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School Project Session Set for April 28

Staff Reports

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city will hold another community forum on the elementary school building project on Thursday, April 28, at 6 p.m. in the Sullivan Elementary School cafeteria.

Presenters will include Carl Weber of Strategic Building Solutions, hired as project manager, and architects from Margo Jones Architects. Mayor Richard  Alcombright, Superintendent of Schools James E. Montepare, Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco and members from the School Building Committee, North Adams School Committee and City Council will also be on hand.

City officials strongly encourage all citizens to attend the meeting in order to have questions answered and to offer input on this project. 

Residents will be updated on the project, including the options being presented to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The MSBA, which is reimbursing 80 percent of eligible costs, was to have made a decision in March but has delayed a final review. School and project officials are pushing for a "two-school" solution for 620 pupils and believe that may be why the MSBA is taking longer to finalize construction. The state agency will make the final decision.

The preferred option is a renovation of Conte Middle School for Grades kindergarten through 8 and a new, or at least renovated, Greylock School. Some, however, are objecting to the closure of Sullivan School and the relocation of youngsters to the downtown area.

The statement of interest for Sullivan can be read here; the Greylock one here. The options can be reviewed below and are linked in the side panel.


North Adams School Building Project Options


Conte School Option Prompts Protest

Tammy Daniels

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A presentation by Margo Jones Architects and Strategic Building Solutions on the proposed school building project to the City Council on Tuesday veered little from recent ones to the public and School Committee, and many of the questions covered similar ground.

City councilors and residents quizzed representatives on the costs, efficiency and process. The four options presented stem from a $680,000 feasibility study approved in 2008 that was required for any project approval and reimbursement by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

The city is hoping the MSBA will allow a two-school project to fulfill the state's charge of finding educational solutions to 620 students. Of those options, the preferred one is the construction of a new Greylock School and the renovation of Conte Middle School, both to serve kindergarten through Grade 7.

But the proposed resurrection of the old Drury High School as an elementary school hasn't been welcomed by everyone.

"A fifth option does exist," said John Bedard of Meadow Street. "The same exact solution of the Greylock School by putting a new school at the Sullivan site."

Bedard said the West End has gotten new fields and lighting, and now would get a new school so its property values would go up. But the Kemp Avenue area would lose its neighborhood school and see its the property values go down. And he's argued that downtown Conte isn't safe or appropriate for younger children.

"I see this feasibility study as a last-ditch effort to save that building on Main Street," he said. "... this should be about the children ... anyone who says the children would be better off downtown is either an idiot or a liar."

Councilor Keith Bona, a member of the School Building Committee, said there was no expectation the feasibility study would find a solution in Conte, which was closed as a middle school in 2008.

"Clearly, we thought Conte was off the board," said Bona. "At no point was anyone given any instructions to save Conte ... We thought it was going to be too costly."

Kristian Whitsett of Margo Jones Architects also said Conte wasn't really considered an option but the architects were surprised to find it worked well with the "clustering" configuration for teaching and also offered a way to be "green" in terms of reuse.

The Sullivan site, too, had been studied extensively, he said, in terms of additions and building a new structure but the steep terrain around the site limited location, parking, bus drop-offs and "we couldn't figure out where to put the ballfield."

The SBA will only cover site work up to 8 percent of the construction

Renovating and adding on to the current school would mean five levels that would require children and residents going up and down stairs to get from one end of the school to the other, making it difficult for the gym to be used by the community.

Diane Parsons said she was "biased" against using Conte and council President Ronald Boucher, "a fan of neighborhood schools," asked if there was an option to build a new Greylock and fix up Sullivan if the SBA rejected a two-school project.

Wittseg said they couldn't "spend a little bit" on Sullivan because it would trigger more expensive renovations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Bedard was not convinced of the argument against Sullivan and was getting signatures on a petition to keep the school open.

