GREAT BARRINGTON -- Residents have let Berkshire Hills Regional School District officials know that they think a proposed $56 million renovation of Monument Mountain Regional High School is too costly.
District officials on Wednesday hosted the first in a series of community forums aimed at understanding why Great Barrington residents voted down a renovation of the school in November.
Despite the potential for a higher pricetag later in the future, Great Barrington residents didn't budge from their stance of not wanting to pay more taxes.
"It's not a matter of communication or you failed to communicate the tangible benefits," Great Barrington resident Mickey Friedman said. "I think the people of Great Barrington care about education; they care about their neighbor's children's education, but they don't believe they can afford it the way it is."
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 the town sends the largest share of students to the district schools.
Three dozen people, including a large delegation of district officials, attended the forum at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire to more often than not ask in different ways if the cost could be lowered.
Residents said they could appreciate the proposed security and energy efficiency enhancements, technology improvements, and improvements to the building code to allow handicap accessibilty. But they also said the scope of the project was too large, asked about the possibility of the district merging with surrounding school districts and said they wanted surrounding towns to pay a higher share of the costs.
Despite multiple studies indicating the district's student population is stable at 571 students, residents questioned whether that would be true a decade from now and whether the town's taxpayers are paying for a school that will be predominately used by students that tuition-in or choice-in from other towns.
Dick Coons, who is on the BHRSD building committee, said the enrollment numbers didn't come from the district.
"That number comes to us, and not for us," Coons said.
Great Barrington residents pointed out they are paying for a new firehouse and fire tower ladder truck, are still paying off the elementary and middle school and are anticipating increased costs associated with the town's sewer system.
"The scope of the project seems way too much," resident Tom Barry said.
District officials have until July 31 to pass the project, but there has been no decision yet whether there will be another vote.
The district is soliciting community feedback with the intent of going back to the Massachusetts School Building Authority in mid-February to determine if the scope of the building plans can be changed while maintaining the $25 million state subsidy.
A Finance Taskforce composed of finance committee chairs from the three towns, district officials and others will review the project to find potential cost savings that could be pitched to the MSBA.
The next forum is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Housatonic Congregational Church.
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