PITTSFIELD -- The first chore looming in the preliminary design phase for a new Taconic High School will be to match the number of students and the courses offered to the size of the project.

That, according to the project designer, Drummy, Rosane, Anderson Inc. of Waltham, will have to be determined by local officials in conjunction with the Massachusetts School Building Authority sometime in April to meet the project timetable.

Carl R. Franceschi, president of the consulting firm, told the city's School Building Needs Commission Monday that the decision depends in part on MSBA approval for the 15-course vocational/technical program and projected enrollment figures -- as well as on the need for instructional space at Taconic.

The issue is important because the state is expected to reimburse the school system for 78 to 80 percent of the construction cost, and therefore must approve what the state deems appropriate classroom square footage for the projected need.

"This is one of the points of discussion with MSBA," Franceschi said of space requirements. "It has to be justified. They monitor this very closely."

The preliminary design phase, which is expected to conclude next January, includes exploring options for new construction, renovation or a combination of the two to create a new Taconic High School on the campus off Valentine Road.


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Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said he wanted to point out for the public's benefit that the state will only reimburse the city for what it considers an appropriate size structure, meaning Pittsfield taxpayers might have to pay 100 percent of the cost of additional project features.

Franceschi said the state also has, in some cases, disallowed certain facilities regardless of the community's willingness to pay in an effort to maintain equal opportunity across Massachusetts public school districts.

After an analysis of the spatial needs for Taconic, based on preliminary figures, Franceschi said the consultants estimated a need for 226,300 square feet of instructional space. That compares to state guideline figures of 206,000 for a blend of vocational and academic uses -- which is planned at Taconic -- and 216,000 square feet for a vocational-only school. An academic program of the same size would require 189,120 square feet, according to the state formula.

The instructional space estimates were based on the needs of an estimated 620 students in technical education programs at Taconic and 335 in traditional academic programs. Many factors could alter the space requirements, the consultant said, such as how often voc/tech students are in the classroom and how often working outside classrooms.

Arriving at exact space needs and vocational/technical programs details will be among the key tasks the needs commission must tackle over the next two months in conjunction with the MSBA.

The Taconic project, which has seemed to many to be moving at a glacial pace for the past several years, is now accelerating, said commission Co-Chairwoman Kathleen Amuso. "I want to remind people where we are going and that we are moving very quickly now," she said.

Franceschi said he believes a good time to schedule the first community input session would be in about a month. A subcommittee of the commission is planning that aspect of the process.

On Monday, representatives from the consulting firm also will be in Pittsfield to meet with vocational/technical faculty members and members of the course advisory committees concerning the project, McCandless said.

By August, Franceschi has said, city officials will have to decide on a preferred option for the new Taconic High. That could mean all new construction, partial demolition of structures with new additions, or renovation of the interior spaces only.

The MSBA board would then be expected to act on that information in September. And by December, a conceptual design including cost estimates ideally will be submitted to a state project review board for a vote in January. This would not be the full architectural design, which would follow at take up to eight months. Construction would follow in 2016.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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