GREAT BARRINGTON -- The Berkshire Hills Regional School District has been given a clear choice: pass the failed high school renovation by July 31 or lose state funding for the project.
In a letter to the district, the Massachusetts School Building Authority outlined conditions under which it would still provide a $25 million subsidy toward the renovation of the 47-year-old Monument Mountain Regional High School.
The letter indicates it must be "the same project as proposed and reviewed by the MSBA."
"You can look at it in a positive way because they will give us an extension," said School Committee Chairman Stephen Bannon. "If you read it strictly as you can't change one iota of the project, then it's a setback, but I am not reading it that way."
In a districtwide referendum on the project Nov. 5, a majority of voters in the three towns of the district -- Stockbridge, West Stockbridge and Great Barrington -- narrowly approved the $56 million high school renovation. But a separate measure to fund the project was defeated in Great Barrington, whose residents would face the highest tax burden because it sends the largest share of students to the district schools.
The state subsidy would enable the district to build new science laboratories, a greenhouse and modifications aimed at enhancing school security and bringing the building up to federal and state building code.
The district already has agreed to begin working to sell the project to the community. But as in the first attempt, it faces a significant challenge: tax fatigue.
The MSBA letter states that a "different project from the one proposed and reviewed by the MSBA" would require the district to start over, a process that could take five to seven years. Despite the letter's directions, district officials said the MSBA could be open-minded to modifications that would lower cost.
"If we meet the goals outlined in the statement of interest and we do it in a slightly less expensive way, we're hoping that will be considered as the ‘same project,' " Dillon said.
Bannon said he would not support returning the same high school renovation project for a vote. He said there could be a specially scheduled School Committee meeting following Jan. 3 to discuss the letter.
For at least the next month, Bannon said the district will solicit public input.
"We were going to do that no matter what and we're still doing that in January," Bannon said.
The School Committee's campaign earnestly started with the recruitment of Great Barrington resident Karen Smith, who is collecting public input on behalf of the district. There will be four forums to solicit feedback that will be publicized beginning the new year. There will be no presentation, she said, but rather the School District will merely receive public opinion.
Smith, who has previously served on the Library Board of Trustees and Finance Committee, said she'll reach out to opponents of the project and gather questions and objections to the project. She encouraged residents to e-mail her at email@example.com.
"We want to know what their questions are," Smith said. "This is not about people being talked to; it's about listening."
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