PITTSFIELD -- The city's School Building Needs Commission has cleared a long-sought milestone in selecting three finalist firms to develop options for the replacement or renovation of Taconic High School.
The commission this week chose as its top choices for preliminary project design work three architectural firms from among the 10 proposals submitted. Two group members and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi will meet Dec. 17 in Boston as part of a Massachusetts School Building Authority design review panel, which also will review the submissions.
"We could come out of there with our designer," said commission co-Chairwoman Kathleen Amuso.
However, she said that if there is not general agreement, the state panel might decide further interviews should be conducted in January. The commission approved as its top three choices Dore & Whittier of Burlington, Vt., and Newburyport; Kaestle Boos Associates of New Britain, Conn., and Mount Vernon Group Architects Inc. of Wakefield.
In addition to price, experience and staffing factors, Amuso said the availability of a firm to begin work soon could weigh on the final selection.
Dale Caldwell of Skanska USA, a consulting firm assisting the commission in the designer selection, told commissioners that during the Dec. 17 meeting, the submissions from all 10 firms will be reviewed. The panel will consist of Bianchi, Amuso and Superintendent of Schools Jason "Jake" McCandless along with 13 state officials and volunteers from related fields, he said. Each person will be asked to rank the submissions first, second or third best.
"There is no guarantee that your top three will be selected," Caldwell said. But he added that if there is widespread agreement, the final choice could be decided upon at the meeting.
Initially, the firm will develop several options and do preliminary design work for Taconic High. The goal of the feasibility phase is to determine whether the building should be renovated or replaced, or whether the project should be a combination of the two, and determine such factors as cost.
In announcing the commission design subcommittee's top three choices -- arrived at by consensus -- Amuso said, "We were impressed by a lot of them. We had 10 very, very good proposals."
She said her primary concerns were whether the firm had experience working with vocational education facilities, whether there was an opportunity local subcontractors could be hired, and "did they get what we wanted locally -- were they familiar with what Pittsfield wanted?"
"It feels really good to have this project finally on track," Amuso said after the meeting. She has served on the commission for more than six years. "We have overcome this hurdle. It has been a long time, but we're there now."
The school project will receive 78 to 80 percent state reimbursement funding. For the feasibility study phase, which could be finished around the end of 2014, the city has set aside $1.3 million, which also will receive up to 80 percent state funding.
Pittsfield school officials have been collaborating with the SBA on a plan to expand or replace Taconic High, which was built in 1969 on Valentine Road.
While the city and SBA are focused on a new or improved Taconic, they have viewed both city high schools as part of a long-term construction goal. Pittsfield High School was built in 1931, but it is considered to be architecturally and physically in better condition than Taconic and is a candidate for renovation.