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| (Associated Press)

PITTSFIELD -- A long-awaited full feasibility study of options for a new or renovated Taconic High School could begin by this fall, city school officials said Tuesday night.

However, interim schools Superintendent Gordon Noseworthy said the start date hinges on the School Committee's adoption of a controversial new vocational education proposal in March -- a plan stuck at the subcommittee level for at least another week.

"It would be July 2014 [at the earliest] before you put a cap on the feasibility study," he said.

The vocational education plan is the final step of the School Building Needs Commission and Massachusetts School Building Authority's collaboration in laying the groundwork toward determining the scale and cost of a high school project.

Finalizing an updated education plan would complete a more than two-year preliminary study that also included assessing the physical condition of the current 43-year-old Taconic and more than 80-year-old Pittsfield High.

Noseworthy outlined the possible timeline for the feasibility study on Tuesday before the school board's curriculum subcommittee, which delayed its vote on a recommendation to the entire seven-member school board.

The three-member panel plans next week to review the five new programs being added and further discuss whether to eliminate three existing programs from the city's vocational curriculum. The meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Feb. 13 at Pittsfield High School.

Two weeks ago, the School Committee referred the vocational proposal to the subcommittee for further review due to opposition from local tradesmen and Taconic alumni to the elimination of metal fabrication and auto body repair. The revamped curriculum of 14 vocational programs is part of Taconic's overall education plan, which must be approved by Massachusetts education officials before the city and state can start planning a new high school project at the Taconic site.

Tuesday night's 21 2-hour subcommittee meeting was a continuation of the two months of debate before the entire school board regarding the merits of retaining metal fabrication and auto body repair. Supporters of the programs claim such career opportunities will exist in and outside the Berkshires over the next decade.

Len Light, vice president of Lenco Armor Inc. in Pittsfield, noted that 37 of the company's 75 employees came from vocational programs -- 19 of them from Taconic. Lenco manufactures armored tactical vehicles.

"Not only do we rely on our skilled employees, but [on related] companies in our community," Light said.

A study conducted last year for the Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission found a lack of future jobs for metal fabrication and auto body.

In addition, projected enrollment for the city's vocational curriculum would only support 14 programs, School Department officials said.

"If you don't have a vocational program you can justify to the state, they won't build a school around it," Noseworthy said.

Subcommittee member Terry Kinnas says he's prepared to take that gamble and would recommend a total of 16 vocational courses.

"Let's put back auto body and metal fabrication and see where the dice go," he said.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.

Vocational career paths ...

High school vocational courses currently offered in Pittsfield Public Schools:

Auto body repair

Auto mechanics/technology

Carpentry

Cosmetology

Culinary arts

Electronics

Facilities management

Graphic communication

Health assisting

Horticulture/landscaping

Machine technology

Metal fabrication

Power equipment technology

Proposed vocational curriculum:

Auto mechanics/technology

Carpentry

Cosmetology

Culinary arts

Early childhood care *

Electrical *

Engineering/electronics*

Facilities management

Graphic communication

Health assisting

Horticulture/landscaping

Machine technology

Office technology*

Information support services and networking*

*Proposed new programs