Williamstown wouldn't waive the fees. School Committee member Chris Dodig said if Williamstown waived the inspection fees for Williamstown Elementary, then it should do so for Mount Greylock too.
"This is not a typical vendor, this is our own town," Dodig said.
But others on the committee say Williamstown is already waiving about half of the total permitting fees and yet they are still paying the inspectors to do the work.
Committee members Greene, Regina DiLego, and Al Terranova had an even simpler take: the work was done and now the district has the responsibility to pay for it.
Meanwhile, Bergeron wants the fees to be paid because there is no legal agreement locking Williamstown into waiving the bills. The district is required to pay for the service and regardless of the history, Bergeron wants to comply and move forward rather than picking a battle the district can't legally win.
"The services were rendered. They were rendered under assumptions that were made and we don't have any other written agreement to stand on," Bergeron said, adding that the district can't go back and re-negotiate the agreement. "I'm not trying to bury this in the past but I think it exists in the past."
In the end, the committee was fairly divided and left that way. The bills have been reviewed and approved by the School Building Committee and the Transition Committee agreed that's where the decision belongs right now. The Building Committee meets in a few weeks and will take on the debate then.
"This item has become somewhat of a political nightmare," Bergeron said.
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