Residents working to preserve Clarksburg School this month offered to get the district information on how a chair lift like the one seen here could help address accessibility issues at the school.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — A group of residents who have worked to make improvements to the elementary school are pressing the administration to explore funding options with the state to do a roof replacement.
But the Northern Berkshire School Union superintendent cautioned that officials from the Massachusetts School Building Authority have been clear that it will not participate in a "piecemeal" project at the 70-year-old facility.
Thomas Bona said the MSBA is punishing the town for voting down a comprehensive school building project that would have meant a $7.7 million local contribution in 2017.
"A lot of people, like the four of us who are here, are going to fight to keep the school open," Bona told Superintendent John Franzoni and the Clarksburg School Committee at its November meeting.
"[The state is] slapping our hands because we voted down a $24 million school project we can't afford. The townspeople are realistic about it. That's why they voted it down."
Bona told the committee earlier in the meeting that he was willing to meet with representatives of the Canadian firm Garaventa about installing a chair lift on a flight of stairs at the school.
He and the other volunteers pointed to that as the kind of small-scale modification, often accomplished with volunteer labor, that can help make the school more functional and demonstrate the town's commitment to keeping it open.
Bona listed a series of improvements that have been made to the school in recent years short of the total renovation that was on the table four years ago.
"We're asking for your help," Bona told Franzoni. "Help us. You have more connections than we do. Who should we talk to?"
Franzoni told the residents that the MSBA has been clear with the district that any project has to be comprehensive before the state will contribute funds.
"They said come back with the town's approval, and we'll consider you for an MSBA project," Franzoni said.
"When I first started this job in 2018, I went to MSBA. They said we're not going back there until the town is in favor of it. I asked if we qualify for an accelerated repair project? They said no."
Franzoni referenced another project in the NBSU to make a point.
"In Florida, that's an MSBA project," he said, referring to window replacements at the Abbott Memorial School. "The town is putting in about $500,000 for that project, but they're getting $1.1 million from the state."
The building repair advocates noted that Clarksburg voters did approve a $500,000 debt exclusion for school repairs in 2019, two years after the failed building project vote.
Franzoni said that money helped but it only goes so far.
"The $500,000 was great," he said. "We've done a lot of great improvements with it.
"I was in a meeting two years ago when the town approved the debt exclusion, and it basically said, 'Don't come back and ask for it again in five years.' That message was pretty clear."
There is a $500,000 earmark for the roof sitting in a capital spending bill passed in 2018. The executive office has been reluctant to invest in the school since the town rejected the renovation project. The MSBA and the state Department of Education had determined that the structure does not meet contemporary educational needs, including being full accessible.
Bona expressed hope that once the town's Select Board is fully functioning and Town Hall is stabilized the town will be able to address fiscal issues and the needs of the school more directly.
In the meantime, Principal Tara Barnes suggested that the district could reach out to Sen. Adam Hinds to see if there is some way to open a dialogue with the MSBA.
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