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North Adams Voters Approve Conte School Renovation on Day of Senate Primary

Lucas Willard

Many towns across Massachusetts yesterday held local elections on the same day as the U.S. Senate primaries.

In addition to nominating their Democratic and Republican Senatorial candidates, Representative Ed Markey and businessman Gabriel Gomez, respectively, Tuesday was a day for Berkshire County voters to choose their selectmen and members of their local school boards. But for voters in North Adams, it was a day to vote for a nearly $30 million renovation project for the now-closed Conte Middle School.

Earlier in the day, North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright was confident that the project, which was recommended 7-1 by the city council in April, would be approved by the voters….

“We’re going to have a school tonight,” said Alcombright.

The mayor’s hopes were realized when the votes were tallied Tuesday night, but only by a thin margin of 137 votes. The project moves forward with 1,387 city residents voting yes, to 1,250 voting no.

The city will notify the Massachusetts School Building Authority that the project has been approved. The MSBA will provide 80 percent of the funding toward the estimated $29.7 million project, which will turn the closed Conte Middle School into a K-7 Elementary School, as a replacement for the Sullivan Elementary School.

Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC

On the sidewalk near one of the city’s polling places, city councilor Jennifer Breen held a sign asking voters to vote “Yes.” Breen said the project to renovate the Conte school, which will cost the city around $6.5 million, is the fiscally way to move forward.

“Sullivan School is falling down, Greylock School is falling down, it’s going to be about $10 million just to renovate those two schools,” said Breen. “So we’d be getting a brand new school with the historical architecture we have there, completely renovated, for less than patching and repairing the other schools.”

But there were also opponents with their own signs.

North Adams resident Robert Cardamino spoke out against a number of problems he sees with the project, including the school’s location in a busy section of downtown, and hidden costs that he claims are not included in the project estimates.

“Security, there’s no plan for the security,” said Cardamino. “We need cameras in there, we need panic buttons, we need bulletproof glass, we need locks on the door to protect  our children.”

Cardamino also said students who would attend the renovated Conte school would face threats from predators.

In neighboring Williamstown, Jane Patton and Ronald Turbin each won their unchallenged races for seats on the Select Board.

In Lee, 26 percent of voters came out to vote in the race for a lone select board seat. Patricia Carlino will keep her seat on the board after defeating challengers Anne Langlais and Thomas Wickham.

In Dalton, the high-profile race for two open select board seats drew more voters than the Senate primary, a scenario predicted by Town Clerk Barbara Suriner…

“There just didn’t seem to be a whole lot of interest,” said Suriner.

1,246 votes were cast in the selectman’s race, to 1,081 in the primaries.  Former police chief John Bartels and Selectboard Chair John Doyle won seats. Selectman William Chabot was defeated.

In Lenox, selectmen Kenneth Fowler was reappointed with no contest. Former principal Robert Vaughn and incumbent Veronica J. Fenton won spots on the school committee.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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