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Williamstown And Lanesborough Face Votes On $65 Million School Project

This is a picture of a rendering of the proposed Mount Greylock Regional School renovation.
A rendering of the proposed Mount Greylock Regional School renovation.

School leaders detailed the $65 million Mount Greylock Regional School project during a public meeting Thursday ahead of votes in Williamstown and Lanesborough.Members of the Mt. Greylock Regional School Building Committee gave an overview of the proposed renovation of the 1960s-era school at Williamstown Elementary School. Under the plan, the district would pay between $31 and $35 million with the Massachusetts School Building Authority picking up the rest.

“We wanted a project that was fiscally responsible,” said building committe chair Mark Schiek. “This is open to interpretation by many. I fully agree with that. But, we feel as a building committee what we’ve done is we’ve made a good, value-based choice looking at our program. We’re giving you, the two towns that are part of the Mt. Greylock Regional School District, good value based on what we’ve done. We don’t think we’re overspending or cutting corners where we shouldn’t be cutting corners.”

The district cost would be split — the town of Lanesborough would pay one-third and Williamstown two-thirds determined by a rolling agreement based on the number of students from each community. The annual tax impact based on the average Lanesborough home valued at $217,000 would be between $353 and $393. In Williamstown that range is $505 to $570 based on the average home valued at $356,000. Schiek spent the first part of the meeting talking about the current school’s deficiencies.

“It’s inefficient,” Schiek said. “It’s oversized. Poor heating and ventilation. There’s moisture and indoor air quality problems. There’s no ADA-compliance in the building really.”

Saying the building is becoming a financial drain on the district, Schiek added the school has safety issues such as outdated fire systems and about 70 access doors, a security issue. The plans would decrease the school’s size from 177,000 square feet to 133,000 built for 535 students based on an MSBA study. A 2014 state report lists the district size at 581 students. Public areas like the gym and auditorium will be taken down to the studs and renovated. A new three-story academic wing will be built with a focus on flexibility of use.

“Two floors could be set up as the high school,” he said. “You could have ninth and 10th grade on a floor and 11th and 12th on the next floor. Or you could have a departmental approach where one wing could be math and the other side of that hallway could be the English department. Upstairs you could have history and then other classrooms as needed.”

The current academic wing would be demolished. Planning for the project started about 10 years ago. Schiek says the building committee reduced the direct district costs from $16 million to $8 million by limiting parking lot work, only putting air conditioning in certain areas and reusing theater sound and light systems. No one at the public meeting raised concerns about project cost.

Williamstown votes on excluding the project’s debt payments from Proposition 2 ½ on March 1. Lanesborough votes March 15. The votes are by simple majority and both communities must give approval for the project to move forward. Lanesborough is holding an informational meeting on February 23. The town’s Finance Committee supported the project with a 3-2 vote earlier this month. Schiek calls it a once in a generation chance to use state tax money.

“If at this point in time we decide not to move forward with this project, the whole thing starts over again,” Schiek said. “We could be back to the beginning. We could be submitting SOIs [Statement of Interest]. And depending upon the needs throughout the commonwealth it might be another five years or longer before we could get back into the program.”

Meanwhile, Williams College recently pledged $5 million for Mt. Greylock’s capital needs outside the scope of the renovation project. James Kolesar heads Williams’ community and government affairs.

“Mt. Greylock School is so important to our community,” Kolesar said. “The college is part of the community so it’s important to us to be involved to the degree that we think we can.”

If approved, site work would start this summer. The project is expected to be completed in January 2019.

Click here for more information on the building project.

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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