PITTSFIELD -- The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to invite school officials to attend future meetings to discuss school budgets and the work of the School Building Needs Commission.
Councilor at large Barry J. Clairmont asked that the school department be invited to attend the next council Finance Committee meeting "to present an update on their FY 2013 revenue and expenses through the second quarter versus budget."
Clairmont said that although the council has no jurisdiction to review the school budget, he hopes officials will attend a meeting because it would likely result in worthwhile discussions and prove informative for the public. He said he hopes such meetings could be arranged on a semiannual basis.
Council President Kevin Sherman and Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop put in a petition asking that the School Building Needs Commission "provide an update to the City Council" on efforts to build a new Taconic High School or perform extensive renovations.
The long-sought major school project has awaited final decisions on an updated vocational curriculum and other issues. A vocational plan recommended by the Building Needs Commission in November drew to School Committee meetings a stream of business owners and others critical of the proposed elimination or reduction of auto body and metal fabrication programs as part of an updated curriculum aiming at what are perceived more current requirements in the workplace.
The School Committee has not yet accepted the curriculum plan, which is considered a necessary step toward gaining state approvals for the project. The work would likely receive 78 percent state funding.
Also Tuesday, councilors approved acceptance of a $400,000 state grant for Phase 2 of the First Street Common Rehabilitation Project.
James McGrath of the city’s Department of Community Development said Phase 2 work includes site grading and underground utility and drainage work. Electrical work will support lighting for safety and security.
The city is matching the grant for this phase of the four-phase project with $500,000 already budgeted, Sherman said.
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony J. Simonelli asked whether the current volunteer effort by firefighters to create an outdoor skating rink on the Common was now part of the project in light of previously voiced concern a rink might cause damage to a finished park site.
McGrath said the master plan for the park did not include plans for a rink, "but I don’t really want to leave it off the table."
The rink idea is a popular one, he said, "so I don’t want to say there will never be one." He said he wants to explore the issue of potential damage to the park further.
"There was a lot of interest," Simonelli said. "I guess I’m happy it will be explored."
The council, without debate, also approved Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi’s nominations of Richard S. Stockwell for the city Licensing Board and William P. Sturgeon for the Council on Aging.
Stockwell, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam and who has worked at several restaurants in the area as a chef or manager, was appointed to the unfinished term of Albert Pisani.
Pisani resigned in October after serving for 30 years. The unfinished term expires June 3.
The council also confirmed new city Public Health Director Gina M. Armstrong, who was hired last month by the Board of Health.
To reach Jim Therrien: