NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — School officials pulled the plug Tuesday on a potential renovation or rebuild of Greylock School and dissolved the School Building Committee.
The decision came after feedback from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which raised serious concerns about the city's projected enrollment over the next decade and the taxpayers' appetite to fund a new school.
"While this is disappointing given what we heard from them in the preliminary conversation and some of the very strong suggestions, I think I mentioned at the last meeting, some of the questions that they were asking weren't really questions," Mayor Thomas Bernard said at the joint meeting of the School Committee and School Building Committee. "I think they were leading us to, in some ways, prepare for this possibility ...
"I appreciate the work of the MSBA to be considerate of the of the fiscal realities of the city and that's an important thing for us all to consider. But really the data that was most powerful was the data related to enrollment."
Instead, it was suggested the city consider the MSBA's accelerated repair program to address Brayton School's improvement needs.
Committee members weren't caught completely off-guard. Two enrollment studies by the MSBA and the New England School Development Council had projected an enrollment 10 years out off about 625 students in Grades kindergarten through 6. Brayton and Colegrove Park currently have a capacity for 716.
"The reality is if we redistricted right now, we really only need two schools. I'm not recommending that, I don't think that that's an appropriate response particularly right now because of the pandemic," Superintendent Barbara Malkas said. "But, there is a reality that we do not need to operate three schools even based on current enrollment figures."
Members noted there had been a slight bump in population during the pandemic and a brisk housing market. Member Lisa Blackmer noted the school-age population was contracting countywide, as has been tracked by the Berkshire Education Task Force, and there was the possibility of smaller schools closing and sending their students here.
"I just wanted to say that this is extremely disappointing and disturbing. I don't think either of reports had any of the contingencies," said School Committee member Heather Boulger. "No one expected that during this pandemic our population would probably increase, which would also includes more children in our district.
Malkas any decision to close Greylock was likely years away, which would allow the school district to gradually absorb students from Greylock, renovate Brayton and consider future needs.
"Because the district went through that major redistricting not long ago, that would not be something that I would recommend to a school building committee to consider," she said. "I would rather see a very mindful process over multiple years, we have to first really look at what is the timeline with respect to renovation. Then think about looking at the numbers at that point of what is the best phasing process over time. And that would also give us the opportunity of having a quite a few years to really see if in fact we're going to attract young families to the area, and preferably young families that want to increase our population with with having families here.'
Her son was looking for a house and planning to get married, but like other young people moving here, it would 10 years before the city would see if there was any significant change.
Building committee member Richard Alcombright asked if the MSBA would give them an extension to consider their options and in light of what would be a new government and mayor coming into office. Malkas, however, pointed out the state agency had already given a six-month extension because of the pandemic.
The city had until May 27 to decide if it wanted to be considered to continue into the feasibility stage. Malkas said MSBA officials had highlighted the fact that a feasibility study would cost around $750,000.
"What came out of the meeting from the MSBA was that feasibility has a high cost to it, it is estimated to be at three-quarters of a million dollars," she said. "We do not have the enrollment toward a new school building, and their feeling is we can handle the projected enrollment capacity based on the existing two school buildings that we have in the district. The other point that they made was that they always look for an overwhelming majority vote for a new building project or a major renovation such as at Colegrove. Their concern is that the needs of the community will make that a difficult road to achieve for approval. And so we would have spent money for feasibility that we could not then recoup the costs as an MSBA project."
Greylock School had been invited into MSBA's eligibility phase in December 2019. The 59,000-square-foot school had been next on the priority list for nearly a decade. The pandemic had delayed the School Building Committee's work and it hadn't begun meeting until last fall.
"I'm certainly not surprised, I think disappointed because I think we all wanted something more grand than what we have," said Alcombright, who as moyor had pushed through the $30 million award-winning renovation of Colegrove Park. "I am pleased that the MSBA has kind of extended, in a sense, the olive branch to allow us to look at a renovation project."
Brayton, built in 1991, has some roof and HVAC issues and school officials had already considered applying to the accelerated repair program.
That left the question of what to do with the School Building Committee and if it should start to tackle Brayton's short- and long-term needs. Malkas said she did not for sure but suspected MSBA would see Brayton as a brand-new project and that the city would have to submit a new statement of interest. The agency did send some information on three other ditricts that were able switch to the repair program.
Member Benjamin Lamb said if the conversation was no longer about Greylock than it was logical to dissolve the body, with the caveat it might call on members for a new committee.
With that, a motion was made to dissolve and approved by members of both committees.
"I share everyone's disappointments ... We talked a lot about being data driven in all kinds of ways and it's disappointing when being data driven leads us toward an outcome that none of us hope for, and nor wanted, I want to thank everybody who gave their time, their participation."
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North Adams Schools Fully Open Beginning Next Week
By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — High school seniors will be returning to classrooms full time beginning next week on May 17, following the return of Grades 7 and 8 on April 28.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in March voted to give the commissioner discretion to require in-classroom instruction to count as learning time. Most elementary children returned to classrooms April 5, although some students and schools were allowed to remain remote.
"It looks as if about 75 percent of our seventh- and eighth-grade population returned for full in person, and we are currently processing the data for the high school return," Superintendent Barbara Malkas told the School Committee last week. An earlier survey to parents got very little response so a second was issued the week before. "We really needed to make sure we had a full complement of data."
She noted that the federal government was expected to approve use of the Pfizer vaccine to ages 12 and up; those 16 and older can already receive the shot. The more members of the school community are vaccinated, she said, the less disruption in learning since vaccinated people are not required to quarantine after contact with someone who has COVID-19.
The Mass MoCA Commission on Wednesday approved the seasonal restaurant to occupy the former Gramercy space, specifically the courtyard near the museum entrance. The restaurant would operate from Memorial Day until some time September.
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