Thursday September 13, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- School officials are pitching a $50 million renovation and addition to Monument Mountain Regional High School as their preferred approach to upgrading the aging building.

Berkshire Hills Regional School District administrators and members of the district’s building committee told residents this week that a combination renovation and addition is the most cost-effective way to repair the 43-year-old building while upgrading instructional space to meet the needs of a 21st century curriculum.

"The school doesn’t look like it needs to be renovated Š but the students who are joining us in 10 to 20 years are going to need more than what we’re
providing," said Principal Marianne R. Young at the informational meeting introducing the preliminary design.

The proposed addition would add new science labs to the rear of the building, while renovations would create a central corridor between the auditorium and gym by removing existing music classrooms.

The plan would also:

n Bring the agriculture program into the main building with the addition of a greenhouse and classroom.

n Relocate the main entry and administrative offices to the north side of the building, orienting it toward the existing parking lot and driveway.

n Group humanities, science, math and technology programs into pods, retaining many existing classrooms.

n Update heating, air conditioning, ventilation systems and windows using modern, green technology, and bring the building up to accessibility, seismic and fire safety standards.

n Expand classroom space for career and vocational education programs, allowing the district to add classes that address local employment needs in the fields of health care and food service.

Dick Coons, chairman of the building committee, said the committee has agreed that the upgrade-addition option is preferable to just repairing the building, which would cost about $42 million and not add to the school’s offerings. The committee also nixed the option of building a new high school, which would cost about $68 million.

The district is still refining the schematic and accepting citizen input, but it hopes to submit a rough design later this month for approval by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which will reimburse the district for about half of the cost of the project.

In May, the project would come before voters for approval by the district’s member towns -- Stock bridge, West Stockbridge and Great Barrington.

Questions from the audience at the informational session Tuesday suggested that not all taxpayers are convinced the project is worth the hefty pricetag.

Richard Needleman, of Great Barrington, wondered if the renovation couldn’t be delayed for two to three years in hopes that the economy might improve, meaning more tax revenue would be available to help cover the costs.

"I don’t know how many people can continue to live here" if taxes keep going up, Needleman said. "We can’t take much more unless you want this whole town to be second-home owners who come from Manhattan."

School officials responded that if the district backs out now, there is no guarantee the MSBA will agree to help fund the project in the future. And choosing the less expensive, renovation-only option, they said, would still be costly and leave the district with facilities incompatible with a modern school curriculum.

The building committee is scheduled to consider the plan for final approval at its meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the district offices in Stockbridge.

To reach Ned Oliver:
noliver@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6240.
On Twitter: @NedOliver