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The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee will hear from the community and two presenters on the pros and cons of installing a turf playing field at the high and middle school.

Mount Greylock School Committee Invites Public to Comment on Field Issue

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee is offering one more chance for proponents and opponents of an artificial turf field to make their cases before the panel decides whether to put the project out to bid.
 
On Tuesday, the School Committee settled on a format for a pair of special meetings to be held on Monday, Dec. 14, at 5 and 7 p.m.
 
The 5 p.m. session will provide an opportunity for one hour of comments from community members who sign up in advance. At 7 p.m., the committee will hear two 15-minute presentations — one for a synthetic field and one against — followed by 30 minutes for School Committee members to ask questions of the invited presenters.
 
The goal is to provide a sense of the pros and cons and the feelings of community members, particularly for the four members of the seven-person committee who joined in the last six weeks.
 
"There are folks who feel a decision on this is two years past due at this point, but it might be helpful to consider ways of doing a 'speed dating' type thing where we're getting a lot of information in a condensed form," said Superintendent Jake McCandless, whose own tenure with the district began last month.
 
Julia Bowen, one of three members elected on Nov. 3, was one of the new members who said they would benefit from the planned fora.
 
"I recognize that time is money, and I know there's a narrow window — if we were to move forward — to get a bid out," Bowen said. "I know I deeply want to honor the people on the Phase 2 Subcommittee.
 
"But as a new School Committee member, I think the two fora would be really valuable for me. I feel I'm not ready to vote on this monumental issue, for the reasons Jake described. This is a vote I feel I have to take and feel strongly about."
 
The decision point on the table is whether to commit $44,000 for design documents that will be the heart of a request for proposals. District officials have been told that the best time to put the bid "on the street" is winter and that this winter could see particularly competitive bids because of a slowdown in large projects because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Bowen said she has talked to people on both sides of the issue, and McCandless said he watched the tape of a July 2019 public forum in the middle/high school cafeteria. But after those efforts, countless hours of debate by the full committee and its subcommittees and voluminous public comment, the body still wants to hear more from its constituents.
 
"It seems like there are two things we're trying to accomplish: better informing ourselves … and, second, providing opportunities for our community members to have their voices heard," said Jose Constantine, another member elected last month. "My sense is many community members felt their voices haven't been heard adequately."
 
The committee toyed with a couple of different formats for the fora, including one that would have devoted an hour to each side of the argument. It was Constantine who suggested devoting one hour to advocates like the chair of the Phase 2 Subcommittee that developed the fields plan and community activists who have been vocal opponents of artificial turf based on environmental concerns and a second hour to public comment.
 
"The second hour could be a space where we just listen and hear about concerns from the community," Constantine said. "That way, it doesn't need us to pose questions or engage and have things potentially unravel. We just sit and listen. It could be meaningful and important."
 
Michelle Johnson, the third member elected last month, suggested flipping the hours — taking the public comment from 5 to 6 and inviting the more formal presentations from 7 to 8. She pointed out that it would allow the invited guests to address specific questions that may be raised during the public comment.
 
The consensus on the committee was that format made sense and, on Wednesday morning, the district put out a news release to announce the fora.
 
At least one member of the committee noted that the Monday sessions will hardly be the first time for the School Committee to hear the opinions of the district's residents.
 
"For our ears, as new committee members, that is a very short window to get the voices of people heard," said Curtis Elfenbein, who was appointed in October to fill out an unexpired term. "But in the course of the years of this process, there have been multiple, multiple opportunities that have been taken great advantage of by people for and against the turf field.
 
"I have certainly not made up my mind in any regard on the pros and cons of a turf field versus a bio field. I know I've coached on both and played on both. But outside of that, it does feel kind of crazy in the back of my mind to be making a decision to invest money in this project at this moment … especially knowing that [Williams College gift] money exists in an unusually high-yield account. … For me, this, while a divisive issue, is not a front-burner issue despite the years of work people have put into this so far.
 
"For me, there are bigger fish. But I'm down to hear all the arguments."
 
Members of the Mount Greylock community interested in providing public comment in the 5 p.m. session on Monday need to submit their names by 5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 13, by emailing schoolcommittee@mgrhs.org and identifying whether they will be speaking for or against the synthetic field project.

Tags: MGRHS,   turf field,   

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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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