Kimberly Roche of Dupere Law Offices advises the Mount Greylock School Committee on Tuesday night.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — On a vote of 5-2, the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Tuesday voted to go forward with a multipurpose building to house the district's office, storage of records and "attic stock" for the recently renovated and expanded middle-high school and public restrooms for the campus' athletic fields.
The vote at a special meeting cleaned up a vote taken at a different special meeting last week.
Attorney Kimberly Roche from the district's counsel, the Dupere Law Offices, was on hand to explain why last Tuesday's vote was problematic.
"There were a couple of different problems with the original motion and vote," Roche said. "One of them [is] that you can't make a vote for a project that hasn't been bid yet. If you do and allocate funds toward that project, you'll receive bids that are higher than if people didn't know what you were willing to spend on it.
"The other is how to get money out of the [excess and deficiency] fund."
Last week's vote tied a financial commitment to the multipurpose building to a decision to spend an equal amount on renovations to the playing fields — a project that already has been bid once but rejected after prices came in significantly higher than expected.
The Nov. 5 vote also sought to pay for part of the multipurpose building project — about $315,000 — from the district's E&D funds rather than the proceeds of a $5 million capital gift the district received from Williams College at the start of the addition/renovation project.
"As a school committee, you can vote to bring [a request] to the towns to get money out of that fund, but you can't vote to just take they money out," Roche said.
As she laid out the options to the committee: the district could ask member towns Lanesborough and Williamstown for permission to use the E&D account, and the towns would have up to 60 days to call a special town meeting in each community to settle the issue. A "nay" vote from either town, and the request would be denied.
"The easiest option would be to have up to $2.5 million for Phase 1 come out of the gift account," Roche said.
That ultimately is what the committee decided to do, but two members, Dan Caplinger and Steven Miller, voted against the final motion for different reasons.
Caplinger said he favored leaving out the "add alternate" for fully fitted bathrooms, instead building in space for public restrooms where fixtures could be added at a later date. He said it was preferable to leave as much money as possible in the capital gift until a plan was approved for the fields.
Miller agreed with the majority that it makes sense to install the full restrooms now if the building is being built because the district has been told by construction professionals, "This is not going to get cheaper." But Miller said the entire "Phase 1" building project needs more study and greater explanation for voters before the district proceeds.
Miller specifically cited an email the School Committee members received on Tuesday from a former committee member, Lanesborough's Richard Cohen, who asserted that modular construction could meet the district's needs for a fraction of the cost of the building under bid.
Superintendent Kimberley Grady said Cohen's numbers were based on a modular building only big enough to house offices — not the storage or the public restrooms — and it did not include the slab that would need to be installed to accommodate the building.
"We need, for this building, storage," Grady said. "We also need a place to cover our equipment. We need a place for [cross country ski waxing]. We need a place to safely host the district office. But I am the smallest space involved."
The waxing room — like the district office and storage space — is space left out of the $64 million addition/renovation project, in part because the School Committee and School Building Committee knew the district had the capital gift to use for items not reimbursable by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
In a prior design for the multipurpose building, space for the waxing room and outdoor equipment (four-wheelers, mowers) was included. Those two uses since have been designed out of the multipurpose building, and the district is looking at a cheaper solution for that square footage.
"I don't know how much smaller you want it," Grady said. "Because then you'll run into a place where the bodies needed to run the district won't fit in the building you just built. … In a year, you'll have to build an annex on it."
As for rented office space — another option that Miller has repeatedly suggested — Grady reiterated that she and the Phase 1 Subcommittee have explored all the possible options and found them inadequate.
"I don't know how many more people have to look or how many more places I have to go with Realtors to show there's nothing out there that wouldn't take an overhaul that you would have to pay for" Grady said.
Caplinger did not suggest that the committee rethink the idea of a new building on campus. But he did argue that the $315,000 "add alternate" for bathroom fixtures should be left out as a good faith gesture to those working on plans to bring the district's fields into compliance with Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act and — possibly — install an artificial turf field.
"I've been clear about my concerns about how spending money here takes away from other purposes," said Caplinger, who serves on both the Phase 1 [multipurpose building] and Phase 2 [fields] subcommittees. "While I'm not sure all committee members would prioritize things the same way I would … the Phase 1 Subcommittee chose not to make a firm recommendation with respect to whether bathrooms should be included at this time.
"I would therefore take the latitude that gave me to oppose Alternate 2 [the fixtures] in order to preserve money for the potential use with Phase 2, however it turns out to be. … My concern is, if the need for bathrooms hinges on the existence of the field, if that's the case and the field isn't done, have we built bathrooms we didn't need?"
Grady pointed out that accessible bathrooms would be a requirement whether or not the artificial turf field is built someday.
"No matter how we slice this, we have to bring the fields up to code, and they're full all the time," Grady said. "We have playing fields. We have to bring them to code. No one is saying we won't have playing fields"
She pointed out that the public bathrooms were "inherited" by the Phase 1 Subcommittee because the Phase 2 group ruled out building a structure to house them as part of the fields project. And while "porta-potties" might be an option, they also cost money.
Jamie Art, left, and Dan Caplinger listen to the district's counsel.
"The Phase 2 committee did talk about bathrooms," said Al Terranova, who serves on the Phase 2 Subcommittee. "When we talked about them and talked about porta-potties, we spent a lot of time talking about composted bathrooms. The feeling we got from our architect is we could do that, but it's not really a viable option for a facility with maybe hundreds of people at an event.
"I'd hate to sit here a year from now saying bathrooms are now $390,000 instead of $310,000. I know it's a lot of money, but we can't go on like this."
Alison Carter, who missed the Nov. 5 meeting, agreed that the price was high but argued that the district had found all the cost savings it could.
"I do feel like buildings are expensive," Carter said. "I was not on the Phase 1 Subcommittee, but hearing and seeing what's going on, rental options are exhausted. Nothing else is feasible.
"The modular option — when you build in everything that's needed — is coming in close to what we're seeing for a base bid [for the multipurpose building]. A modular building? What's the lifespan of that? I feel like the school, district staff and students need a building that will serve the purposes we need it to. We've spent a lot of time trying to find another way to have this not cost $2.5 million. It's a lot of money, no matter how you cut it. We've spent a lot of time trying to find another option, but I'm not seeing one.
"We know this building is a need."
In the end, the 5-2 vote awarded the building contract to David J. Tierney Jr. Inc. of Pittsfield, the low bidder of two responding contractors after the bathroom alternate was factored into the bids.
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