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Al Terranova, right, participates in a meeting of the Mount Greylock Transition Committee in 2018.

Mount Greylock Committee Member: Address Needs First, Then Save Funds

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — One member of the Mount Greylock School Committee on Thursday continued to push hard for the district to go forward with plans to build an artificial turf field while appearing to reverse his own position on maintaining a building maintenance reserve.
 
Al Terranova spoke passionately about the need to stop talking about whether to build a synthetic field and, as he has advocated in the past, make a decision on the project. But Terranova, who in the past frequently argued in favor of preserving some portion of a Williams College capital gift for building maintenance now says that money "was never, ever, ever intended to be a maintenance fund for the building."
 
On Sunday afternoon, Terranova said that his thinking about the notion of reserve had evolved over the years, but his top priority remains the same: making improvements on the campus for the benefit of the students and the community at large.
 
The issue of how to utilize proceeds from 2016's $5 million gift from the college to the Mount Greylock Regional School District has been debated by the School Committee and town bodies at both ends of the regional school district in recent weeks.
 
The school panel has been debating the question for years, and the discussion generally has focused on three priorities for the money: a multi-purpose building that, among other things, would house the central administration of the district; improvements to the athletic fields; and some sort of reserve to address future capital needs.
 
In general, that reserve has been discussed as $1.5 million of the original $5 million. But given the facts that the building (currently under construction) and the fields (which have been bid once already) both came in at higher costs than originally anticipated and that the current value of the gift itself is unknown after Williams' overall endowment was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, some have encouraged the School Committee to pause on new construction and ensure a solid reserve.
 
The select boards in both towns, the Williamstown Finance Committee and the School Committee's own Finance Subcommittee each have voted — mostly unanimously — to recommend that the School Committee pump the brakes on the fields project, at least until the district knows the gift's current value.
 
Terranova appeared to bristle at the outside "advice" during Thursday's two-hour virtual meeting of the School Committee.
 
"You know how I feel about this because I've been dealing with it for four years," Terranova said. "It's aggravating when I hear people say things. I can't name all the people who have been involved in this, but I can name the people that weren't involved in this. No member on the present Williamstown Finance Committee, no member on the present Williamstown Select Board ever was in any of those meetings.
 
"So they don't know it from Day 1."
 
Williamstown Select Board member Hugh Daley and Finance Committee member Paul Consolini were on the Mount Greylock School Building Committee, the latter serving as co-chair. Dan Caplinger, who recently joined the Fin Comm in Williamstown, was a member of the Mount Greylock School Committee and served on the Phase 2 Subcommittee that created the plans to improve the middle/high school's athletic fields; he was the lone member of the Fin Comm to vote against the letter sent to the School Committee, objecting to its tone.
 
In the end, the School Committee decided on Thursday to allow its Finance Subcommittee to develop a proposal for an advisory group that can gather information and present a recommendation in the fall, around the same time that Williams College has said it will have a certified value for its endowment.
 
On Thursday, Finance Subcommittee Chair Jamie Art reported that although the college's fiscal year ends on June 30, it will not have that certified value until October.
 
Carolyn Greene, who recently rejoined the Mount Greylock School Committee after a couple of years away from the panel, developed the proposal for the advisory group, which she said will help the district do the community outreach that needs to happen to get buy-in from taxpayers in each town. Greene noted that while the Phase 2 subcommittee did its job and collected a lot of information, PR was not part of its charge.
 
School Committee Chair Christina Conry Thursday asked that anyone interested in serving on the advisory board or consulting with it contact either Greene (cgreene@mgrhs.org) or herself (cconry@mgrhs.org).
 
Terranova said Thursday  that he thought opposition to the turf field had less to do with how the endowment was spent or saved and more to do with opposition to the synthetic turf.
 
"I think that what's important is what is necessary for our students and what is necessary for the community," he said. "I was elected to the School Committee. I am giving what in my opinion what's best for students and what's' best for the school. I am not involved in a geopolitical decision about plastic."
 
At another point, he referenced one of several local residents who have asked the School Committee not to consider an artificial field regardless of the financial implications.
 
"I think delaying this is a horrendous idea," Terranova said. "I think we should make a decision and go forward. … I just hear all white noise out there.
 
"There's nothing that Anne O'Connor can tell me that will make me say, 'Yeah, let's do away with artificial turf,' and there's nothing that I can tell Anne O'Connor that she'll say, 'You know what, Brockfill is the best idea in the world.' [An artificial field] is a necessity for the students and a necessity for the community."
 
