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Meetings Set for North Adams School Building Options

Staff Reports

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Few people attended the first public information session last Wednesday on the building options being presented to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

The state agency, which will reimburse the city for 80 percent of qualified costs for construction, will determine which option it will fund. The school officials have indicated a preference for renovating Conte Middle School into a K-7 school to keep the downtown building functioning and renovating or rebuilding Greylock Elementary School.

Below is an illustrated slide put together by Margo Jones Architects listing the pros and cons of those options and three others presented to the school building committee.

The architects will also give a presentations at three meetings this week:

• 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


North Adams School Building Project Options


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 Sets School Building Meetings

Tammy Daniels

Michael Chalifoux of Vietnam Veterans of America addresses the City Council.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The mayor released a schedule at the City Council meeting on Tuesday for upcoming meetings to discuss building proposals for the school district.

Mayor Richard Alcombright had said last week that the city was hoping to have feedback from the Massachusetts School Building Authority before making community presentations. The MSBA board is scheduled to meet March 30 but the mayor said he did not expect the city to get direction until April.

The city has submitted five options for dealing with the new kindergarten-through-seventh grade configuration, with its preference the renovation of the currently closed Conte School and a new or renovated Greylock School.

The target date for completion is the beginning of the 2013 school year; Alcombright said it was necessary to begin informing the community of the details and seeking support for project.

"The discussion has to be had because of funding down the road," he said.

The mayor had taken some flack from councilors and School Committee members for not being kept in the loop for the project.

The meetings are as follows:

• March 30 - 3:30 p.m., Drury High School auditorium; all North Adams Public School faculty, School Committee, Building Committee and City Council

Public Meetings

• March 30 - 6:30 p.m., Drury High School auditorium; community meeting with City Council and School and Building committees

• 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

All of the meetings will include the options being discussed and will include presentations by the project manager and architect.

Council President Ronald Boucher expressed his concern that owners are not being responsible for their dogs, noting messes left on Main Street and an incident over the weekend involving hikers at the Cascades.

"I know if I was from out of town I'd be appalled at that," he said of what he found on Main Street. On Tuesday afternoon, a woman had called saying she and others had been harassed by three unleashed dogs. She had reported the incident to the animal control officer, who had not returned her call, said Boucher.

"I don't think the dog officer is that busy that they can't make a return phone call," said the council president, who added he would follow up through the mayor's office and come back with a communique about signage regarding dogs at Cascades.

Michael Chalifoux of the Vietnam Veterans of America addressed the council about the clean up work the VVA's volunteers and paid staff have doing for years in the city. "What we've found over the last four years is the more we pick up the less people throw it down," he said. The other day, they had filled three trash bags at the cemetery.

Chalifoux also encouraged the city to go after the state aid owed it and said he would return to speak on the failed efforts of the state regarding veterans.

Donna Dickinson said she was speaking on behalf of others who were afraid to come to the council meetings. "Some people, they feel very uncomfortable and intimidated that if they say something the wrong way they'll be told to sit down," Dickinson told the council. "I feel us taxpayers all have the right to come here and join in and be part of the group."

Boucher did tell one citizen to sit down after he began talking about being sexually abused. "This is not the place for this," Boucher told him.

Alcombright read on behalf of Human Services Commission Chairwoman Suzy Helme the seven applicants granted $500 for services benefiting local families: Child Care of the Berkshires, Family Life Support Center, Elder Services, Berkshire Immigrant Center, Berkshire Community Action Council, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and United Cerebral Palsy Fun Club.

The council also:

• Reapppointed to the Hoosac Water Quality District Dr. John Moresi, who has served for 24 years, and Boucher, who has served for 12 years. Boucher abstained from the vote.

• Appointed Alan Horbal and Darrell English to the Historical Commission. All terms will expire in 2014.

• Referred a communication from the council president on adopting state anti-idling legislation to the Public Safety Committee.

• Approved the renewal of a secondhand license for Hudsons antiques shop at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

Councilors Lisa Blackmer and Alan Marden were absent.




