WILLIAMSTOWN — The multi-year effort by the Mount Greylock Regional School District to replace its failing high school building just got a boost of $33.2 million toward the construction cost.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority on Wednesday authorized a grant of up to $33.234 million for the estimated $64.8 million project.
Meanwhile, in a Tuesday meeting, the Lanesborough Select Board set its debt exclusion vote for March 15. The school board had hoped schedule the vote March 1 — the date of the presidential primary in Massachusetts — in hopes of boosting the turnout. The debt exclusion vote in Williamstown has been set for March 1.
Both towns would need to vote to exclude the bond debt from the Proposition 2 1/2 tax increase limit. If either town fails to pass the debt exclusion, the project fails and the effort to replace the 1960 high school structure would have to begin anew.
Carrie Greene, chairwoman of the Mount Greylock Regional High School Committee, said she doubted that people would be deterred from voting because it's on a different day than the primary.
"I think voters who support this project will come out to vote," she said. "We wanted to make the election more convenient and less costly for Lanesborough, but the Select Board chose to prioritize something other than cost, and give more time to the opposition to provide more information, which is fine. It's part of the democratic process."
Lanesborough Town Manager Paul Sieloff said the Select Board was concerned that having to vote on two ballots on the same day would be a distraction for voters.
"The board was very interested in having a focused election on this big decision," he said. "This is the biggest debt the town has taken on in its 250-year history."
Current estimates show the local share of the cost is between $31.5 million and $35.3 million. The debt would be incurred by issuing bonds.
"The plans for this project are the direct result of a collaborative partnership between Mount Greylock officials and the MSBA," said Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg. "We look forward to delivering an efficient, sustainable and cost-effective facility that will maximize local and state taxpayer resources while providing a top-notch location in which students can learn effectively."
The school notoriously suffers from periodic issues in major building systems including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, building envelope and windows.
In 2009, the locker room ceiling collapsed and the antiquated boilers had to be replaced.
In 2013, school was closed for two days because the HVAC system was overwhelmed by heat and high humidity, which settled on the floors making for a slick, hazardous situation.
"The MSBA continues to partner with Massachusetts communities in the ongoing work of upgrading our public schools," said MSBA Chief Executive Officer Maureen Valente. "These improvements to school facilities will enhance students' ability to excel in the classroom."
According to Greene, the MSBA funding authorization is "one more step in the right direction. It means that if we can approve debt exclusions in both towns, they (the MSBA) are committed to provide that funding."
She said the school building committee is preparing information packets for voters in both towns and setting up informational sessions in both communities. The dates haven't been set yet, but Lanesborough has authorized a special town meeting on Feb. 23 to answer questions about the project.
The average daily cost of the tax increase, she noted, would come to about $1 in Lanesborough and $1.31 in Williamstown.
"The way I think of it, the cost is about the same as a cup of coffee a day," she said. "But some people might not think of it that way."
Greene noted that Lanesborough students would get to attend a brand-new, $65 million school at a town cost of $10.6 million.
"That is quite a deal," she said.
At a glance ...
Here are estimated cost breakdowns for residents of the two towns that comprise the Mount Greylock Regional School District.
In Lanesborough, taxpayers' share of the local cost would be 32.3 percent, or about $10.6 million, causing a tax rate increase of between $1.61 and $1.81 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or an average annual increase of the tax bill by $304 to $392.
In Williamstown, taxpayers would pick up 67.7 percent of the local share of the cost, or about $22.3 million, with a property tax rate increase of between $1.42 and $1.60 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That would increase the average annual tax bill by $393 to $569.