PITTSFIELD - A regional vocational high school likely won't be an option for renovating or building a new Taconic High School, city school officials said on Tuesday.
Two years ago, the Massachusetts School Building Authority urged Pittsfield to strongly consider regionalizing Taconic in order to meet the vocational education needs of students from surrounding communities, as well its own.
While the SBA and the city's School Building Needs Commission will still explore the possibility of a regional high school on the Valentine Road campus, apparently it's no longer a front-runner, according to the Pittsfield School Department.
"What the SBA is looking at is a comprehensive high school with a strong vocational component on the Taconic campus," said Frank K. Cote, the assistant superintendent for vocational, workforce and college readiness programs.
Cote's remarks, backed by similar comments from interim School Superintendent Gordon L. Noseworthy, came during the commission's first meeting since its chairman, former Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III, resigned as the city's top educator effective June 30.
The 21- member panel, 16 members present, unanimously chose Noseworthy and veteran commission and School Committee member, Kathleen A. Amuso, as co-chairs to succeed Eberwein.
Noseworthy spent most of the hourlong meeting on the need to quickly wrap up the commission and SBA's collaboration on laying the groundwork toward determining the type and price of a high school project.
The preliminary work has included assessing the physical condition of the current 43year-old Taconic, reviewing the city's vocational programs at Pittsfield High School and Taconic, and updating the educational plan for the Pittsfield Public Schools.
In April, a consultant recommended the city should revamp its high school vocational education in order to meet the area's workforce needs for the next decade. State education officials now want that report rolled into the school district's overall education plan that was revised last year.
City school officials say the revised plan needs to include an increased financial obligation to vocational education.
"We need to make a more significant funding commitment to our vocational programs," Amuso said.
While regionalization may be off the table, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi feels an upgrading the city's vocational education will make a new or renovated Taconic a regional draw.
"We certainly will attract students from around the area," Bianchi said.
In the 2011-2012 school year, 45 of the 705 students enrolled in the two high schools' vocational programs were tuitioned in from other Berkshire County school districts.
Once the preliminary review is complete, the full feasibility study would begin, which will estimate the cost of several options the commission is considering for the Taconic site. Among the options are renovating, renovating with additions, building a new school or doing nothing. If a project is approved, the state will reimburse the city 78 percent of the construction cost.
The commission has said the full feasibility study could take up to 18 months.
While the SBA process forced the city to put forth just one high school for consideration, the state agency has viewed both Pittsfield High and Taconic as part of any overall building project proposal, which most city and school officials have been advocating from the beginning. Even though Pittsfield High, built in 1931, is nearly twice as old as Taconic, which was built in 1969, SBA officials have said they prefer to renovate, rather than replace, Pittsfield High because architecturally and physically it's in better condition than Taconic.
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