Sunday March 3, 2013

GREAT BARRINGTON -- The Berkshire Hills Regional School District School Committee voted this week to re-schedule a town vote on a proposed high school renovation project from May until October to allow more time for planning and to engage the community.

The district had been working toward a May vote on a property assessment increase for a multi-million dollar, schoolwide renovation of Monument Mountain Regional High School.

In addition to the unanimously supported date change on Thursday, the district released preliminary assessment figures on the project's costs to towns Wednesday in a meeting with town officials.

Great Barrington's assessment would be between $315 to $387, Stockbridge between $146 to $193 and West Stockbridge between $280 to $345. The annual assessment would be over a 20-year period.

Berkshire Hills Regional Business Administrator Sharon Harrison emphasized the assessment could drastically change depending on construction bids, value engineering examining greater efficiency, and grant funding.

The project is estimated to cost around $52 million, but the district's share would be slightly less than half of the total.

Great Barrington residents, in particular, will need to carefully mull the project. Due to the town's large student population in the district, the school budget assessment could increase around 4 percent. Users of the Great Barrington Wastewater Treatment facility have also had their rates increased to finance system upgrades.

School officials have said the renovations are needed because the high school facility's premise is outdated and there is no guarantee the Massachusetts School Building Authority support in following years. The schoolwide renovations include plumbing, electrical wiring, security and handicap access and also an expansion of the campus to include new science and greenhouse buildings.

At Wednesday's meeting before representatives of the towns, Housatonic resident Michelle Loubert said the renovation, in combination with other assessments, would drastically increase her bill. "As much as I am very pro-education, this isn't about not eating out, but eating, period."

In the coming months, Berkshire Hills Superintendent Peter Dillon will work on informing the community about the project. His early efforts included a stop on Saturday at the Democrats Club in Stockbridge.

More definitive financial figures are expected on March 28, Harrison said.

Harrison said the district could review a re-financing of the district's elementary and middle school construction bond from 4.6 percent down to 2 percent or 21 2 percent to lower the tax burden on residents.