Clarksburg School Making Slow Progress on Repairs
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Officials and volunteers are still working out the kinks on an ambitious plan to make necessary renovations to Clarksburg School.
There was a rush of volunteers in the wake of last year's failed school vote but progress has been slow — hampered by lack of funding, bidding procedures and lines of communication between town and school officials.
"The town is the school, the school is the town, it's never going to be successful if it's an us versus them," said Superintendent of School John Franzoni at brief meeting of the ad hoc school renovation committee. "We have to work together. ... If we don't make these improvements to the school, it won't be a long-term viable option for the kids."
The school district had been in line for a $19 million renovation and addition at the nearly 60-year-old school but voters balked at the steep cost and two votes failed to win the needed two-thirds majority to authorize nearly $8 million in borrowing.
But the building still needs significant repairs and updates to meet current code including complying with the federal American With Disabilities Act. A preliminary estimate done during the feasibility study had a cost of $4 million to address priority projects that included the removal of asbestos.
So far, the town has offered $82,000 from its state Green Communities Grant to fix the obsolete boiler system (expected to be done this fall) and some $500,000 in state funding has been earmarked for the roof that is under the control, at the moment, of the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance.
Also on the priority list is a lift or elevator to provided handicapped access to the gym/cafeteria on the bottom floor, updating bathrooms including an ADA-compliant one, and addressing security needs ranging from secure lobby access to a public address system.
"We're not going to get grants for every project," Franzoni said. "I hear the school choice funds bounced around ... but if there is school choice it's paying for the budget cuts from last year ... And there's a whole laundry list of things."
Some donations have come into a school repair fund and the VFW has donated $5,000 for plumbing updates and Robert Maynard and his family purchased $3,000 worth of bathroom furnishings for the school. Someone has also offered to purchase lights for the boiler room. Volunteers had also done some work on the drainage and back steps.
Principal Tara Barnes said she'd spoken with David Westall of Westall Architects about how the school could put in a handicapped bathroom, with the most straighforward option being expanding the one in the women's faculty lounge and having it open onto the hallway. It would become simply a generic bathroom.
Robert Norcross, who's been coordinating the renovation committee, said he's been working on a five-year plan because some of the repairs will have to be pushed off.
"Try to have patience," he said. "I know it's hard sometimes but we're definitely working to get things done."
But while the volunteers are tackling some of the smaller repairs, there's a question as to who will oversee the requests for proposals for the more expensive proposals, such as the roof. The school doesn't have a facilities manager and Barnes is the school's educational leader.
The committee members are dedicated and are knowledgeable about construction, Franzoni said. "But in terms of writing RFPs for roofs or boilers, that's not something I'm familiar with and that's not Tara's responsibility. I think we need help from the town. We have to work together."
Last week the superintendent had some pushback from the Select Board over the use of the Town Administrator Carl McKinney on some of the issues. Select Board member Karin Robert did not want McKinney burdened writing RFPs for the school.
"Things kind of get punted toward Carl and I really feel it needs to come from the school department for some of these RFPs, things that aren't under his green energy grant oversight," she said at last week's Select Board meeting. "I think the school administrative offices need to take the ball for that. He's got a lot of work on his plate for town repairs."
Franzoni said he didn't know how the protocol was set up in the past but the school is a town building, it's not part a regional system.
They're trying to work with people with expertise, he said, but the piecemeal renovation proposal "is not a normal standard way of doing things. We want to do it properly so it's safe and so it will last."
Chairman Ronald Boucher had suggested the School Committee lean on one of its members, Laura Wood, who had been the purchasing agent for the city of North Adams. Franzoni told them they the were drawing on the experiences of people but this kind of work wasn't their area of expertise, which was why they were relying on McKinney for help.
"The way the Northern Berkshire School Union is set up, each town is their own separate district," Franzoni said on Thursday. "The town owns the school — they're not two separate entities — he's the one that has the knowledge and he's been great about helping us obtain grants and some financial backing for these projects."
Barnes said not having a town official at the meetings was frustrating because the things they discuss have to be reported back to the town for feedback.
"I can talk to people but that doesn't mean I can change their minds," said Norcross. He also told the School Committee members not to be dismayed that he was the only renovation committee member to show up — he's got an email chain that keeps everyone informed.
"People are working, people are doing their best," he said. "I don't feel we're fizzling out, I feel we're getting stronger."
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