As for the idea of utilizing a portion of the Williams gift for a maintenance reserve fund, Terranova made a startling assertion.
 
"First of all, the $1.5 million is a myth," he said.
 
Terranova claimed Thursday that the only reserve ever associated with the Williams College capital gift was money intended to support capital projects funded from the gift in the first place.
 
"The Williams College fund's purpose was to do the items not covered by [the Massachusetts School Building Authority in the building project]," he said. "The Phase 2 committee knew from Day 1 that there were going to be expenditures down the road. We knew, for example, when we talked about the [American with Disabilities Act] situation, you know those little paths to the [athletic] venues, we spent a lot of time talking about what would those [paths] be made of, what was the material. We knew that somewhere down the road — seven, eight, nine years down the road — there would be maintenance on those to maintain ADA compliance.
 
"To use the money now for boilers and eight years later when the ADA paths are no longer viable, where's the money coming from?"
 
On Sunday, he stood by the notion that the Williams gift should only be used for initiatives outside the scope of the building project and the maintenance of those initiatives. And he recalled a Phase 2 Subcommittee meeting immediately after the School Committee in March 2018 voted to fund the new parking lot (another potential Williams College gift expenditure) from proceeds of the $64 million building bond.
 
"I can only say for myself, but I think everyone on the Phase 2 committee never felt the money was going to be used for the [school] building," Terranova said Sunday. "The money was going to be used for the items that we felt we were going to use the money for."
 
Thursday likely marked the first time in four years that a member of the School Committee suggested in one of its meetings that the reserve from the gift not be used on extraordinary maintenance at the school itself.
 
The first known official reference to priorities for the gift, a 2016 memo to the School Committee from its Financial Subcommittee, lists a "Building Improvement Fund" as the No. 2 priority for the gift. And it specifies that, "there will be a point where expensive items are necessary to maintain the quality of the facility (e.g. boilers, roof)."
 
Terranova said Sunday that he did not recall seeing the October 2016 memo until it was published on iBerkshires.com earlier this month. But he challenged the idea that a capital gift given for "projects outside of the scope of work" of the MSBA-funded addition/renovation project could be spent on repairs to the school itself.
 
"Fixing the boiler is a regular capital expense, and it gets shared by the two towns," Terranova said. "Every school has a boiler. It's a mistake to take it from the Williams College gift."
 
Terranova has pushed hard in past School Committee meetings to preserve a maintenance reserve, but, until Thursday, without indicating he meant only maintenance for the fields or the multi-purpose building.
 
In February 2019, Terranova said: "I keep as sacred the $1.5 million. That is untouchable. Five or 10 years from now — long after I'm off the committee — someone will take part of that money to fix the boiler or something."
 
The minutes for that Feb. 25, 2019, meeting were reviewed twice by the School Committee before being approved unanimously in a vote that included Terranova. The minutes included, on the second page, the following: "Al: concern about preserving the reserve of $1.5 million (and what it's grown to, say about $1.9 million)."
 
The Feb. 25, 2019, meeting was a special session of the committee that began at 3 p.m. Unlike most School Committee meetings, it was not recorded and no videotape is available.
 
However, an April 11, 2019, meeting was recorded and is available for view on Mount Greylock's YouTube channel. The partial transcript below from a 5-1/2 meeting is illustrative. Although some of the issues at hand that April night have been resolved, the discussion makes one thing clear: School Committee members — including Terranova — supported the idea of a "building reserve." At one point, Terranova calls Williamstown Elementary's building endowment (coincidentally also the proceeds of a Williams College gift) a "model" for the Mount Greylock district to follow:
 
Al Terranova: I'd like to move ... that we approve $2.3 million for Phase 2 of the capital gift and $2.8 million for the Phase 1, that money to be taken from the capital gift ... and that the remaining money stays in the endowment and not be touched. I'm doing quick math, and Steve's better at it than I am, but if we can keep anywhere from $1 million to $1.2 million in there and don't touch it for 10 years, in 10 years, the building would be solvent forever.
 
Regina DiLego: I'll second for discussion.
 
Steven Miller: As much as I love the idea of protecting the endowment and leaving money to grow, I fear that if we don't do all the athletic stuff that we need at this time, the long term costs are going to more than we'd get by continuing to keep the money in the endowment. ... Thus, I do not like the idea of locking the rest of it into a box and keeping the fields at $2.3 million. Would you accept a friendly amendment to remove that?
 
