WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town of Williamstown on Thursday afternoon issued a temporary certificate of occupancy for the new Mount Greylock Regional School.
Earlier in the day, school and town officials clarified that the issues holding up the TCO were typical for a building project of this size and in no way related to the functionality of the renovated and expanded middle-high school.
the newly expanded school district's Transition Committee decided to delay the start of the school year by two days after the $64 million project last week failed to obtain the TCO it needs to allow faculty and staff to begin preparing for the academic year.
That decision does not change as a result of Thursday's issuance of the certificate.
As Mount Greylock Principal Mary MacDonald explained in an early Thursday morning email to the school community, the delay already has made it difficult to adequately prepare for the originally scheduled first day of classes.
"The delay in achieving a Temporary Certificate Occupancy for our new building reduced time for teachers to prepare classrooms and labs to be ready for the original start date of Thursday, September 6," MacDonald wrote. "Further, it constricted the number of days students could tour the new building to become comfortable with their schedules."
That Wednesday vote to open the school year on Sept. 10 touched off a firestorm on social media, leading at least one commenter to repeat a rumor that has been circulating in the district: The building was failing inspections because it is "too small" to accommodate the student body.
Mount Greylock Superintendent Kimberley Grady on Thursday responded to an email from iBerkshires.com by explaining that the school has plenty of room to house the expected student population and faculty.
"The entire first-floor design occupant load is 3,900," Grady wrote. "Second floor is 449. The third floor 475."
The building was designed using enrollment estimates approved by the Massachusetts School Building Authority months before any blueprints were developed, let alone ground broken for the project. Although the incoming seventh-grade class will be larger than those in recent years at the school, the population "bubble" in that cohort has long been identified and accounted for by district officials.
The real reason the building project had yet to pass inspection was that the town's staff and outside inspectors have identified numerous issues under the commonwealth's building code that need to be addressed before a TCO could be issued.
Grady supplied iBerkshires.com with a list of 17 items that needed to be addressed from the inspector's Aug. 23
Among the issues were a non-functioning handicapped accessible door-opener on the main entrance, insulation that needs to be installed on a sink pipe, an improperly located exit sign, storage too close to the ceiling in one of the rooms, and the need for emergency lighting in several electrical rooms.
There also were paperwork issues to be addressed, Grady reported in one of several emails Thursday. As of Thursday morning, the town was still waiting for, among other things, documentation that fire alarm tests were successful.
"The Fire Alarm Test Report just needed to have a final updated report submitted," Hoch noted in a separate email. "We know that it tested properly at a most recent test, but didn't have certified document yet."
Some of the issues on the list from the Aug. 23 walk-through remain from an Aug. 16 list sent to the project team by the town, but most of the Aug. 16 items appear to have been addressed. There are items on the Aug. 23 list that were not included on the Aug. 16 list because, in fact, the Aug. 16 walk-through was premature.
"There was work still happening in the building [on Aug. 16]," said Williamstown Town Manager Jason Hoch, who observed the Aug. 16 walk-through. "For instance, some of the furniture hadn't been installed. People say, ‘You inspect furniture?' Yes, we do. We have to look for fire-proofing, excessive height and everything else."
The Aug. 16 walk-through never was going to yield a TCO, even if no issues had been identified, simply because the building was not ripe for a TCO, Hoch explained. It was, on the other hand, the latest in a series of visits by the town to help identify issues that could be addressed in order to keep the project on track.
When asked if the issues hanging over the project could be characterized as "routine," Hoch used his own words to describe the items.
"There's nothing on the list that would be a major surprise at the end of a project of this complexity that is finishing things this close to the [deadline]," he said. "After each of these times, I ask, ‘Is there anything here that's a show-stopper?' And the answer is no.
"But if you've done any project anywhere, there's always a list of things that need to be done."