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Pittsfield City Council gives authorization to explore consolidating Crosby, Conte schools in new facility

Pittsfield, Massachusetts city hall.
Josh Landes
Pittsfield, Massachusetts city hall.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council approved the first step toward replacing two decrepit public schools in the West Side neighborhood on Tuesday.

The 11-member body heard a unified statement from the city’s school committee before hearing the department’s presentation on the plan.

“Tonight's agenda includes a request that the council authorize the superintendent of schools to submit a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority for Crosby Elementary School, and secondarily, Conde Community School. The school building needs commission and the school committee have voted unanimously to authorize the superintendent to submit this statement of interest," said school committee chair William Cameron. “When seven of our schools were renovated in the late 1990s, the community schools were only 25 years old, and Crosby – which had been built as a junior high school – was 35 years old. The Commonwealth deemed none of them to be sorely in need of renovation or replacement. Now, 25 years later, Crosby is physically decrepit and an eyesore. It houses students ages 3 to 11 in a facility meant for use by teenagers. Conte and Morningside opened in the mid-1970s. They were built as then state of the art schools featuring large, elongated rectangles of open instructional space.”

Over 50 years later, Cameron said the buildings are now an impediment to effectively educating students already facing societal disadvantages.

“The request before you tonight is that the council, in effect, inaugurate Pittsfield's addressing a serious problem in the economically poorest, most ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse area in our city," he said. "The facilities in which these neighborhoods' youngest schoolchildren are being educated are, in a word, unsatisfactory. I submit that as part of the project of reconceiving how we can best meet the educational needs of our city as it actually exists today, Pittsfield must make every effort to replace the schools these children attend, starting on the West Side. If we don't do all we can to move this project forward, then we will fail in what with public safety is local government's foremost responsibility.”

The plan proposed by the Pittsfield Public Schools is to consolidate Conte and Crosby into one building.

“The site of greatest opportunity for a proposal and certainly, new school contract construction, is the Crosby campus on West Street. It's a very large area to build. We believe that we can do that with very little disruption to the Crosby campus, and we have the potential, as we'll discuss, for both a lower elementary and upper elementary school constructed on the same site," said Superintendent Joseph Curtis. “To bring clarity, we are not proposing the construction of two new buildings.”

Curtis told the council that while Pittsfield’s population continues to diversify, the West Side schools still mostly serve minority populations.

“I hope you join me in believing that a more diverse student population in all of our schools will foster a learning environment that's inherently equitable for students,” he said.

The new school building would serve as an opportunity to break down those social barriers.

“Our next step as we see it, to create the best quality education for a diverse set of learners, could be to really kind of dismantle, if you will, our middle school model, and create a grade 5, 6 school and a grade 7, 8 school where all students across the city would attend the grade 5, 6 school and then move as a cohort, to the grade 7, 8 school,” said Curtis.

Acknowledging that the eventual cost of the project might be high, at-large city councilor Alicia Costa says the city has to act.

“If the roof on your house were crumbling in, you'd have to figure it out- And that's where we're at," she said. "And we can't afford to wait any longer. We can't afford for the sake of the children going to our schools, for the sake of our city that we want to see grow."

The council unanimously voted to allow Curtis to submit a statement of interest to the state government.

The process now moves forward to a feasibility study.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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