Mayor Richard Alcombright said another public session on the project would be held on Tuesday, April 28, at 7 p.m. at Sullivan School.  "We need people, we need people to give their input."

In other business,

• The council approved a tax incentive agreement that would allow Scarafoni & Associates to purchase the North Adams Transcript building on American Legion Drive and renovate and lease it to the nonprofit Brien Center.

The agreement sets the property's assessment at $767,200, guaranteeing about $21,000 a year for the next 10 years. Abstaining from the discussion and vote were Councilors David Bond (who works for Scarafoni) and Keith Bona (who rents from Scarafoni).

• The council approved a transfer of $83,000 from the technology account to upgrade the city's aging servers, particularly for the Department of Public Safety. The transfer will leave $50,000 in the account, which is replenished through a percentage of the contract with Time Warner Cable.

Information technology officer Kathy Wall said last week that the funds would be used to replace equipment more than a decade old.

"It's hardware that's going to position us so we can handle all of the infrastructure we have now and in the future," Wall told the Finance Committee last week, including the coming installation of fiber optic in the region. "It's a smart purchase because it's going to let us look at our hardware ... it's looking at all of the infrastructure we have, all of the servers that we have. It is going to give us flexibility for technology coming down the road."

• Set a joint public hearing of the City Council and Planning Board on a proposed zoning change on Curran Highway for Monday, May 9, at 6 p.m.


Tags: Conte, Sullivan, Scarafoni, zoning      

Officials Press Case For School Project

Tammy Daniels

Superintendent of Schools James Montepare and Mayor Richard Alcombright bookend a diagrams of possible building options.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — School officials began their campaign on Wednesday to drum up support for a $10 million school project that could include the renovation of the closed Conte Middle School.

Mayor Richard Alcombright had hoped to present a single option to voters but the Massachusetts School Building Authority had bumped the project from its agenda on Wednesday, delaying a decision until its April meeting. So the five options are being presented over the next month.

There were few in attendance for the presentation. Was it indifference, or has everyone already made up their minds?

The MSBA had charged the city to find a solution for 620 pupils after the middle school was closed in 2009 over budgetary and building issues. Alcombright said the city had serious capital needs, including a new public safety building that could cost $25 million.

"We have so many high-ticket items, we have to start somewhere and this is the one that's in front of us and the only one that's going to give us 80 percent back," said the mayor of the state's reimbursement rate.

The two dozen citizens and officials at Drury High School for a presentation on the project raised questions about costs and safety related to revamping Conte School.

Returning pupils, especially younger ones, to the downtown facility raised concerns over traffic, walking and the loitering of "undesireables" around the school area. The 1916 building had housed high school students and middle school students after the new Drury High was built in 1974.

Councilor Lisa Blackmer said the children walking down steep East Main Street would have to deal with snow-covered sidewalks, cars parked blocking the way and heavy traffic. "These are not middle school students, they're third- and fourth-graders, it's a different mentality," she said. "But considerning the obesity problem in this country, I would like to see kids walking."

 Upcoming Public Meetings

April 5 - 6 p.m., Conte School, agenda item for School Committee meeting
April 7 - 6 p.m., Conte School, lower level, School Building Committee meeting
April 12 - 7:30 p.m., City Hall, agenda on City Council meeting

The mayor and Superintendent of Schools James Montepare said those issues would have to be addressed, but Montepare added most of the children walking would likely be coming east of the school, from a largely residential area.

"Your assuming it's going to be a problem; we don't know if it's going to be a problem," said Montepare. "We haven't got to that point yet. ... We can find solutions."

One man took issue with the preference for renovating Conte despite it being "least desirable" for reconfiguring into teaching clusters, describing it as short-term benefits being placed above long-term educational gains. "It's not good for the kids."

Margo Jones, architect for the project, said the words could have been better chosen and that the other option, to renovate Sullivan School, would be problematic - it would better provide for clustering but would be spread over five floors on a steep hillside. Conte was not ideal but clustering by grades on each floor provided the appropriate space.

