WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock School Committee on Tuesday discussed acquiring a closed restaurant to be the new home of the district's administration.
The committee discussed a plan to use part of a $5 million capital endowment from Williams College to purchase the former Taconic Restaurant at the junction of Routes 2 and 7, across from the A-Frame Bakery.
The committee has known for a couple of years that it needs to find new accommodations for the central administration, which oversees Mount Greylock, Williamstown Elementary School and Lanesborough Elementary School under the Tri-District shared services agreement.
The addition/renovation project currently under way at Mount Greylock has no space for the central office. The Massachusetts School Building Authority, which is subsidizing the building project, does not allow state funds to be used for such administrative space, shifting the cost for the office space to the local level.
The district has discussed a number of alternatives for the offices of the superintendent, assistant superintendent, business manager and director of pupil personnel services (special education director). The long-vacant Taconic Restaurant seems to make the most sense, interim Superintendent Kimberley Grady said on Tuesday.
"Each space we look at — either it is too far south because the bulk of the [Tri-District superintendent's] time is spent up north or the office is on [Williamstown's] Spring Street, and that's not someplace you want to have an office when people are coming or going," Grady said. "Or they're too small. People forget the vault that Mount Greylock owns, and there are a whole lot of records that need to go with the district office wherever it goes."
The $499,000 asking price for the former restaurant, which closed in the middle of the last decade, is in line with other options considered by the district, Grady said.
A private residence on the market in South Williamstown's Five Corners district would have cost about half as much but needed a quarter million in renovations to make it usable. Likewise, installing a modular addition on the Mount Greylock grounds would cost more than half a million dollars, she said.
The former restaurant is owned by Taconic Realty LLC and has an assessed value of $224,400, according to the Williamstown Board of Assessors' website. The building sits on a 4.2-acre lot and has 11,286 square feet of finished space. It last sold in 2008 for $150,000 and has been on and off the market ever since.
While it remains to be seen whether the Tri-District arrangement continues, Mount Greylock fully regionalizes or the three schools go their separate ways, the Taconic Restaurant site is well positioned to serve the current arrangement, as it is on the road, Route 7, that connects the Tri-District's two towns, Lanesborough and Williamstown.
"With the Taconic, there is room not just for the vault but also for things like storage," Greene said. "You could even see room for waxing skis [for Mount Greylock's Nordic ski team] and things like that. … If you could shut off parts of it in terms of heating/cooling, you could open up function space as well. There could be orientation space there or potentially even school dances."
Grady said that in an early design from Jones Whitsett Architects, Mount Greylock's consultant on how to spend the Williams capital gift, there is space in the former restaurant and its banquet hall for classrooms that could serve students who need to spend time "off site" or for instruction during the summer months.
"We wouldn't have that in the modular," Grady said.
The district needs approval from Williamstown's Zoning Board of Appeals to establish an office at the property. That board next meets July 20.
The School Committee on Tuesday discussed the need to move swiftly with plans to relocate the central office — currently in space carved out in the "old high school's" guidance suite. Once the school begins moving its operations into the renovated central core and new three-story academic wing in April 2018, the central administration will effectively be homeless; demolition on the old junior-senior high school is slated to begin immediately after the move.
The district has the money to purchase the former restaurant and, it believes, the legal authority to do so outside the commonwealth's procurement process.
Last year, former Mount Greylock School Committee member Richard Cohen challenged the notion that the School Committee could spend the $5 million from the Williams College capital gift without going through Massachusetts' Chapter 40B process.
But a May 15, 2017, letter from the district's counsel clarifies that for the purpose of this potential acquisition, the district can spend the gift money without going through the procurement process.
"Under the above circumstances, it is my opinion that the only process that needs to followed is for the School District School Committee to vote to allow the use of these funds for the above purpose," Westfield attorney Fred Dupere wrote. "I reviewed this situation with Christine M. Lynch of the [Department of Elementary and Secondary Education], and she agreed with this opinion."
On Tuesday, Chris Dodig, who represents the School Committee on a working group studying the allocation of the Williams gift, said that panel had "budgeted" three potential uses: the acquisition of space for a central office, the renovation of the school's playing fields to make them ADA compliant and the creation of a maintenance fund that could be used to address future "big ticket" maintenance and capital needs (new boilers, roofs, etc.).
The MSBA has a limited allowance for "site work" that already is consumed in the $64 million building project without addressing the fields. Those fields do, however, need to brought into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, and the cost would be borne at the local level.
Dodig said the latest iteration of plans from Jones Whitsett estimate the potential cost at about $3 million, but the working group is hoping to bring that price tag down while getting "our fields to a place where they're roughly equivalent to the new building," Dodig said.
Even at $3 million, and assuming the Taconic Restaurant acquisition comes in at around the current asking price, the district would still have $1.5 million earning interest and earmarked for future capital and maintenance needs, Dodig said.
He said he wants to bring the architect before the School Committee this summer to present proposals for the fields. That may require a special meeting of the panel, which only has an Aug. 23 retreat planned before its next regular meeting in September.
A special meeting also may be required to move forward on the Taconic acquisition. Grady said Tuesday she will keep in touch with School Committee Chairwoman Sheila Hebert about calling a special meeting.
"We need a public conversation, and we need it in a timely enough manner to include it in the [field renovation] proposal," School Committee member Steven Miller said.
This story was updated to clarify that the legal opinion from Fred Dupere refers only to the potential property acquisition and not other potential uses of the Williams College gift.
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