Study Offers Option to Save Conte School
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Building Committee is supporting a plan that would save Silvio O. Conte Middle School and construct a new school in the West End. The proposal was the second of four options provided by Strategic Building Solutions Inc. and Margo Jones Architects Inc., the project manager and the design firm, respectively, to deal with space issues after the closure of Conte in 2009.
The assumption had been that the aging former high school would be abandoned and the focus would be on the elementary schools as they absorbed Grades 6 and 7; the eighth grade was relocated to Drury High School.
"When we walked out of here, Conte didn't play a part," Carl Weber of Strategic Building told the School Building Committee on Thursday night at the school. But the feasibility study done over the past months "made us look at this building and realize it had value, a lot of value."
Instead, Conte would be renovated into a kindergarten-through-seventh grade school and a new school serving the same grades would be built behind Greylock Elementary, which would be demolished. This option would put Conte back into service and create a more energy- and cost-efficient school in the West End without having to dislocate pupils during construction. Each school would be renovated or built to serve 310 pupils.
The findings are good news to city and school officials discouraged at the thought of abandoning Conte and leaving another large, empty structure on a vital corner of the downtown. Within the past few years, three churches around the school have been vacated, along with a dentist's office and a funeral home.
"I always worried about what would happen to Conte Middle School if we abandoned this building," said Superintendent of Schools James Montepare. "I like the idea as the mayor does of trying to do something with it."
The committee agreed, voting to present that option as its preferred one to the Massachusetts School Building Authority this March; its second choice was renovating Conte and renovating and putting an addition onto Greylock, which would cost about an extra $1 million to relocate the kids — possibly to Notre Dame School in Adams — during construction.
The least favorite was an oversized school to serve 620 students. The only suitable place to locate a school that size would be at the Greylock site, which committee members and school officials thought would be too large for the neighborhood and too costly to operate. "The busing would kill us," said Montepare. "We'd have to bus everybody."
A fourth option was to renovate Sullivan School along with Greylock. However, Sullivan's location on the side of a hill would create a school with five levels, some underground, served by two elevators. The complex and problematic configuration and lack of parking lead the committee to dismiss that option.
"I want to see Conte stay," said Mayor Richard Alcombright of presenting the options to the SBA. "If Conte were eliminated, it would have to be Greylock because I don't think Sullivan is an option."
The rough estimate was $18 million to $26 million for each 310-pupil school and $42 million for the 620-pupil school. The SBA would reimburse the city a maximum of 80 percent for eligible expenses (relocation of students, for example, is not reimbursed); the cost to the city was expected to be less than $10 million, including unreimbursed costs. The designers will now begin more detailed cost estimates, including yearly operation, and plans.
Weber said the SBA had funded only one project that covered two schools to his knowledge. It had left the door open by having the city determine the best way to serve 620 students.
"But I think we have to show a compelling need and reason for that and I think we have those compelling arguments," he said. "We think that some of these options are cheaper than a 620 school and the SBA, they look at dollars maybe more than anything else and they're trying to spend taxpayer dollars wisely."