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Mount Greylock School Committee to Hear Proposal for Fields Advisory Group

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee's Finance Subcommittee on Thursday settled on a proposal for an advisory group to help the full committee make a decision that has stymied it for months.
 
Following a request from School Committee Chair Christina Conry, the subcommittee crafted a proposal to bring to the full panel as soon as its Thursday, June 25, meeting.
 
The proposed Athletic Infrastructure Advisory Group would be charged with delivering and providing background to the School Committee two or three options "for resolving current challenges to athletic infrastructure" at the middle/high school. The proposal as drafted gives the advisory panel a deadline of mid-October to deliver its report.
 
That time frame coincides with the date the School Committee expects to learn the value of funds donated to the district by Williams College and held in the college's endowment, which is valued annually with a fiscal year that ends on June 30.
 
"The idea of the committee is to be a research group and not to make a recommendation," said Carolyn Greene, who volunteered to chair the advisory group. "We are giving the pros and cons, and then it's up to the School Committee to decide what to do."
 
Greene said the goal is not for the advisory group to duplicate the efforts of the former Phase 2 Subcommittee, which last year produced a comprehensive plan that included a new artificial turf playing field. The district put that plan out to bid, but the project failed to move forward after the low bid came in with a price tag of $2.85 million.
 
"This is the third committee to look at this issue — maybe the fourth — and the importance of wrapping this up by October is not to be overlooked," Greene said.
 
Since the Phase 2 Subcommittee's proposal came back with bids significantly higher than expected in September 2019, the landscape has changed on a number of fronts: The School Committee has moved forward with another project funded by the Williams College gift; the economy was slammed by the COVID-19 pandemic, adding uncertainty to the value of the endowment-based gift; School Committee members who have been the strongest proponents of an artificial turf field have committed to including a specification for organic (but more expensive) Brockfill as infill instead of crumb rubber in a future bid package; and elected and appointed officials in both the school district's member towns have advised the School Committee not to make any other large allocations from the gift.
 
Much of the conversation in Thursday's Finance Subcommittee meeting dealt with the composition of the proposed committee. Greene told the group she already has reached out to several prospective members from the broader community, and the committee members agreed that, as with the Phase 2 Subcommittee, students from the high school should be included on the advisory group.
 
That Phase 2 group also included members of the Mount Greylock faculty. Superintendent Kimberley Grady said she would pass along a message to staff asking if anyone wanted to participate on the advisory group but stressed that their participation would be voluntary on a panel whose work would commence in July, during the school's summer vacation.
 
Greene recommended herself to chair the advisory group and already started doing some of the leg work for the panel, compiling an 11-page spreadsheet that attempts to track all of the questions that have been asked about the field project by members of the public and the School Committee itself — and, where possible, documents the answers that already have been provided by the Phase 2 Subcommittee and/or its consultants.
 
One item left unresolved at Thursday's Finance Subcommittee meeting is whether the advisory group it is proposing would have additional access to paid consultants in order to help fill in any blanks.
 
Grady said she would inquire how much it would cost the district to ask some follow up questions of Traverse Landscape Architects, who did the design work for the Phase 2 Subcommittee's proposal.
 
"Whatever we spend is going to eat away at the Williams gift," Greene said. "That's something to keep in mind."

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Mount Greylock Committee Member Pushes to Reopen Schools

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

Steven Miller participates in a recent meeting of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee via Zoom.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The chair of the Mount Greylock School Committee's Education Subcommittee on Tuesday repeatedly pressed the district's interim superintendent to develop benchmarks that could be met in order to allow a return to full in-person instruction.
 
For now, school officials are planning to begin school in mid-September in a hybrid model that sees half the students in preK through ninth grade attending classes in person two days a week with the rest of their time on learning spent remotely; sophomores through seniors in high school would attend school one day a week under the current plan.
 
Several times during a more than two-hour virtual meeting, Steven Miller reiterated his contention that the Lanesborough-Williamstown district is uniquely situated to move to full, in-person instruction.
 
"We are in a wonderful situation where we are in a rural setting with people who are responsible, who are socially distancing and wearing masks," said Miller, who also referred to the county's low incidence of COVID-19 positive tests.
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