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Pittsfield Celebrating Groundbreaking Of New High School

Jim Levulis

City and state officials are celebrating the ceremonial groundbreaking of a new high school in Pittsfield Friday afternoon.The construction of a new Taconic High School on Valentine Road has been 10 years in the making, finally getting the financial thumbs up from the Massachusetts School Building Authorityin June. The state’s $74.2 million reimbursement award came less than two months after the Pittsfield City Council unanimously approved borrowing up to $120.8 million to build the three-story high school. A standing-room only crowd at City Hall cheered, applauded and released balloons when the 11 yes votes came in that night. Pittsfield Public Schools superintendent Jason McCandless among them.

“I think the message it sends is that we really believe that Pittsfield’s best days are still ahead of it,” McCandless said after the vote. “That our best days did not leave town when General Electric left town.”

The building will replace the current, roughly 50-year-old Taconic High School, which has suffered from leaky roofs and poor heating and cooling. It will be demolished as the new school is expected to open for the 2018-2019 academic year. The 246,500-square foot L-shaped building will feature classroom clusters, flex space and a large focus on vocational skills. Carl Franceschi, president of DRA Architects, has led 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.”

School and city leaders expect the new Taconic will help close the vocational skills gap in the region, lessening the need to recruit workers from outside the Berkshires. In March 2015, Interprint became Taconic’s official business partner. The décor design and printing company donated three digital readouts at a cost of roughly $1,000 a piece and has offered student internships. Interprint spent $5,000 assisting Taconic in 2014, a number that’s expected to hold steady. McCandless says the partnership has sent a message and not just a check.

“You’re in your school till you’re 18…you can come to us and maybe work till you’re 50, 60 or 70,” McCandless explained. “If you like living here and you want to make this your home there are opportunities here. That’s really the most powerful piece.”

Years ago an idea was kicked around to combine Taconic and Pittsfield High School on one campus. Renovating 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. As project funding was making its way through the city council, residents questioned why Pittsfield is building a new school when enrollment has dropped by 700 students over the past decade, to about 5,800 district-wide. At a February 2015 city council meeting, Robert O’Conner shared what some in the community had expressed. 

“Is a citywide vote needed?” O’Conner said. “I say definitely. It’s our taxpayer dollars that are paying for this new fiasco that you want to build.”

The ceremonial groundbreaking is expected to start at 3 o’clock. State Treasurer and head of the Massachusetts School Building Authority Deborah Goldberg is expected to attend.

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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