Berkshire Hills awaits state response on bid to trim high school renovation costs


GREAT BARRINGTON -- The Berkshire Hills Regional School District will find out in the next two weeks whether it can significantly reduce the scope of its high school renovation project in an effort to gain voter approval.

In a letter to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the district has proposed project adjustments and about $4 million in cuts to the project, which voters in Great Barrington refused to fund last fall. The revised plan would reduce the anticipated average taxpayer cost 22 percent -- from $455 to $355.

The letter was drafted by Superintendent Peter Dillon and two members of the Buildings Subcommittee and then approved by the School Committee earlier this month.

The district has until July 31 hold a second vote, but officials plan to request an extension until fall 2014.

"We're still in the investigation stage and no decisions have been made [about a second vote]," said School Committee Chairman Stephen Bannon said.

He added any project cuts would need to be approved by the School Committee.

The $56 million high school renovation plan was narrowly approved in a districtwide referendum on Nov. 5, but residents of Great Barrington, whose residents face the highest tax burden, rejected a separate measure to fund the project. All three district towns -- Stockbridge, West Stockbridge and Great Barrington -- needed to approve funding for the project for it to go forward.

In an attempt to make the project more acceptable to residents, the district hosted four public outreach meetings in Great Barrington. Residents clearly identified tax fatigue as the reason for their opposition to the project.

The letter recommends 14 cuts that won't impact the plan's educational core that will save $4 million. Some of these suggestions include retaining the track area bleachers and substituting pre-cast curbing rather than using granite.

The letter also recommends project changes that would impact the educational core the district is seeking input on from the MSBA. The suggestions include eliminating a greenhouse and relocating the vocational-agriculture program from its current onsite location to the renovated high school.

The plan also recommends reducing the size of a new addition by eliminating one of the new large group instruction rooms, keeping the band and chorus program where they currently are, and reconfiguration of either the library/media center or cafeteria.

The letter also recommends a change in the debt financing period from 20 years to 25 years.

Now the MSBA will need to notify the district whether it approves some, all, or none of the changes. In November, the MSBA said it would only allow a second vote on the same project that was originally proposed.

"We're hearing we would need to cut 20 to 30 percent before Great Barrington would consider it," said Dick Coons, who assisted in drafting the letter.

To reach John Sakata:

or (413)-496-6240.

On Twitter: @JSakata


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