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Long-Term Maintenance Costs at Mount Greylock Being Assessed

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mount Greylock Regional School District officials are looking at the long-term renewal costs of the middle-high school but cautioning that it is difficult to predict them with a high degree of precision.
"The roof, for instance, depending on the extent to which it needs to be renewed in 20 years, the current dollar figure would be between $3 million and $6 million," Business Manager Joe Bergeron said on Thursday. "That's a huge range because there's a variety of things that may need to be replaced around the roof.
"A brand-new roof would be $6 million. The hope is you don't need to go more than skin deep. If you don't, it's $3 million in present-day dollars."
Although the district seemingly just opened the "new" Mount Greylock for the 2018-19 academic year, the School Committee asked the central office to come up with data about what kinds of extraordinary maintenance needs it may face in years to come.
That is because the committee is trying to assess how it might use proceeds from a Williams College capital gift at some point in the future. The college gave Mount Greylock $5 million at the start of its addition/renovation project; the money is kept as part of the college's endowment.
The School Committee already has drawn funds from the capital gift -- intended for expenses outside the scope of the building project -- and faces a decision point about whether to make one more large initial outlay, for an athletic field renovation.
Some in the member towns of Lanesborough and Williamstown have pushed the committee to hold on to as much of a gift as possible for a building renewal fund, which led to inquiries from the committee about how such a fund might be used.
On Thursday, Bergeron made an initial report to the School Committee's Finance Subcommittee.
"As I said at the School Committee meeting, because it was an add/reno type project, there are aspects of the building that are not new," Bergeron said. "The biggest functional area would be the boilers comprising the heating system at Mount Greylock. We have four boilers; each one in current day money is about $65,000 as far as replacement costs.
"According to [district building and grounds director] Tim Sears, we probably don't need to worry about replacing the first of those until 2030. That's not an expenditure we're seeing any time of year. When you look at $260,000 across four of them, that is not the biggest cost you'll see. … Things like the roof, windows, floors, bathroom fixtures and tiles -- those are areas that are much bigger ticket items."
Some of those projects potentially could be supported by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which is funding about 60 percent of the addition/renovation project. But Bergeron noted that the MSBA tends to be more of a "backstop" for districts that have not been able to fund renewal projects on their own.
For some time, the School Committee had talked generally about reserving about $1.5 million from the Williams gift after paying for a multipurpose building that, among other things, houses the district's administrative office, and the fields improvements.
In recent months, it has discussed a more modest figure of $1 million held in reserve in the Williams endowment.
By point of comparison on Thursday, Bergeron shared some information on a $1 million Williams gift to the town of Williamstown at the start of the construction of Williamstown Elementary School, built in 2003.
The district has spent $400,000 over the last two years from the Williams gift at WES, Bergeron said. Currently, the value of the elementary school gift is $1.7 million.
The fields project, one of the chief topics of conversation in the School Committee for more than a year, was on the table in a couple of different contexts on Thursday.
Finance Subcommittee Chair Carolyn Greene asked her colleagues to react to a question asked by School Committee Chair Christina Conry: how the committee can solicit more public input on the contentious question.
Greene read from an email by Conry that proposes two hourlong forums this month held on different days that allow residents with opinions for and against an artificial turf field to present their "case" to the School Committee.
The full School Committee will discuss dates and formats for the public fora at its Tuesday evening meeting.
In other business on Thursday, the Finance Subcommittee discussed the School Committee's timeline for developing a budget and assessments to the member towns.
That calendar backs off an April 2 deadline for presenting final budgets and warrant articles to the towns in advance of the first town meeting, Williamstown's, on May 18.
Bergeron reported that the district has a public hearing scheduled on March 4 to present its budget plan to both member towns, but he said conversations between the district and town halls will begin before that.
"Town managers know we comprise two-thirds of each town's budget, so not knowing anything about two-thirds of your budget until the end is challenging," Bergeron said. "In the past, we tried to get a sense of a high and low figure, where we are headed, by late January or early February so we can get an early look to them with lots of caveats."
From the School Committee's perspective, that means looking early next month at the recommendations of the district's three school councils and seeing how their proposals can be worked into the fiscal 2022 budget. But Bergeron cautioned that there are a lot of unknowns as the district heads into the heart of budget season.
"Given the fact that we still don't have an FY21 budget from the state, there is no sense when the state will give us FY22 early numbers, let alone final numbers," he said. "I have a feeling there's going to be a lot going on in late winter and early spring."

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Williamstown Employees Resign After Complaint; Board Member Leaving

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Two employees of the town resigned Monday in the wake of a complaint about employee conduct.
And one member of the five-person Select Board will be leaving his post a year ahead of schedule.
Those were the surprises to emerge from a meeting that mostly focused on the town's efforts to investigate accusations of wrongdoing in its police department and develop a plan to replace its recently retired chief.
Select Board Chair Jane Patton announced the employees' departure at the start of the meeting.
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