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Mount Greylock Committee at Standstill on Multipurpose Building

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Regina DiLego, Dan Caplinger and Al Terranova near the start of Thursday's 6 p.m. meeting.
 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock School Committee for the second straight meeting failed to reach a decision on whether to accept the low bid to build a multipurpose building on the campus of the middle-high school.
 
After several rounds of voting on various approaches to the proposed $2.8 million project Thursday night, the committee ended up hopelessly deadlocked at the end of a 5 1/2 hour meeting that included a 90-minute executive session to discuss the contracts of non-union personnel, specifically the district's superintendent and business manager positions.
 
The two poles of the building debate were, fittingly, seated at opposite ends of the table as the committee met for its regular monthly meeting.
 
Steven Miller, as he did earlier this month, pushed for more time to reevaluate potential off-campus locations for the district's central administration offices, one of the components of the multipurpose building the committee is mulling.
 
At the other end of the table, Al Terranova argued repeatedly that the district needed to move forward and not rehash a handful of sites that have been studied in the past and discarded for one reason or another — usually because the cost of acquisition and renovation would not have made them much cheaper than building on land the district already owns.
 
"To me, the key word is 'revisiting,' " Miller said early in a debate that consumed two large portions of the meeting, including the hour from 10:30 to 11:37, when a visibly spent committee adjourned for the night. "The situation is different now than it was four years ago. We have a lot more information in terms of what we want to do with the [school's athletic] fields and a lot more information about the cost of the building.
 
"That is why I think it is appropriate to pause and reflect and think, what is the best use of the gift for the the district."
 
"The gift," is a $5 million gift from Williams College to Mount Greylock Regional School at the outset of the district's $64 million addition/renovation project. The "fields" is a reference to the modifications to Mount Greylock's playing fields that the district needs to make in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX.
 
The School Committee — going back to the "legacy" Mount Greylock School Committee that preceded a November 2017 vote to fully regionalize the pre-K through 12 district — has identified three main targets for spending the gift: field renovations, replacement of the district offices formerly housed at Mount Greylock and a reserve for extraordinary building expenses (a new roof or new boilers, for example) that will crop up in the life of the building.
 
Neither the fields nor the central office are items that are eligible for reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which is helping to fund the new middle-high school. That is why the district is hoping to fund those two expenses out of the gift, which reportedly has appreciated to more than $6 million in the time it has been held as part of the college's multibillion endowment.
 
While the administration offices are one need fulfilled by the proposed building, they are not the only need. Most of the square footage in the plan put out to bid was not dedicated to office space. The building also includes: storage space for the school's facilities department, which has no permanent home for the equipment it uses to maintain the fields (like a riding mower); an athletic storage room that would serve as a waxing room for the school's Nordic ski team, which this winter had about 100 participants; and space for public restrooms that would serve the campus' outdoor athletic facilities.
 
Meanwhile, the subcommittee created to look at field renovations, dubbed Phase 2 of the capital project, has recommended a program that includes not only ADA and Title IX compliance measures but also an artificial turf surface. The subcommittee argues that artificial field not only would accommodate interscholastic athletics but also facilitate more outdoor time for the middle-high school's physical education classes.
 
The committee has a bid in hand for the multipurpose building, $2.8 million, and had a promise that if it made a decision on Thursday night that the building could be delivered by late November. Chair Joe Bergeron told his colleagues Thursday that the contractor was willing to hold the price for "a couple of weeks," but the delivery likely would be pushed into next winter at the earliest.
 
"That would mean moving the central office staff in the middle of budget season and the dead of winter," Superintendent Kimberley Grady noted.
 

Steven Miller and Alison Carter voted affirmatively on a motion to keep exploring off-campus alternatives for the district offices that failed, 2-4.
 
The fields project has not been put out to bid. But the district's consultant has estimated a $2.3 million price tag for the artificial turf and compliance measures with a potential quarter-mile track as an estimated $450,000 addition to the exterior work.
 
