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The city of Pittsfield is seeking to rebuild Crosby and Conte elementary schools on the Crosby site on West Street.

Crosby/Conte Statement of Interest Gets OK From Council

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Architect Carl Franceschi and Superintendent Joseph Curtis address the City Council on Tuesday.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With the approval of all necessary bodies, the school district will submit a statement of interest for a combined build on the site of Crosby Elementary School.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously gave Superintendent Joseph Curtis the green light for the SOI to the Massachusetts School Building Authority by April 12.

"The statement I would make is we should have learned by our mistakes in the past," Mayor Peter Marchetti said.

"Twenty years ago, we could have built a wastewater treatment plant a lot cheaper than we could a couple of years ago and we can wait 10 years and get in line to build a new school or we can start now and, hopefully, when we get into that process and be able to do it cheaper then we can do a decade from now."

The proposal rebuilds Conte Community School and Crosby on the West Street site with shared facilities, as both have outdated campuses, insufficient layouts, and need significant repair. A rough timeline shows a feasibility study in 2026 with design and construction ranging from 2027 to 2028.

Following the SOI, the next step would be a feasibility study to determine the specific needs and parameters of the project, costing about $1.5 million and partially covered by the state. There is a potential for 80 percent reimbursement through the MSBA, who will decide on the project by the end of the year.

Earlier this month, city officials took a tour of both schools — some were shocked at the conditions students are learning in.

Silvio O. Conte Community School, built in 1974, is a 69,500 square foot open-concept facility that was popular in the 1960s and 1970s but the quad classroom layout poses educational and security risks.  John C. Crosby Elementary School, built in 1962, is about 69,800 square feet and was built as a junior high school so several aspects had to be adapted for elementary use.

Ward 6 Councilor Dina Lampiasi said the walkthrough was "striking" at points, particularly at Conte, and had her thinking there was no way she would want her child educated there. She recognized that not everyone has the ability to choose where their child goes to school and "we need to do better."

"The two facilities that we are looking at I think are a great place to start," she said.

"As the Ward 6 councilor, this is where my residents and my students are going to school so selfishly yes, I want to see this project happen but looking at how we are educating Pittsfield students, this is going to give us a big bang for our buck and it's going to help improve the educational experience of a vast group of students in our city."

During the tour, Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey, saw where it could be difficult to pay attention in an open classroom with so much going on and imagined the struggle for students.

Councilor at Large Alisa Costa said, "we cannot afford not to do this" because the city needs schools that people want their children to attend.

"I know that every financial decision we make is tough but we have to figure this out. If the roof on your house were crumbling in, you'd have to figure it out and that's where we're at and we can't afford to wait any longer," she said.

"We can't afford for the sake of the children going to our schools, for the sake of our city that we want to see grow so we have to build a city where people want to go."

Councilor at Large Kathy Amuso, who served on the School Building Needs Commission for about 18 years, pointed out that the panel identified a need to address Conte in 2008.

Curtis addressed questions about the fate of Conte if the build were to happen, explaining that it could be kept as an active space for community use, house the Eagle Academy or the Adult Learning Center, or house the central offices.

School attendance zones are a point of discussion for the entire school district and for this project.

"At one time I think we had 36 school buildings and now we have essentially 12 and then it would go down again but in a thoughtful way," Curtis said.

Currently, eight attendance zones designate where a student will go to elementary school. Part of the vision is to collapse those zones into three with hopes of building a plan that incorporates partner schools in each attendance zone.

"I think that going from eight schools to three would be easier to maintain and I think it would make more sense but in order to get there we will have to build these buildings and we will have to spend money," Kavey said, hoping that the city would receive the 80 percent reimbursement it is vying for.

This plan for West Street, which is subject to change, has the potential to house grades pre-kindergarten to first grade in one school and Grades 2 to 4 in another with both having their own identities and administrations. 

The districtwide vision for middle school students is to divide all students into a grade five and six school and a grade seven and eight school to ensure equity.

"The vagueness of what that looks like is worrisome to some folks that I have talked to," Lampiasi said.

Curtis emphasized that these changes would have to be voted on by the School Committee and include public input.

"We've talked about it conceptually just to illustrate a possible grade span allocation," he said. "No decisions have been made at all by the School Committee, even the grade-span proposals."

School Committee Chair William Cameron said it is civic duty of the committee and council to move forward with the SOI.
He explained that when seven of the city's schools were renovated in the late 1990s, the community schools were only 25 years old and Crosby was 35 years old.  The commonwealth did not deem them to be sorely in need of renovation or replacement.
"Now 25 years later, Crosby is physically decrepit and an eyesore. It houses students ages three to 11 in a facility meant for use by teenagers,"
"Conte and Morningside opened in the mid-1970s. They were built as then state-of-the-art schools featuring large elongated rectangles of open instructional space. Over almost half a century, these physical arrangements have proven to be inadequate for teaching core academic skills effectively to students, many of whom need extra services and a distraction-free environment if they are to realize their full academic potential."
He said  the proposal addresses a serious problem in the "economically poorest, most ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse area" of the city.
Cameron added that these facilities have been deemed unsatisfactory and need to be replaced as part of the project to reimagine how the city can best meet the educational needs of its students.  He said it is the local government's job to move this project forward to ensure that children learn in an environment that is conducive to their thriving academically.
"The process of meeting this responsibility needs to begin here tonight," he said.
Resident Judith Gitelson asked that the facilities be made "net zero energy schools," to reduce the emissions that students are exposed to and to address climate change.

Councilors also had questions about the financial aspect, confirming with the superintendent that there is no financial obligation by submitting the SOI. If the MSBA does accept the project into the feasibility stage, the city has to be prepared to pay for its portion of the study. The MSBA board is expected to vote on accepting the district in by the end of the year. 

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Dalton Board of Health Approves Green Burial Verbiage

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
DALTON, Mass. — The Board of Health approved wording for the green burial guidelines during its meeting on Wednesday. 
The guideline stipulates that "Ebola or any other diseases that the CDC or Massachusetts Department of Public Health deem unsuitable for green burials can not be approved by the town Board of Health." 
The board has been navigating how to include communicable diseases in its guidelines to prevent them from spreading.  
Town Health Agent Agnes Witkowski has been working to clarify the state's guidelines regarding infectious diseases and green burials. 
She attended a presentation on green burials and consulted with people from various organizations, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where it was determined that the state is behind in developing guidelines for green burials.
Currently, the only disease that would prevent someone from being able to have a green burial is ebola, board member Amanda Staples-Opperman said. Bugs would take care of anything else. 
The town running into situations surrounding an unknown disease would be a very rare occurrence, board members said. 
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