Monday June 18, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Berkshire Hills Regional School District has largely been working behind the scenes since 2010 as it looks to upgrade its high school. But that's about to change.

The district is in the process of working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority to assess the needs of Monument Mountain Regional High School and to reach a consensus on the best way forward for potential improvements.

The district has been working with an architectural firm and project manager on a feasibility study of the school, which was built in 1969. The team has done some focus groups in conjunction with the massive amounts of data collection, but the district is now preparing for its first major public outreach effort in the process.

School officials will meet with the West Stockbridge and Great Barrington select boards next week to update each on where the project stands and to elicit input. A meeting with the Stockbridge Select Board, the other member town, had to be postponed because of scheduling conflicts.

The school district also is expecting to start holding meetings with the public in July.

"Right now we're at a point where we've started to gather enough information that it really starts to make sense to start to share it," said Superintendent Peter Dillon.

The project manager, Strategic Building Solutions, is working with the architectural firm, Cambridge-based Symmes, Maini & McKee Associates, on a feasibility study on the condition of the building, from the basics such as disability access and fire suppression to assessing how the building meets the needs of the academic programs. Greenfield-based Margo Jones Architects, which worked on the Williamstown and Farmington River elementary schools, also is involved the project.

Through the study, the district is obligated to look at a full range of options for the high school, from doing nothing to building an entirely new school. While all options have to be considered, construction of a new building is unlikely, Dillon said.

The district has set aside a combined $750,000 for the study over the past few years, of which the state will reimburse 47 percent on a revolving basis. A preferred design could go before voters next May to request local funding.

Dillon said the best part of this effort is that it's in many ways the culmination of an effort started when he was hired three years ago. Since then, Dillon said, he has worked with stakeholders to refine a mission and start a long-term plan for the district. Whatever option is selected, he said, will be a "concrete representation" of how the district wants to educate its students in the future.

To reach Trevor Jones:
tjones@berkshireeagle.com,
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