Finance Committee Gets School Building Run Down

Tammy Daniels

Finance Committee Chairman Michael Bloom, left, member David Bond and Mayor Richard Alcombright listens to Superintendent James Montepare explain the school building project.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The school officials are waiting for the Massachusetts School Building Authority to give it the nod before presenting a school building plan to the public.

The School Building Committee indicated its preference last month for renovating Conte School and building a new Greylock School, both to serve kindergarten through seventh grade. However, School Committe members and city councilors expressed annoyance with the decisionmaking process, saying it has not been transparent enough and the two policy making bodies have not been kept in the loop.

Mayor Richard Alcombright, chairman of the School Committee, said hearings and presentations on the favored option will be held as the project moves forward but no decision has been made it yet.

"We want to have dicussions surrounding what is rather than what if's," he told the Finance Committee on Tuesday. "There's too many what if's out there."

Superintendent of Schools James Montepare said until the MSBA approves a plan, "it's very difficult for us to do anything but speculate on what it could possibly be ... it could be all kind of misinformation."

Montepare gave the Finance Committee an update on the process, including the options reviewed by the School Building Committee last month. They included building a new Greylock and renovating Conte; building a single school for 620 children, most likely where the current Greylock is located or revamping Conte for 620, and renovating Greylock and Sullivan School, which was deemed the most difficult because of the topography of the Sullivan site.

Should the Conte/Greylock project go forward, Sullivan School would close. Montepare said of all the school structures, Sullivan would likely be the easiest to market becuase of its condition and location. It would, the mayor thought, make a good assisted-living facility or terraced residences.

The options are dependent upon the MSBA accepting the city's new educational structure of kindergarten through seventh and eighth through 12th grade.

There had been concern about returning the middle school students to the elementary schools after Conte's closure two years ago, but the new configuration had worked out well, said Montepare.

"We had some very unexpected and positive results of that move," said superintendent. Moving the eighth grade to the high school has enabled the class to participate in accelerated programs, sports, music and other activities. It's also not only stemmed a flow outward of city students to neighboring schools but has dramatically increased school choice students coming in to attend eighth grade.

"We've seen a lot of discipline problems disappear and we've increased population," said Montepare. The school system has had a lot of internal discussions among teachers and various programs, he said, and the preference has tended to for Conte and Greylock.

The MSBA has indicated it also likes the idea of renovating Conte; it is expected to select which option it prefers by the end of the month.

After that, things will start moving faster, said the mayor, and public hearings will be scheduled along with more detailed discussions about the cost. The MSBA will reimburse the city 80 percent for qualifying costs upfront; the balance, estimated at under $10 million for two schools, would be bonded for 20 or 30 years.

Montepare gave an opening date of the 2013 school year. Current debt payments of $250,000 annually on the reconstructions of Drury High School and Brayton School should be "rolling off" about then, said the mayor, who gave an off-the-cuff guess of $450,000 to $500,000 to pay for two new or revamped schools.

Frequent critic Robert Cardimino questioned whether the city or state could afford the schools.

"We went through this for each school when the budget was very, very tight and the decison was made not to pass up on the state money and we found a way to pay for it and we did the right thing," said committee Chairman Michael Bloom. "We built two beautiful schools ... we should not walk away from this money either. You can't walk away from 80 percent funding."

How the costs will be absorbed would be part of the upcoming discussions, said Alcombright. It's possible it could be done as a debt exclusion, he said, which would put the decision into the public's hands.

"To say yes to the project the community will have to say yes to pay for it.


Drury Video Brings Students Together

Staff Reports

In the 'How Cool Is That' Category
Drury High School students spent five weeks pulling together a lip-synch video to show at a recent bullying-prevention presenation at the high school Some 350 students were involved in the 7-minute clip that roves through the school in one continuous shot.

Tags: Drury, video      
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:: Preliminary Election: Deadline to register is Wednesday, Sept. 7. (Office open from 8 to 8.)
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Registration can be completed at the city clerk's office at City Hall.

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City Council

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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North Adams School Building Options

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