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Clarksburg School Seeks Town Support to Pursue Renovation Plan

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — School officials are planning to submit a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority next year. 
But they want to make sure there's town support before considering any building project.
Voters rejected a $19 million renovation and addition project in 2017 but gave the OK to a $1 million borrowing last year, giving half to the school for infrastructure projects. The school's put in new boilers, had some asbestos-abatement done, created an accessible bathroom, redone the nurse's office and teachers room, and installed a new secure entrance and public address system. The electrical panel is the next project and all schoolwork will be remote on Thursday and Friday while it occurs.  
"We've done these great projects over the last six months here, but we still have a tremendous amount of work to do in that building. It's not over," Assistant Superintendent of Operations & Finance Jennifer Macksey told the School Committee last week. "The superintendent and I are having conversations with the town about what our next steps are. ... We need a renovation project to go forward with the SOI, but we need to be sure we have the town's support before we invest a lot of resources in that process again."
The district was looking at 2021 as a target date but had considered submitting an SOI earlier this year. It held off as the state grappled with falling revenue from the novel coronavirus. The MSBA is funded by a penny from the state's 6.25 percent sales tax. 
The 60-year-old school has a number of issues, not least of which is its lack of accessibility and its noncompliance with current school codes. There is no way to get from the upper levels to the cafeteria/gymnasium without going outside for those who cannot use stairs, and the "temporary" wing is 30 years past its lifespan.
The status of the roof is also in question and Macksey said there's now a leak in the new bathroom. Some $500,000 had been set aside in a bond bill for the roof but the state has declined to release the money because of the overall state of the building. 
"I think Jen's done a great job of leading these building improvements and the debt exclusion money at the town appropriated last year has been very helpful but the half a million dollars is pretty close to being spent," said Superintendent of Schools John Franzoni. "We want to make this a long-term school building and we need more work to do that so that's how we're gonna start working on the SOI to address that."
Gabriel Abbot Memorial School in Florida, a member with Clarksburg in the Northern Berkshire School Union, is a finalist in the MSBA's accelerated repair program, he said. 
"It is certainly is the case MSBA knows that we have some needs in our schools and they are willing to come in and work with us and we know they were ready to do a project here with us three years," Franzoni said. "We really need to work together with the town on this project so it can be fully transparent and get the backing it needs so we can do the rest of the upgrades that are needed in our building."
Principal Tara Barnes also gave an update on how the students and staff were coping with the hybrid system and shared some photos of how students are abiding by the social distancing and the work they have been doing in class that includes technology and pen and paper.  
"It's just great to see examples of stuff that the kids are working on and it's exciting to see them with their creativity and what they're able to incorporate from outside and the exploration," said School Committee member Eric Denette. "So thank you for sharing that."
Franzoni said Barnes had been doing a good job ensuring that students who are not getting full in-person learning yet still have opportunities to have some time in school. School officials are trying to find space for three remote teachers working out of the school to free up those classrooms for those opportunities and to bring the full kindergarten in. Kindergarten, at 18 children, is split into half days because of space for social distancing. 
The Select Board had been approached about using the Community Center, he said, but with plans to reopen that building for seniors after the election, that wouldn't work out and the request was withdrawn.
"One of the areas we really want to prioritize, well two key areas, one would be getting kindergarten in for a full day, so we'll be working on that plan, and the other one will be that kind of get early service providers up in a classroom," he said. 
The school will also be doing a student survey this year along with the regular parental survey, said Barnes. There will be eight to 10 questions to gauge how children are felling in the classrooms and about themselves. These survey will be going out this month. 
Barnes also reported that the grant for free lunches would be extended until next June. Cafeteria manager James Callahan had served 160 lunches on Thursday, she said.  


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