Four of the six committee members at Thursday's marathon meeting pushed back on the notion of committing $2.8 million to the multipurpose building without making a parallel commitment of at least $2.3 million toward the fields.
 
The $2.8 million figure includes fixtures for the planned public restrooms in the multipurpose building. The district also has a quote that includes space for public restrooms without the fixtures — which could be added at a later date — which brings the price tag in at closer to $2.4 million.
 
On the other hand, the $2.3 million fields estimate — $2.75 million with a track — does not include so-called soft-costs, which Bergeron estimated to be in the neighborhood of $500,000 based on the district's experience with other projects.
 
One of the most ambitious proposals before the board on Thursday came toward the end of the meeting, when Dan Caplinger moved that the committee accept the multipurpose building (Phase 1) bid at about $2.4 million (without bathroom fixtures) and dedicate $2.75 million plus $500,000 in soft costs toward Phase 2, the fields.
 
"That's $5.7 million," Regina DiLego noted.
 
"That obviously leaves very little in the endowment," said Terranova, who has consistently pushed for maximizing the amount held back for future building needs. "I don't know if I even feel comfortable with that. I don't  know what other solutions there are."
 
No one at the table specifically addressed whether the School Committee should be signalling to prospective bidders on Phase 2 a number that the committee is "committed" to spending before it has been put out to bid.
 
Caplinger said that his motion — to commit upward of $5.7 million for Phases 1 and 2 — was made with the assumption that the district would continue seeking private donations to support the project. The district already has received help from volunteers experienced in fund-raising to help with that effort.
 
In the meantime, Caplinger argued that it could use the Williams gift money to get the fields built while collecting donations to replenish the reserve.
 
"I'm sure we could make it clear to our donors that their money would offset money from the capital gift," Caplinger said. "It would go to some other school purpose that we otherwise would have spent the capital gift on."
 
Bergeron was less certain.
 
"It wouldn't work that way as the agreement with Williams College is currently worded," he said. "You'd have to rework the agreement. I'm also not sure if, under municipal law, we could hand money we raise over to Williams College" to place in its interest-bearing $2.5 billion endowment.
 
Caplinger's motion to accept the bid in hand and commit funds to field work was defeated on a vote of 2-3-1. Caplinger and Alison Carter voted in favor of the idea. Bergeron, DiLego and Terranova were opposed. Miller abstained.
 
Another alternative pitched by Caplinger was that the district go back to square one and put both Phases 1 and 2 out to bid as part of a single package so that the committee could know what it was voting on for all of its needs before pulling the trigger on one of them.
 
Bergeron expressed trepidation about that idea.
 
"Our building experts, so far, have held that having it be one bid package won't save money," he said. "Art [Eddy of Traverse Landscape Architects] said you might pay a penalty because you'd have a general contractor for buildings overseeing a turf project.
 
"That's the fear I have. Second, I fear what [putting everything out to bid again] does to the timeline."
 
Caplinger's motion to rebid everything as a single package failed, 1-4-1 with Caplinger voting in favor and Miller abstaining.
 
Just before adjourning, DiLego moved — knowing it would fail — that the committee consider the only bid it had to consider, the bid on the multipurpose building that it received earlier this month. She moved that the district accept the Phase 1 project at a price of $2.45 million, without the bathrooms.
 
Bergeron joined her in voting for the proposal. The other four members of the seven-member panel in attendance voted against.
 
Throughout the evening, Miller's suggestion that the committee keep exploring off-campus options was a recurring theme, drawing increasingly vehement opposition from Terranova.
 
The argument in favor of moving forward with the multipurpose building was twofold: The district already had explored most of the identified options for a new central office, and the central office is the only part of the proposed multipurpose building that could be accomplished off-campus.
 
"Where are we going to store tens of thousands of dollars of machinery?" Terranova asked. "At the [former] Taconic Restaurant? What are we going to do with the 100 kids on the ski team? Have them wax at the Taconic Restaurant? At Williamstown's public library?
 
