Photo Gallery | Lanesborough vote on Mount Greylock School
LANESBOROUGH — Town voters have approved excluding the tax rate needed to pay for the $64.8 million Mount Greylock High School project by a wider margin than expected.
The vote puts the new school project on track for work to begin this summer.
Election officials released the results shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday, which showed that supporters outnumbered the opponents 633 to 499. A total of 1,132 ballots were cast, slightly less than half of the registered voters in town.
If the tax exclusion vote had failed, the 10-year effort to replace or renovate the 56-year-old facility would have had to start over.
The positive vote excluded the tax rate levied to pay for the project from the 2 1/2 percent tax levy increase limit under Proposition 2 1/2. A debt exclusion vote in Williamstown on March 1 passed by a wide margin.
The polling place, in the basement of Lanesborough's town hall, was packed with close to 100 observers, many of whom burst into cheers and applause when the results were announced.
"It was a tough campaign in Lanesborough," said Carrie Greene, chairwoman of the Mount Greylock School Committee. "But everybody worked really hard, and we were transparent and thorough in trying to get the information out there."
She acknowledged that some in Lanesborough were not convinced of the need for this scope of a project, but Greene expressed hope that the two communities can come together to work on building a new school for the children of both towns.
"I deeply believe this is good for Lanesborough, Williamstown and all of Berkshire County," Greene said. "This has been a real bonding experience for these two towns, and now we're in a really good place to move forward and make this school building project happen."
Greene and others maintained that if the failing high school building isn't replaced, it will affect the perception of quality of education in the region, which would hamper property values and the local economy.
Opponents were seeking more time to scale down the project to a more affordable level.
John Goerlach, chairman of the Lanesborough Select Board and an opponent of the debt exclusion proposal, said town officials will have to be careful with spending that might increase the town's tax rate.
"Congratulations to them," Goerlach said of the proposal's backers. "Now, we'll just have to figure out what to do with our budget and keep moving forward."
The Massachusetts School Building Authority has pledged $33.2 million in state funding toward the cost of the $64.8 million school building project. The local share of the cost will be between $31.5 million and $35.3 million.
Lanesborough taxpayers will be responsible for 32.3 percent of that local cost, or about $10.6 million, for an average annual tax increase of between $304 to $392.
Williamstown taxpayers will pick up 67.7 percent of the local share of the cost, or about $22.3 million, and face an increase in their average annual tax bill between $393 to $569.
The debt will be incurred by issuing bonds.
The last voter to cast a ballot, Curry Kalmus, showed up because a friend of his has children and asked him to vote as a favor. Kalmus said he voted in favor of the debt exclusion.
"On general principle, I think we should all be thinking about kids' futures," he said.
The building on Cold Spring Road was built in 1960, with an addition in 1972, when it served 1,200 students in 177,000 square feet of space.
Now, it houses roughly 590 students in Grades 7 through 12.
Aging HVAC systems, inadequate science labs and mold issues have been cited. The structure also suffers from periodic issues with 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 surface.
Officials said the cost of repairing the structure would keep getting more expensive, and the state will not share in that cost. They also noted that with the new 133,000-square-foot building, energy costs would be cut by about 50 percent.
Now that both towns have approved debt exclusion for the cost of the project, work is likely begin on demolishing the front section of the school and reconnecting the mechanicals to the remaining sections this summer. School would continue during the construction process in the remaining section of the school.
Following that, phase one would involve construction of the public spaces, such as the cafeteria, auditorium and administrative offices.
Phase two, set to start in early 2017, involves construction of the new classroom wing. Phase three will be the renovation of the existing gymnasium.
Once those phases are complete, the students and staff would move into the new space in the spring of 2018, and the remains of the original structure will be demolished by October 2018.
The entire project is expected to be done by January 2019.