Mount Greylock School Committee Vice Chairwoman Regina DiLego, right, will be filling in for Chairman Joe Bergeron while he takes a temporary leave of absence from the panel.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School District on Thursday moved a step closer to building an artificial turf field on the Cold Spring Road campus.
By a unanimous vote, the five members of the School Committee at a special meeting decided to put to bid a field renovation plan that will include construction of an artificial field that will serve the school's soccer, lacrosse and football programs as well as providing more outdoor access to physical education classes at the middle-high school.
"You've heard [PE teacher] Brian Gill talk about the benefits of a turf field for the broader student body," said John Skavlem, a member of the ad hoc committee of committee members and community representatives formed to look at the school's needs for athletic fields.
The driving force for addressing the fields is the school's need to come into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX in the wake of its $64 million addition/renovation project.
That add/reno project is funded in part by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which has a relatively low limit on the amount of "exterior" work that it will support during a building project. The reimbursable part of the grounds work associated with the new academic building and renovated portions of the old Mount Greylock was used up long before the district was able to address its athletic fields.
The good news was that the district had a $5 million gift from Williams College that it received at the outset of the building project.
The bad news was that the projected cost of the fields, a building that will — in part — replace the central office space that was housed in the old Mount Greylock and a set aside that the committee wants to preserve for future extraordinary maintenance needs exceeds the amount of money in the "Williams gift," even though, with interest, the funds available from the capital gift now exceed $5 million.
On Thursday, the committee agreed to put the field project out to bid with a cap of $2.1 million.
For that, the district hopes to build a turf field, which will replace the current John T. Allen Field and its bleachers, which are not ADA compliant — the reality that forced the district to look at the multi-sport field in the first place. It also is hoped that for $2.1 million, the district will be able to construct handicapped-accessible paths to the baseball and softball fields on the south end of the property and a renovation of the softball fields as needed for compliance under Title IX, which ensures gender equity in interscholastic athletics.
In addition, the Capital Gift Phase II committee recommended that the bid include an "add alternate" that will allow bidders to price another feature: a six-lane on the north end of the campus. The committee concluded that the track is better kept separate from the turf field because it would allow javelin competition on the interior of the track and ringing a field with a 400-meter track limits the size of the field.
Mount Greylock, which traditionally has a strong and well-populated track and field team, long has been without a home track. It has hosted meets and held some practices at Williams College in the past, but those opportunities have been harder to schedule in recent years, according to Gill, a track and field coach in addition to being a phys ed teacher at Mount Greylock.
"Based on where we are in the process, the recommendation would be not to go to bid until August," Skavlem told the committee. "That would mean construction in the fall [and completion in time for the spring seasons]. I'm not happy to report that. We've been talking about this for a while, but that's where we'd end up."
School Committee member Dan Caplinger, who also serves on the Phase II committee, echoed Skavlem's sentiment but accepted the premise of the district's architect, Providence, R.I.'s, Traverse Landscape Architect, that the district will receive more competitive bids in late summer than it would with an earlier timetable.
"I respect our landscape architect's willingness to come out and tell us that even with the time pressure we made clear," Caplinger said. "It was still his professional opinion that we'd get better results with a delay in bidding. To me, that speaks well of his professionalism."
While Thursday's vote moves forward the Phase II field work, Phase I — the multipurpose building — remains in limbo.
The School Committee — and its predecessor committees that predated the full PreK-12 regionalization of the Lanesborough-Williamstown schools — long has known that displacing the central administration staff to construction trailers on the Mount Greylock campus is not a long-term solution to its infrastructure needs.
But it has been unable to agree on a plan to replace the office and storage space lost in the add/reno project. Like field work, the MSBA does not participate financially in central office space, so its replacement was intentionally left out of the $64 million add/reno project.
On Thursday, School Committee Vice Chairwoman Regina DiLego reported that the Phase I Committee is not ready to bring a recommendation to the full committee.
Superintendent Kimberley Grady said she and the Phase I group have reconsidered all of the potential off-campus locations for a district office, as suggested by the School Committee.
"Some are not big enough, some would need a lot of work, some are just leases that we'd have to put district money in [to renovate] only to then have to walk away," Grady said. "We've gone to places that carried health concerns — water, mold, mildew. I don't think it's fair to ask a team that keeps the district running to go to a place like the place [the old Mount Greylock] that these two communities needed to be torn down."
Grady also took the opportunity to remind everyone in the room and the audience watching at home that while the district needs to find a home for the central office staff, the building under consideration for that has taken on roles that have nothing to do with her and her team, like public restrooms for the athletic fields, storage space for outdoor grounds equipment and supplies for the middle-high school and an athletic space that could be used in the winter for waxing cross country skis.
"I can't sit comfortably with people saying the district office is costing $2.8 million," Grady said. "That's just not the case."
When a couple of School Committee members expressed their "disappointment" that the turf field may not be built until spring 2020, Grady said those sorts of comments make the central office staff feel "marginalized."
"As a School Committee, to say you're disappointed in [the athletic fields delay], when we have people who run the district … working in a trailer every day where they're constantly getting sick … there's some frustration there as well," Grady said.
Caplinger said the district does not have to pit one group's needs against another's.
"No one on the [Phase II] subcommittee disrespects anyone in the district office," Caplinger said. "We don't see it as a trade-off. I made several motions to fund both [phases]. They didn't go through. I was disappointed then and now. And my disappointment is no less for the people in the district office than it is for the student body.
"The idea that we're at odds with each other is, in my view, incorrect, and it's an attitude that should be avoided whenever possible."
In other business on Thursday, the School Committee did a temporary reorganization of its officers. Chairman Joe Bergeron has asked the panel for a leave of absence, and DiLego will be acting as chair in his place. To give her a backup, Caplinger was elected temporary vice chair by the five members in attendance.
The committee also voted to adjust its numbers for School Choice at each of its elementary schools.
At Williamstown Elementary School, one choice slot that had been opened but generated no interest in the first grade was shifted to kindergarten. At Lanesborough Elementary School, the committee voted to add four new choice slots — all in the kindergarten for the 2019-20 school year.
Grady informed the committee that dynamics of the incoming LES kindergarten class have changed since the panel voted its School Choice openings earlier in the spring.
Currently, the Lanesborough school has 21 resident enrollees for the fall, and Grady said she is processing applications for two more kindergartners. Once their resident status is confirmed, that will bring the class size to 23, where the school normally would want to divide it into two sections. And two sections of 11 and 12 would be suboptimal learning environments; the school would prefer to see classes in the 14 pupil range, so adding four choice slots makes sense, Grady said.
Caplinger confirmed with Grady that adding five more slots to the same age group at the two elementary schools did not threaten an overly large incoming class at the middle school down the road, and she said they district would still be in its target range with the added seats.
Prior to the discussion by the committee, it heard public comment from two parents of rising kindergarteners who currently send older siblings to LES and WES through School Choice. Per district policy, siblings are given priority in School Choice lotteries.
Finally, Grady informed the committee and the public that Lanesborough Elementary Principal Martha Wiley is on paid leave and that former Mount Greylock teacher Nolan Pratt is serving as acting principal. She said she will be sending a separate communication to LES families about the move.
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