The team of Margo Jones Architects ran through a similar presentation to what they offered to the School Building Committee last month, with the addition of a more extensive renovation of Greylock School based on their meeting with the School Building Authority on Feb. 25.

The preferred option of the School Building Committee is the renovation of Conte Middle School into the new kindergarten through Grade 7 format and building a new Greylock School, each to accommodate 310 pupils.

"Since the MSBA meeting, they've expresed some interest in the Greylock site; we've added a 1B, a major renovation," said Kristian Whitsett. The new plan would tear down one section of the aging elementary school, creating more of an L-shaped configuration, and renovate and add on to the building.

Costs for each of the five options includes nonreimbursables (furniture, fees, designs, and any costs related to relocating students) plus an expected overrun. Carl Weber said current MSBA projects have been running under cost by as much as 20 percent because of competitive bidding.

The lowest cost option is the minor renovation of Greylock School and a major renovation of Conte, which comes in at about $44 million and would cost the city  $9.2 million.

The most expensive is the renovation of Conte and construction of a new Greylock School (while children continue to attend the old one). The cost would be $48 million total, $9.8 million to be paid by the city.

The city would have 120 days to confirm support for the project once the MSBA makes a decision on the option it prefers. Carl Weber of Strategic Building, the city's liaison to the MSBA, said the funds, secured from 1 percent of the sales tax, are in place. He couldn't answer to what exactly would happen should the city reject the project but it would probably drop in priority.

"You're still going to have a need but they're looking for communities that want a school, that are going to support a school," he said. "They'd probably go to other districts that had the same needs you do but who support it."

Alcombright said a big concern was that the 80 percent reimbursement would no longer be available if the project is delayed for more years. Montepare added that the elementary schools are "jam-packed."

"Even if you put 350 kids in one new school it wouldn't solve the problem," said Montepare. "It took us three years to get where we are today and we're another three years out ... it's taken three years of constant filing of studies, discussions and trips to Boston to get where we are today." 


North Adams Skating Rink Vandalized

Andy McKeever

Stall doors in the bathrooms were kicked by ice-skate clad vandals at the Peter W. Foote Memorial Skating Rink.


Mayor Richard Alcombright points to urinal dividers that were destroyed. The dividers will need new brackets and anchoring system.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Vandals caused thousands of dollars of damage Friday at the Peter W. Foote Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink.

Both the men's and the women's restrooms were damaged during Friday night's community skating time. In the recently renovated restrooms, urinal dividers were torn down, the doors were kicked with skates leaving dents, some of the concrete was chipped and one of the sinks was chipped. A full footprint was found near the ceiling where a skater had climbed onto the sinks.

The city will have to spend thousands of dollars to replace all of the damaged items.

"It's on the city's dime to keep this maintained. Somebody has to pay for this," Mayor Richard Alcombright said Monday. "We're not going to tolerate vandalism in this building."

Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morrocco said police are accepting anonymous tips and if the perpetrators are found they will be prosecuted "to the full extent of the law" and have to pay for the damages. Additionally, a police officer will be patrolling the rink during the final two nights of community skate time.

"You can have a successful prosecution without an eyewitness," Morrocco said. "With the city having limited resources, this is crazy."

Anywhere from 250 to 300 children were at the rink Friday night and the rink's small staff was unable to finger the culprits. Placing an officer there will help deter vandalism but comes as an additional cost to the city, Alcombright said.

"It's unfortunate that we have to put an officer here," Alcombright said. "We just want to have a nice facility. This is a place for families."

Alcombright was informed of the damage Monday morning via e-mail and went to inspect the damage later.

The bathrooms at the skating rink were newly refurbished in April through grant funding of $160,000. According to Michael Nuvallie, of the city's office of community development, the bathrooms were one of several phases of renovations. Close to $2 million has been invested in the rink, he said.

Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morrocco vowed to prosecute the culprits to the full extent of the law.

"We've been chipping away at this for years," Nuvallie said. "We're up near the $2 million mark and we're not done."

Renovations began in 2007 when they city took over the rink's operations with a new roof and each year the city applies for grants to continue fixing the place up.

A new floor, mechanical room, boards and glass and doors have also been renovated, Nuvallie said. The next step is infrared heaters for the benches and renovating the parking lot will follow, he said.


Tags: Skating rink, Vandalism, North Adams      

North Adams Closing In On Master Plan

Staff Reports

NORTH ADAMS, Mass — The city is inching closer to a master plan.

The region's planning commission gave the city another small grant to work toward developing a long-term vision for the city.

A new Community Development Advisory Board, to be appointed by Mayor Richard Alcombright, will tackle the details of planning the city's future.

The city has not had a long-term master plan in more than 40 years but began creating one with a similar grant last year.

"We hadn't done any formal long-term planning in years," Alcombright said on Monday. "The next piece will be much more involved with the public."

The master plan will set goals and decided the types of land use throughout the city.

The group will be picking up where the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission left off. Last year, the planning commission gave the city a similar grant, which the city used to hired BRPC to create a long-range planning strategy. The draft version of that strategy was completed in November.

After failing to reel in a federal grant to complete a master plan, the city once again asked and received the smaller BRPC grant.

The community development board will now take the planning strategy and engage the public to develop actual planning strategies. Residents will have chances to chime in as early as April, Alcombright said.

"We're hoping this will continue where we left off," Alcombright said. "They're relatively small grants but BRPC does a lot with them. We have no money but we found a way to bring in someone from BRPC once a week."

The regional planner will help the advisory board bring the plan to the public. Next fall, the city will apply for the federal grant to finish the job again.

The advisory board members and the final draft of the long-range plan will be revealed to the public and city boards on Feb. 22. Alcombright said the long-range strategy is mostly a series of broadly defined goals including rebranding, creating a diverse economy, combating poverty and examining the geographical impacts on business.

"This is a jumping off point," Alcombright said.

The mayor did not know the exact amount of the grant but estimated it to be around $20,000.

“BRPC is very pleased that we can continue to provide this modicum of support to the City of North Adams in development of a new comprehensive plan and we continue to look forward to working with the city. We are fortunate that we have municipal leaders across the Berkshires, including Mayor Alcombright, who understand the need for comprehensive planning, followed by aggressive implementation, in order to continue to rebuild our communities and continue to build jobs for the future, while protecting our environment,”  said Executive Director Nathaniel Karns in a statement.

Tags: BRPC, Master Plan, Grant      
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Returned Papers
As of 8/9 at 5 p.m.
 Lisa M. Blackmer* Yes
 Michael Bloom Yes
 Keith Bona* Yes
 David Bond* Yes
 Marie Harpin* Yes
 Alan Marden* Yes
 John Barrett Yes
 Eric R. Buddington Yes
 Nancy P. Bullett Yes
 Robert Cardimino Yes
 Catherine Chaput Yes
 Roland G. Gardner  
 Diane M. Gallese-Parsons  Yes
Shane Gaudreau  
 James B. Gyurasz  Yes
 Michael Hernandez  Yes
 Jennifer Breen Kirsch  Yes
Brian L. Flagg  
 Kellie A. Morrison  Yes
 Greg Roach  Yes
 Gail Kolis Sellers  Yes
18 candidates returned papers
 Richard J. Alcombright*  Yes
 Ronald A. Boucher  Yes
 Robert Martelle  Yes
 Preliminary election will eliminate one
 School Committee  
 Mary Lou Accetta* Yes
 Lawrence K. Taft* Yes
 Leonard Giroux Jr.  Yes
 Tara J. Jacobs  Yes
 David Lamarre Yes
McCann School Committee  
 George M. Canales Yes

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