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Mass. Supports New High School In Pittsfield With Grant

Jim Levulis

The Massachusetts School Building Authority approved $74 million for the construction of a new Taconic High School in Pittsfield at its monthly meeting Wednesday. The project has been 10 years in the making.The state’s $74.2 million reimbursement award comes less than two months after the Pittsfield City Council unanimously approved borrowing up to $120.8 million to build the new three-story high school on Valentine Rd. It would replace the current Taconic High School, built in 1969, which has suffered from leaky roofs and poor heating and cooling. Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi has long advocated for the new vocationally-focused school.

“This new comprehensive high school will prepare children for an advanced education at any number of institutions of higher learning,” Bianchi said prior to the city council vote in April. “But it will also prepare future generations of young Pittsfield students to engage in vocational programs that will offer them a brighter future today. It will be the best pathway to the middle class for many of the children who come from our economically-challenged families. It will also be one of the best economic initiatives that a community can ever engage in.”

School and city leaders expect the new Taconic to develop more partnerships with area companies on internships and career development paths. The 246,500-square foot L-shaped building will feature classroom clusters, flex space and vocational shops. Carl Franceschi, president of DRA Architects, is leading the project’s design.

“Another goal of the educational plan was to have built in flexibility,” Franceschi said. “Because we know the school’s going to be here for 40 to 50 years. It’s going evolve over time. We want to have a building as flexible as possible.”

Work and debate on a new high school began about a decade ago. An idea was kicked around to combine Taconic and Pittsfield High School on one campus. Renovation of Taconic was estimated at $36 million with little expected state reimbursement. The current path was chosen because it was considered the most cost effective for the city while providing the best product. In recent months in particular, city residents have questioned why Pittsfield is building a new school while enrollment has dropped by 700 students over the past decade, to about 5,800 district-wide. State Representative Tricia Farley Bouvier, a former Pittsfield city councilor, has stood by the investment.

“I went to Pittsfield High School that was built in the middle of the Depression by my grandparents and great-grandparents when times were way harder than they are right now,” Farley-Bouvier said. “They invested in me and I’m going to invest in my grandchildren.

Taconic currently has 760 students. Pittsfield Public Schools superintendent Jason McCandless says about 150 vocational students from Pittsfield High School could switch to Taconic while the new school will also have room for 100 to 200 choice-in students from other districts. 

One of the next steps is for Pittsfield Public Schools and the MSBA to enter into a project funding agreement, which will further detail the project’s scope and budget, along with the conditions under which the city will receive its MSBA grant.

Construction is expected to start next spring with the opening slated for the 2018-2019 school year. The new Taconic will go up across the driveway from the current one, which will be razed.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant 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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