Al Terranova: I'm being Al Gore and a 'locked box,' but ... I'm afraid that if you don't lock it, it's kind of like, if it's there, you'll spend it.
 
Steven Miller: How about, it can only be used for the Phase 2 construction?
 
Al Terraova: I hear what you're saying, Steve, and I've really backed up on the endowment. I don't know what the number should be, but I'm fearful that if we're not strong on it .. I'm not going to be on this committee 10 years from now, 15 years from now, and when something has to be done and we find out, 'Where's the endowment?' and we have $600,000 in an endowment when we should have $1.9 million.
 
Steven Miller: This is why I was against the multi-purpose building at $2.8 million.
 
Joe Bergeron: Just to add some numbers. Al, you said $2.3 [million] plus $2.8 [million], that equals $5.1 [million]. We know that separate from the bid, from ... what the bid numbers are, there are the soft costs, getting all of Perkins Eastman's costs and other things that pop up. That, ball-parking it for me tonight, is about $500K, because we've got the amount we've committed to Perkins Eastman for Phase 2, we've got the amount we've committed to Perkins Eastman for Phase 1, and then we've got other bits and pieces there. So let's just call that $500K because we're using the back of the envelope already.
 
So that's $5.1 [million] plus $500K is $5.6 [million]. And as of Feb. 20, which we discussed in our late February, I believe, special meeting on this, the college said that we have $6.2 [million].
So the $6.2 [million] minus the $5.6 [million] equals $600,000. So that would leave $600,000 available to grow for the purpose of maintaining this building.
 
I personally, on the basis of that, don't feel comfortable supporting that motion. ... Did anybody else follow that math? I don't think I messed it up. I'm always hesitant to do math when I'm sitting in a School Committee meeting. But it's been moved by Al and seconded by Regina.
 
Steven Miller: I will ask again if you'd accept as a friendly amendment ... to allow the fund to be only used for Phase 2 construction. You had said to put the rest of the money in the endowment and not to touch it for a certain number of years. And I am very concerned that when we're doing the construction for Phase 2 now, this is the time to put things in. We're going to have the crews there, we're going to have everything done now. Either that or postpone the administrative building for another year.
 
Al Terranova: Postponing the building for another year, I would never vote for that. What do you think, colleagues?
 
Steven Miller: It doesn't have to be spent. But at least it gives us the option that if we are doing things for the fields ...
 
Al Terranova: I know that at the meeting yesterday, we talked about going out to bid, the field and the walkway and all the other stuff and the baseball field, and then we were going to ... get a number on the track. So we'll have that. But I just see the endowment being whittled away. If we're down to $600,000, I know it sounds like a lot of money, but God ... We're using the Williamstown Elementary School as a model. It was great when the boilers went and it didn't cost taxpayers a penny because of the available money that was there. ... I won't be here 10 years from now on this committee, I guarantee you. I don't know who will be, but … I don't know what to tell you.
 
On Sunday, Terranova was clear that from his standpoint, the Williams gift should be used to support only the two things that the School Committee has decided it should: the multi-purpose building and the fields.
 
"Maybe you can say I've changed my position, but I definitely don't want to use the Williams gift for things that are regular capital expenditures [like a new roof or boiler]," he said on Sunday.
 
He accepted the fact that a different School Committee in 10 years may feel differently and apply any funds still in the endowment to a school building expense. But he said that people who want the current School Committee to prioritize a "building reserve" are putting the cart before the horse.
 
"You do the fields first, and the rest goes into the endowment," he said. "They want to carve out the money [for a reserve] and then do the fields."

Tags: gift,   MGRS,   Williams College,   

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Mount Greylock Interim Superintendent: Health Plays 'Highest Role' in Reopening Plan

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

Amie Hane, chair of the school district's special Parent Advisory Council, addresses the School Committee on Thursday evening.
 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mount Greylock Regional School District officials Thursday sought to allay fears that the district's schools will reopen under any scenario where safety is not the first priority.
 
Interim Superintendent Robert Putnam walked the School Committee through the administration's planning process for the start of school in September during the body's Zoom-based meeting.
 
"First off, we want to make sure that medical and health play the highest role in our decisions," Putnam said. "We are committed to protecting anyone with comorbidities. We are committed to, basically, creating the conditions for and ensuring that there is social distancing that protects staff and students alike. We are committed to creating a norm of mask-wearing and hand-washing.
 
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