"The viable option is to have a building on campus. We have gone over this a thousand times. The multi-use building has to be on campus. It's going to contain some elements for recreation. That's the way it has to be."
 
Miller countered that there are specific questions the committee needs answered before committing $2.8 million ($2.4 million without the bathrooms) to the Phase 1 building.
 
"We don't know about a property for sale on Main Street in Williamstown," Miller said. "We don't know how much it would cost to get [Lanesborough's] Vacation Village operational. We don't know how much it would cost to put a building on campus for the other needs. And [waiting] leaves the money in the endowment to earn interest."

Superintendent Kimberley Grady and School Committee Chair Joe Bergeron participate in Thursday's monthly meeting.
 
Caplinger noted that any interest accrued would be at least partly offset by the cost of continuing to rent construction trailers for the central office while the district continues its explorations of alternatives.
 
Bergeron told the committee that he tried to engage the real estate agent on a Main Street property but had not been able to have a dialogue. He also said the owner of the former Taconic Restaurant currently, "doesn't have a price at which they're willing to sell it."
 
The former Vacation Village sales complex idea has gained some currency in the community in recent weeks, particularly in light of the town of Lanesborough's interest in acquiring the Route 7 property, on the market for $750,000.
 
During Thursday's public comment period, a resident suggested that the district buy the Vacation Village parcel, which is much more than it needs for a district office, and rent a portion of it to the town. Bergeron later dismissed that notion.
 
"We, as a regional school district, don't have the authority to buy something and lease portions of it out to earn income," he said. "That is something the [district's counsel] has weighed in on before. We're not allowed to buy something for the purposes of leasing it out that way."
 
Mount Greylock Superintendent Kimberly Grady told the committee that the buildings at Vacation Village would need environmental testing to evaluate mold and mildew and a construction engineer's appraisal to look at feasibility for use by the district before they could be acquired.
 
Miller said repeatedly that he would vote to authorize those testing expenses before spending to build the multipurpose building on campus.
 
And there were other reasons not to look at a site on the periphery of the district for the central office — whether that be Main Street in Williamstown or the Vacation Village site in Lanesborough.
 
"It takes away from our efficiency," Grady said. "It brings everyone down there [to Lanesborough], when two thirds of our district is up here.
 
"It's not like we sit in our office all day. We run to our schools now. We'd have to run down to Lanesborough [from Mount Greylock's campus], but there are more kids up here."
 
Williamstown, the district's larger town, is located to the north with another town, New Ashford, in between the two district partners. Williamstown Elementary School is about a nine-minute drive from Mount Greylock. Lanesborough Elementary School is about a 16-minute drive from the middle-high school — according to Google maps.
 
And, as Terranova noted repeatedly, the non-administrative needs met by multipurpose buildings cannot be met off-campus.
 
"People have objected to the cost of the 'district office,' and it's not just a district office," DiLego said. "The image out in the public is that we're spending $2.8 million to build a palace for the district office, and we're not."
 
Bergeron said the district could order an architect's design for what a multipurpose building would look like without a district office and put that out to bid, but such a move would cost time and money.
 
"If we were to have the district office somewhere else but build the rest of that building, we would save about $1.2 million," Bergeron said, emphasizing that he was using a rough estimate. "That's assuming bathrooms and storage and a waxing room and [handicapped accessible] parking."
 
In addition to housing the storage, waxing room, public restrooms and the eight-member central office staff, the multipurpose building as designed includes a parking that would double as accessible parking for an artificial turf field proposed to be installed to the west of the school.
 
"$1.2 million would be what we'd be swapping out to buy and renovate something somewhere else," Bergeron said. "That's just a back-of-the envelope calculation."
 
The committee discussed setting a special meeting on the multipurpose building before its regular May 9 monthly meeting but did not set a date on Thursday night.

Tags: central office,   MGRSD,   playing fields,   

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