Mount Greylock School Committee member Steven Miller, right, attends his first School Building Committee meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Building Committee on Tuesday voted unanimously to pay an invoice from the town of Williamstown for inspection services if the money remains in the project budget at the end of the process.
At issue was $154,426 in fees that the district accumulated for the town building department's inspections throughout the life of the $64 million addition/renovation project.
At the outset of the project, the town manager told the district that he was willing to be the last vendor paid, essentially setting up another contingency in the budget for the cost-conscious district officials who were, at the time, concerned about whether the building project bond would be approved by voters.
Normally, the town takes fees for building projects at the time permits are pulled, i.e., at the front end of projects. Town Manager Jason Hoch said he could wait for payment in case something went awry and the project was in danger of going over budget.
This summer, with the project continuing to track favorably with its budget, Hoch reminded district officials of the outstanding debt, touching off months of debate on the School Building Committee, where some members objected to the idea of Williamstown charging the two-town district the standard rate for permitting.
The $150,000 bill at issue is based on the published fee schedule the town uses for all applicants and is tied to square footage and other measurable factors.
Some on the School Building Committee argued that the town instead should submit a bill based on the actual hours spent on the project. Some members of the community suggested that a discount from the town to the district would be an appropriate sign of goodwill to the project.
Committee member Thomas Bartels, who appeared to favor both those arguments at the committee's October meeting, on Tuesday indicated he was satisfied to have the district pay the full bill if funds remain in the budget at "closeout."
"The town manager offered that," Bartels said. "It seemed at that time like a good way to address it."
Co-Chairwoman Paula Consolini followed up on Bartels' comment.
"There could be a motion that the committee says, 'Should there be dollars available, there's a commitment to pay the town … ," she began.
"... Whatever is owed," Bartels finished her thought. "We owe a debt."
Committee member John Goerlach asked if the district knew the fees at the start of the project and whether it was a budgeted cost.
"Yes," answered Hugh Daley, a member of the Williamstown Select Board who, as that body's chair at the time the building project budget was developed, participated in an email conversation that included Hoch and then Mount Greylock Superintendent Douglas Dias.
"I would say [the bill] wasn't a surprise," added co-Chairman Mark Schiek.
"In light of [Bartels' and Hoch's] agreement we should wait, I move we approve the payment of the Williamstown Building Department fee contingent on the project budget being available at … project closeout," Daley said.
The town could have to wait a while for the check, the district's owner's project manager has indicated to the committee that final closeout on the building project could come in 2020.
For now, though, the question of the committee's intent was resolved on a vote of 9-0.
The committee member who pushed the issue the hardest, Richard Cohen, notified the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee after the October meeting of the School Building Committee that he intended to step down from the building panel.
Schiek began Tuesday's monthly meeting by recognizing the efforts of Cohen and Carolyn Greene, who left the building committee after her term on the School Committee came to a close when she chose not to run in November's election.
"I'd like to make sure we thank Carrie Greene for her dedicated service to the School Committee and the School Building Committee over the years," Schiek said. "She was one of the people who helped form the first Statement of Interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. We're sad to see her go, but sometimes life changes, and it was her choice to step away
"We'd also like to thank Rich Cohen. … Rich, as we know, is passionate about many things, and we want to thank him for his time on both the School Committee and the School Building Committee."
Mount Greylock School Committee member Steven Miller stepped into the seat formerly occupied by Greene.
Schiek ended the 75-minute meeting by returning to the topic of committee membership, noting that as the project moves into its closeout phase, the committee's work changes. And he invited all of its members to consider whether they wanted to continue. Some are filling seats that are required to be occupied by the MSBA, but the committee is currently larger than it needs to be and could see an actual reduction in members if other individuals choose to give up their seats.
"We've come through many different phases, from inception to design to construction," OPM Trip Elmore told the committee. "Now, we're going to the closeout portion. Design decisions and construction decisions are not part of it. Largely, the next phase is heavily weighted on the OPM trying to guide the data to get the final reimbursement from the MSBA.
"It is largely financial, and it is largely paperwork."
Schiek asked any members who are interested in stepping down to let him know so he can look into options for either replacing them or leaving their seat vacant. The committee currently has 14 members — not counting Cohen. Elmore said Tuesday that at a bare minimum, it would have closer to 10 members.
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