WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Massachusetts School Building Authority voted unanimously on Oct. 3 to accept Mount Greylock Regional School District into the first phase of a school building project. The eight-phase process will begin with an eligibility period to determine the district's readiness for a project and to map a course forward.
Rose Ellis, Mount Greylock School District superintendent, along with Paula Consolini, co-chair of the Mount Greylock Building Subcommittee, and Carolyn Greene, chair of the School Committee, attended the meeting of the MSBA board of directors in Boston. State Representative Gail Cariddi, who has been supportive of the project, also attended, and spoke on behalf of the district.
District representatives had met with Cariddi this summer and also with Senator Ben Downing, who supports the project and has been in contact directly with the MSBA and other branches of state government. Williams College President Adam Falk sent a letter to the MSBA in September urging members to consider Mount Greylock's building needs.
Ellis announced the decision on the Williamstown-Lanesborough Schools website on Thursday: "After six years of submitting annual Statements of Interest to the MSBA, addressing structural and mechanical challenges, including a recent, unexpected two-day closing, we are on our way."
The MSBA is funded by one percent of the 6.
The building's many issues include dysfunctional heating and ventilation systems, inadequate lab and classroom facilities and noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The building footprint is greatly oversized, leading to high heating costs and inhibiting collaborative learning. Six years ago the New England Association of Schools and Colleges placed Mount Greylock on warning status for its ongoing building problems.
In September, the school was closed for two days due to condensation on the floors and walls. Building Supervisor Jessie Wirtes explained at a meeting of the Building Subcommittee on Sept. 26 that frosty mornings in September had lowered the temperature of the building's un-insulated walls. On the morning of Sept. 11, the temperature rose into the 80s, with a 73-degree dew point, creating condensation. Amherst Regional Public Schools closed for similar reasons two days later.
Ellis said the district envisions a smaller, more energy efficient building that would benefit taxpayers as well as students and staff. She said the district may also consider taking part in the MSBA's Model School Program, which seeks to adapt the design of other well-built, successful schools. The program would offer additional points for reimbursement by the MSBA and help the project move more quickly, she said.
Williamstown Elementary School and Lanesborough Elementary School both are Model Schools, which "speaks volumes to the abilities of these communities to build outstanding education centers that are economically reasonable and feasible," Ellis said. She emphasized that input from the Williamstown and Lanesborough communities in will be "critical to the success" of the building project.
The MSBA eligibility period provides 270 days for the district to meet six preliminary requirements, including the formation of an MSBA-approved building committee (within 60 days) and the acquisition of community authorization and funding through town meeting votes in Williamstown and Lanesborough. Ellis hopes to fast-track the process and bring votes to the towns next spring.
If the project continues on to the feasibility phase, the MSBA will reimburse a portion of the cost of the feasibility study, but that amount is yet to be determined. The MSBA would likely provide around half the cost of the building project, and Williams College has offered to provide financial assistance as well.
"So we're hoping that we would have a partnership in the feasibility, which would include the towns of Williamstown and Lanesborough, Williams College and possibly the district itself," Ellis said.
Mount Greylock's acceptance into the MSBA eligibility phase coincides with Williamstown's efforts to address its need for new fire and police stations, raising questions about whether multiple projects will be feasible at one time. The town's Public Safety Building Study Committee, formed this year, has been exploring options for a new police station or a joint police-fire station, and the Fire District hopes to move forward with its plans to build a new fire station.
On Tuesday, Oct. 15, the town will vote on whether to approve the Fire District's purchase of the 3.7-acre Lehovec property on Main Street.
At the Sept. 26 meeting, Greene drew attention to the concerns surrounding the multiple projects. "There are town officials and plenty of people in town who think this is an either-or proposition," she said. She did not take a position on the matter, but encouraged members of the Building Subcommittee to attend the Oct. 15 meeting.
Ellis, Consolini and possibly others from the district planned to meet with the Williamstown Finance Committee on Tuesday, Oct. 8, to present what they anticipate being the district's and the town's obligations moving forward. "It's very premature, but it is an opportunity to come before the finance committee in a public fashion," Greene said.
Charles Fox, chair of the Finance Committee, hoped the discussion would provide taxpayers with a better sense of whether simultaneous building projects would be possible, or if they would need to occur in stages. Andrew Hogeland and Daniel Gendron, members of both the Finance Committee and the Public Safety Building Study Committee, were expected to discuss the work of the PSBSC at the meeting.
"My hope is that we can clarify how this process works," Greene said. "It is a fairly complex process working with the building authority. But it's also a well-defined process and one that they have used many, many times in their building projects. So we'll walk people through the eligibility phase and then talk about what the next phases are."
Efforts this year to explore a regionalized school district that would include both the Williamstown and Lanesborough elementary schools will be put on hold, Ellis said. The Regional District Amendment Committee, made up of teachers, administrators, town officials and consultants, voted this summer to recommend regionalization to the School Committee but also to conduct further study.
"Certainly the building committee right now is the top priority," Ellis said. "We will continue researching regionalization, but that will not be something that we bring forward this spring." She added that revisiting the issue later on could influence some of the school's options, since the MSBA "encourages districts to look at ways and opportunities to collaborate, and certainly regionalization will be one of them."
For more information, including the most recent Statement of Interest submitted to the MSBA, visit wlschools.org.