Sunday April 28, 2013

GREAT BARRINGTON -- A renovation of Monument Mountain Regional High School would cost an estimated $56.05 million, according Berkshire Hills Regional school officials citing a series of recently completed engineering studies.

The School Building Committee discussed the latest financial figures surrounding the long-planned high school renovations late last week to the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee.

The price tag takes into account $5.8 million in cuts recommended by the School Building Committee. The original estimate was about $52 million. The school serves students from West Stockbridge, Stockbridge, and Great Barrington.

"I would love to see it lower, but I think that’s where we are at," said Dick Coons, head of the Berkshire Hills Building Committee.

What the final cost will be to the towns won’t be known until after a July 31 meeting with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which still much approve the project. If approved, Coons said the state will pay for at least 40.9 percent of the project. Through incentives, the reimbursement rate could increase to 48.5 percent, or about $25.5 million, according to Coons.

Coons estimated the district’s cost would then be $30.5 million.

Coons expressed confidence the MSBA in July would approve the district’s plans: "I don’t expect it to be turned down by the state."

If approved, the district’s three towns would need to vote on the project. Business Administrator Sharon Harrison said the district will be talking to towns about a districtwide ballot vote in the fall that would require a simple majority to pass. Coons anticipates a vote in the fall.

In an effort to lower costs, the School Building Committee recommended about $5.8 million in cuts that would impact design aesthetics and eliminate some building enhancements. The roofing, playgrounds, recreational grounds, auditorium, track bleachers and other elements of the construction would be affected.

"There is nothing that will impact the programming," Coons said.

Once completed, the project would include infrastructure upgrades to the plumbing, electrical wiring, security and handicap access. There are plans to include six new science laboratories and a greenhouse.

During Thursday’s School Committee meeting, Great Barrington resident John Breasted questioned the local political support behind the project and urged the committee to think about the project in the long-term.

Following the meeting, he questioned whether the school site would be a suitable long-term site with rising gas prices and increasing power costs.

Breasted said, "it’s not an obvious yes and quite possibly an emphatic" no.

Coons, who has worked on the project for more than two years, said school committee members should proactively work on selling the project to the community.

Superintendent Peter Dillon previously stated he has reached out to the West Stockbridge Democrats, along with other local organizations, to inform the community.

"They have to sell the project and make [the communities] understand what’s behind these numbers and build a base of support so when we go out in the fall we have a good shot of getting this passed," Coons said.