NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee on Tuesday approved the expenditure of up to $800,000 to pay for the design team and feasibility study the Brayton/Greylock project.
"It is a reasonable estimate based on the expectations and the complexities of this project since there are in fact two sites involved in this project," said Superintendent Barbara Malkas. "And so they felt that that was a reasonable amount for design services, as well as for all the ancillary testing that will be needed around site selection and development of the educational plan."
The Massachusetts School Building Authority had initially accepted a rebuild and renovation of Greylock School into the feasibility stage until reviewing enrollment projections last year. The MSBA then encouraged and accepted the city's application to change its project to include Brayton Elementary with the understanding that this would likely mean the closure of Greylock.
Two studies had projected a 10-year enrollment of about 625 students in Grades kindergarten through 6. Brayton and Colegrove Park currently have a capacity for 716, leading to the decision to once again consolidate schools. Conte Middle School (now Colegrove) was closed a decade ago and its students shifted to Drury High.
The School Committee had previously approved using $300,000 from school choice funds to begin efforts in the eligibility stage and, at that time, Malkas had cautioned that MSBA officials had recommended it could be $750,000 or more once they moved into the feasibility stage.
Colliers International was hired in February as the owner's project manager and its representatives Kenneth Guyette and Matthew Sturz have been working with the School Building Committee on a request for services for a design team.
"At the end of this month, we will be looking at applications for a design team and then moving from there to go forward to the MSBA board for approval of our design team," Malkas said.
The superintendent she had "asked explicitly and confirmed" from the MSBA that the city can begin getting reimbursements in $50,000 increments for the funds even though a construction project has not been approved. The city expects an 80 percent reimbursement rate, the same as that received through Colegrove Park Elementary School project. That project, completed in 2015, cost about $30 million of which the MSBA covered $22 million.
"That we can start to take advantage of the MSBA reimbursement process at this point makes that a much more palatable to our overall consideration of this project," said Malkas.
Mayor Jennifer Macksey, chair of the School Committee, said she was somewhat concerned at first with the language in the order but that this was required by the MSBA.
"It kind of leads you to believe that we're already starting to borrow and it has the word Proposition 2 1/2," she said. "This is boilerplate language and the superintendent said that the MSBA requires us to have this. It is in no way teeing us up to borrow or to do any movement there with a Prop 2 1/2 override at all."
School Committee member Richard Alcombright asked for more clarification on where the money was coming from because the language did sound like it was being borrowed.
Malkas said the borrowing would be from the School Department's school-choice revolving account, as approved by the School Committee and which would have to be accepted by the city. The school choice account now has more than $2 million.
"So in effect, the city is borrowing this money from the school choice revolving account which is under the jurisdiction if you will, of the school," she said, and confirmed that with the MSBA reimbursements, the study should cost the city $160,000 in the end.
The mayor said the reimbursements would go into a fund established by the city.
"As we move forward with this project, we will evaluate what we have for a balance and use that as a contingency," she said. "When the project is closed out at the very end, if we get a project to fruition, after we do our audit any funds that are still in the contingency account, will we return to the school choice [account.]
"From what I recall, we're in a much better position to be doing this now then we actually did when we did Colegrove," said Alcombright, who was mayor during the Colegrove project. "The financial positioning seems very solid at this point."
Macksey added that she wanted to remind everyone that there's no construction project at this point but rather a "fact finding mission."
"This project is evaluating two schools. There's been no decision and we will, hopefully, from this study be able to make a sound decision based on that," she said. "No decision has been made. This is just the next step. And I think sometimes people in the general public, every time we talk about this, they get a little nervous."
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