Great Barrington Selectmen plan more talks on school project


GREAT BARRINGTON -- Selectmen plan to host more public discussions about the proposed high school renovation project, agreeing that many complaints brought by citizens during a series of forums about the plan were reasonable.

"People feel a need to be heard," Selectman Stephen Bannon said during a recent meeting. "And some feel that's not the case right now. We need to take a leadership position."

No dates or times have been set, but Bannon, Chairman Sean Stanton and Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin agreed to work out the details.

Selectmen agreed that while finding a more palatable high school renovation project is the priority, other town projects in the queue would be up for discussion.

Four forums were held prior to a vote by the three towns on a $56 million funding plan to renovate Monument Mountain Regional High School.

The plan was approved by all the towns of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, but Great Barrington residents defeated an associated measure required to fund the project.

Selectman Vice Chairwoman Deb Phillips added that she was unnerved by the amount of vituperation that permeated the forums.

Phillips said she understood the frustrations of citizens. But, she said, she hoped that future discussions would be less about people and more about town projects.

At the meeting, the Selectmen also heard from Karen Smith, the town's citizen liaison to the School Committee.

Smith said that, clearly, the school project was deemed too expensive by many voters.

"And I agree," she said.

Equally clearly, Smith said, the member towns and the school district needed to find a less expensive option.

"Because the school still needs work," she said.

But, Smith added, she was also taken aback by the amount of anger directed at the town and the district leading up the vote. She recounted her experience holding a sign advocating the project on the day of the vote, when several motorists directed an obscene gesture in her direction.

She urged the board to work harder at outreach to town residents.

"We listen to people we know," she said. "Everyone deserves to be heard.

"There is an underlying level of anger, and a great deal of mistrust and rudeness," Smith said. "We need to work as a community to address these issues."

In other business, the board opted to keep up all summer a town banner on Main Street informing visitors of this summer's Main Street reconstruction project.

This was following a request from Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Betsy Andrus to come up with a "concrete policy" for use of the banner, which is strung across the street just south of Railroad Street.

Andrus explained that the Berkshire International Film Festival and Aston Magna also wanted to put up a banner at certain times in the summer.

Bannon said he was sympathetic, but added that the town had committed to help the Main Street merchants as much as possible.

Andrus agreed to look into possible ways the two organizations could share banner space next summer.

To reach Derek Gentile: or (413) 496-6251. On Twitter: @DerekGentile


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