The School Committee's Finance Subcommittee has taken the lead considering how the district can resolve a long-standing dispute about how to proceed with needed improvements to the fields at the middle-high school.
Earlier this summer, the subcommittee developed a proposal for an ad hoc group to organize the information the district already has accumulated about the fields project and answer any lingering questions the community and/or School Committee might have before the panel decides whether to again put an artificial turf field out to bid.
On Thursday, the Finance Subcommittee decided to hold off on bringing that study group's charge forward to the School Committee for approval.
"One of the problems is that the fields discussion has taken an enormous amount of time over the course of several years and still is unresolved.," said Carolyn Greene, one of three members of the Finance Subcommittee who has taken the lead on developing a plan to study the issue. "One of my concerns is that it should not be taking enormous amounts of time right now when we have so many other things on our plate.
"And that concern also has come up in the community: We have other things to focus on. Let's not talk about fields right now."
Like school districts across the commonwealth, the Lanesborough-Williamstown district currently is planning for a return to school in the fall after the COVID-19 pandemic forced buildings to close and a shift to remote learning in the spring.
Mount Greylock has the added complication of conducting an expedited search for a new superintendent.
Prior to making a recommendation to pause before appointing a fields study group, Greene gave a remarkably succinct recap for Interim Superintendent Robert Putnam of several years worth of discussion about what to do with Mount Greylock's fields. Those facilities have to be brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX by April 2022.
The School Committee's Phase 2 subcommittee created a plan to achieve both those goals and increase the usable hours for athletic teams and physical education classes by adding an artificial turf field. But the synthetic field component of that plan drew criticism from some members of the community.
Greene this spring consolidated the information that the Phase 2 group and others have compiled and generated a list of outstanding questions.
"One of the things in the background of this document is when should this committee start doing its work," Greene said of a spreadsheet she presented to the subcommittee. "Originally, we had talked as a Finance Subcommittee about doing this over the summer and having a series of recommendations, some options for the School Committee to consider, in October, which is when the [Williams College] capital gift would be valued. We would know what is available in the capital gift, and we would what kind of resources we have to spend.
"That is now looking unrealistic given there are priorities in the district right now in terms of ongoing leadership and change of personnel. [Business Administrator Joe Bergeron] is new to this position, and he has all of these other responsibilities. And we need the business administrator [on the fields group]. I think that's going to be key."
Greene said the fields group's work is going to involve doing more research and, perhaps, getting a bid on how much it would cost to redo the school's athletic fields with natural grass.
"At the School Committee meeting prior to the last one, we spent a lot of time talking about this," Greene said. "I guess that's what I'm trying to not have happen, that we spend a lot of time in School Committee meetings talking about the fields right now.
"So, when to get this thing off the ground, the athletic fields advisory committee? At this point, I'm thinking we wait at least until September and maybe even October, which means we should have some usable information by the spring, perhaps."
Finance Subcommittee Chair Jamie Art said he agreed with Greene that it makes sense to wait a month or two before launching the fields study group because of the concern about draining the district's resources.
Al Terranova first tersely said he had "nothing to say" about the idea of waiting until the fall.
Moments later, Terranova, who served on the Phase 2 Subcommittee and has been an outspoken proponent of moving forward with its plan, added to that "no comment."
"All the questions asked have been answered several times by several committees," Terranova said. "If you want to do it again, let's do it again.
"I don't understand why we can't have … three months … why the advisory committee can't come with a recommendation in October, the School Committee votes to accept or reject the recommendation of the advisory committee, and we start digging a hole in November -- whatever kind of whole we want to dig. … But I'll go along with whatever the committee wants. If we want to wait longer, we'll wait longer. As Carrie said, we've taken an incredible amount of time, and it seems like we're going down that slow road again."
In other business on Thursday, Bergeron told the Finance Subcommittee that the general contractor for the district's multipurpose building should be ready some time in September.
He also said the district will have access to the personal protective equipment it needs to reopen its three schools through the commonwealth. But his office is looking for other opportunities to meet the district's PPE needs.
"That pricing and that availability is locked in by the state, that's something we have access to right now," Bergeron said. "We're also exploring other avenues within the procurement laws that might allow us to procure that at lower prices. That's an exercise we're going through right now.
"Everybody is seeing prices four or five times what they would have at this time last year. We're just trying to minimize the multiplier. But the state has insured a supply at a set of prices."
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