WILLIAMSTOWN >> In response to Kenneth Swiatek's Jan. 23 opinion piece entitled "Williamstown's backward, bullying approach on high school," The Mount Greylock school building committee (SBC) has used almost $850,000 appropriated by Lanesborough and Williamstown to study and propose a building project for Mount Greylock. The SBC is made up of citizens of both towns. This is a joint, community project. This has been a public, controlled, and thorough process. I highly recommend people visit www.wlschools.org/page.cfm?p=534 to learn more about the project.
Mr. Swiatek claims this committee approached this project backwards. This is wrong. The Massachusetts School Building Authority defines how you must approach the project. The MSBA says a district must define the school you need educationally, first. The MSBA also says you must design a school that will work for the district for the next 50 years. As a point of pride, the academic plan prepared by Mary MacDonald and her team was so highly praised by the MSBA that it is using it as an example for other districts.
Districts must comply with the MSBA rules because the MSBA is funding such a large proportion of the project. Using Mr. Swiatek's car buying example, since the state is paying for half the car, it has a say in the process and what car you buy.
We have absolutely tried to maximize the MSBA reimbursements. We have reduced the non-reimbursable costs by 50 percent. The SBC has made many decisions to contain the costs of the project, balancing the competing goals of the "perfect" school and the school we can afford. We have done the research, devoting thousands of hours to making sure we deliver "a school that will not become obsolete, immediately, or in a few years."
As a specific example, Mr. Swiatek asked if we looked at designing in a new, larger gym. By renovating our existing gym (which is larger than the MSBA would have allowed us to rebuild), we get reimbursed 59 percent of the lower renovation cost, rather than 59 percent of the higher new construction cost. It would have cost us more to build a new gym, which would have gone against our goal of containing costs. Put another way, the compromises we've already made make this a Chevrolet school, not a "BMW, Mercedes, or Audi." Solid and dependable, not "fancy."
As far as no shaming and bullying, let's add no scare tactics, too. According to Mr. Swiatek, if you vote for this project, you won't be able to eat for 11 weeks or buy a new car! You could just as easily say the project is going to cost the average homeowner between $1 and $1.75 a day, less than a Dunkin' Donuts coffee. Doesn't that sound like a bargain?!
The SBC does not want to play with numbers. We want clarity and accuracy. Obviously, this investment in our school represents an increase in taxes. No one is denying that. We calculated and published the tax rates of between $1.42 and $1.60 per thousand in Williamstown and between $1.61 and $1.81 per thousand in Lanesborough. Everyone on the committee will pay their share of the taxes. We know the price. But what's important is the value we are getting for the price.
Financially, this is a great value. The MSBA is putting up around half the project cost for this $64 million high school. Interest rates are generationally low, so if we act fast and borrow soon we can lock our rates for the life of this project, creating significant savings. Additionally, the current decrease in raw material prices, like copper and oil, should help our project costs come down. If we delay, those numbers will most likely move against us, increasing costs.
By leveraging the MSBA money, we also remove the risk of repairing the school on our own, without state aid. There is no zero cost solution to The Mt. Greylock building. It is at the end of its useful life.
The community value is huge. By committing to this project, the towns receive a newly renovated high school, with an entirely new construction academic classroom wing. It will have fully functional science labs and an auditorium you can actually use. This new school will support the communities for the next 50 years, producing great graduates for generations to come and supporting property values the way every great school district does.
Municipal budgets reflect the values of a community. Much like our parents and grandparents before us, we must pay for the schools to educate current and future generations. This is a financial commitment based on a large moral obligation. This is not shaming. This is a fact.
A community is great when it's citizens plant trees in whose shade they know they will never rest. It's time to plant these seeds. There is tremendous value to be created for Lanesborough and Williamstown if we invest now. The SBC has done the research. We've analyzed this project from just about every angle. This is the right project. This is the right budget. This is the right time.
Please join me in supporting the debt exclusion for the Mt. Greylock building project on March 1.