Downing: 'We Need a Mount Greylock High School'

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — While the Mount Greylock School Committee works on its pitch to voters on the fence about a new building project, the idea of staying the course with the Massachusetts School Building Authority has the support of officials from outside the district.

"I don't pretend to tell voters what to do on these things," Sen. Benjamin Downing said on Monday. "But it's worth noting that if a project at this iteration isn't passed, you won't be able to jump the line and get into the MSBA process again.

"It isn't an award in perpetuity, and it isn't an award without conditions."

The danger of going to the back of the line with MSBA repeatedly has been mentioned by Mount Greylock officials, who point to the number of statements of interest (i.e. applications) the district filed with the state authority before being invited into the process in 2014.

At last week's meeting of the Superintendency Union 71 committee, representatives from the elementary school committees in each member town voted unanimously to support the building project and encourage voters to do the same at debt exclusion votes in Williamstown on March 1 and Lanesborough on March 15.

Mount Greylock building project supporters also reason that the current junior-senior high school is inefficient and faces costly repairs — estimated to cost more than $50 million — that would be borne entirely by the member towns if they opt out of the MSBA program.

"In Boston, they usually think of Western Mass as anything outside of 495," Williamstown Elementary School Committee Chairman Dan Caplinger said at the Feb. 24 SU71 meeting. "We've been looking at this project and thinking this is finally our money coming back to us for a purpose that's meaningful for us.

"To sacrifice that in exchange for paying for at least that much or more in annual expenses to keep this [building] puffing along in some inadequate form, it's so sad. We can't let that happen."

Voters in each town will be asked to exclude a debt of $64.8 million. After MSBA reimbursement, the district's share of that debt would end up between $31.5 million and $35.3 million. Two-thirds of that district share would be paid by the district's larger town, Williamstown.

A "no" vote in either town would either kill the project or precipitate a revote. But School Committee and School Building Committee members note that a revote would be on the same project, which already has been vetted by MSBA.

One of the arguments of those advocating a no-vote on the debt exclusion is that Mount Greylock should not proceed with a building project while there is a possibility high schools may be consolidated in Berkshire County.

At Lanesborough's recent special town meeting, a resident said that such consolidation would be the end product of the Berkshire County Education Task Force.

The chairman of that task force refuted the assertion.

"The Berkshire County Education Task Force (and I as Chair) have been been very clear that we do not in any way want to interfere with, stop or postpone the efforts of the Mount Greylock MSBA building project," Chairman John Hockridge wrote in an email to Mount Greylock School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene. "Being well familiar with MSBA projects, I know how long and how difficult it is to get to where your school district is now. And I also know that when MSBA approves and authorizes a school building project, it has been thoroughly vetted by them.

"School closures may or may not be among the recommendations, but if so, would be last resort recommendations after all other modeling options are explored. School closures are not on the table now. Preferred options would include regionalizing neighboring districts into larger regions or superintendency unions without any school closures, but with a greatly improved financially sustainable, quality education model. There are many of us on the Task Force that believe our goals can be realized without school closures."

That echoes what Greene told the Lanesborough special town meeting: that her colleagues on the task force encouraged Mount Greylock to go forward with the MSBA process.

Downing agreed that the task force is no argument for delay.

"These processes are always complicated, especially in regional districts as different towns have different ideas on what their needs are and what the capacities are to meet those needs," Downing said. "There also is the countywide context to consider as we look a the county's needs. But I think if you look at any of those maps moving forward, any of them will show you we need a Mount Greylock High School."

Tags: MGRHS school project,   

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