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Pittsfield Council And Residents Review New High School Design

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Jim Levulis
/
WAMC

Members of the Pittsfield City Council and the public recently had a chance to hear plans for a new high school.Councilors and city residents poured over the details of a brand-new Taconic High School, proposed to replace the 45-year-old building on Valentine Road during a three-hour special meeting on Tuesday. The estimated $115 million project involves an L-shaped two- and three-floor building with open common areas and wings that could be divided by subject or grade level. A 600-seat auditorium with a balcony along with a library featuring large windows and separate workrooms are also being proposed. Carl Franceschi, president of DRA Architects, is leading the project’s design.

“All of these programmatic ideas have been developed in concert with the administration and teachers,” Franceschi said. “These aren’t just our suggestions being imposed from elsewhere. We have met with the music teacher, the drama teacher and the librarians in reviewing all of these spaces to date.”

It’s expected the Massachusetts School Building Authority would reimburse about 65 percent of the cost, meaning the city of Pittsfield would be on the hook for roughly $40 to $45 million. Resident Robert O’Conner is among those calling for a citywide vote on building the school.

“Homes being foreclosed on…why?” O’Conner questioned. “Because people can’t afford to pay their taxes.”

Residents are also questioning whether the city needs two high schools since enrollment has dropped below 6,000 district-wide, down 14 percent since 1994. Taconic currently has about 850 students while about 960 students go to Pittsfield High School. State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a former city councilor, says the decision to stick with two schools was made through multiple public meetings over the past decade.

“We’ve built schools in Springfield…we’ve built schools everywhere, taxpayers in Pittsfield are building those schools,” Farley-Bouvier said. “It’s about time that the taxpayers of those towns build a school right here in Pittsfield.”

Mayor Dan Bianchi says the Taconic design includes room for expansion if the city does decide to shift to one high school. Taconic senior class vice president Michael Boc was among a number of students who voiced support for a new school, stressing leaky roofs, poor access for the disabled and outdated shop conditions in the current building.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees in which shade they know they’ll never sit in,” Boc said. “A new Taconic High School is a tree we can plant. We have an opportunity to create a building where generations of Pittsfield students will have a reliable and structurally sound place to learn, grow and develop.”

If a new Taconic is built, about 175 vocational students from Pittsfield High School would go to Taconic, according to Pittsfield Public Schools superintendent Jason McCandless. Students from other areas could also choice in. The building is expected to be certified LEED Silver using windows to cut lighting costs and collecting rainwater to support air conditioning. The new building would go across the driveway from the current school so that classes would not be disrupted during construction slated to start in 2016. The school is expected to be ready for the start of the 2018-2019 school year. The old building would be demolished. The city council is expected to vote on a bond authorization for the new school in April. Councilor John Krol says regardless of the two schools versus one school debate, a new Taconic is the first step.

“If we don’t approve this then we’ll put ourselves 10 years behind,” said Krol.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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