Groundbreaking kicks off construction on new Taconic High School

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Photo Gallery | Taconic High School groundbreaking ceremony

PITTSFIELD — A groundbreaking Friday to launch Pittsfield's $120.8 million new Taconic High School project drew more than 100 current and former school, city and state officials — as well as faculty, staff and students of the current school off Valentine Road.

A series of speakers — including School Building Needs Commission Co-Chairwoman Kathleen Amuso, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg and Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless — took turns thanking those who worked over nearly a decade to make the project a reality.

Amuso, a former School Committee member and now also a city councilor, and Farley-Bouvier noted that three mayors, five Pittsfield schools superintendents, some 30 councilors, and approximately 50 people who served on the SBNC have shown consistent, long-term support for the project.

"It really has been a long journey," said Amuso, later adding, "I can't wait until September 2018 to walk through the doors of a new Taconic High School."

The 246,520-square-foot academic and vocational school will be constructed directly across from the current school's main entrance, and the old building will be razed around the time of the 2018 ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority has issued approval for $74.2 million in state funding toward the Taconic project, and the City Council has approved bonding for up to $45 million for Pittsfield's share of the cost.

Goldberg, who chairs the MSBA board, said that as a former Brookline selectwoman, she understands the tremendous effort involved in reaching this stage of a school construction project.

"I know what you went through," the treasurer said. "But soon we will be putting shovels into that wet ground."

When she thinks about such moments, Goldberg added, "it gives me chills."

The treasurer said she has added staff members at the MSBA with local government experience, and she intends to develop new methods and strategies of working closely with school districts to facilitate construction projects.

Farley-Bouvier, who like Tyer became an early supporter of a new school while both were city councilors a decade ago, stressed that the effort was a collaborative one, stretching across the administrations of Mayors James M. Ruberto, Daniel L. Bianchi and now Tyer, who took office in January.

"This is everybody's groundbreaking," Farley-Bouvier said, citing for credit the MSBA, her fellow local state lawmakers, local school officials, city councilors who last year unanimously approved a bond for the construction and the many residents who voiced support.

"This has been a long ... time ... coming," she said, speaking slowly for emphasis.

Speaking last, before officials left the school auditorium and braved a steady drizzle to sink golden shovels into the earth of the project site, McCandless joked that he felt like massive former Chicago Bears lineman William "Refrigerator" Perry, who occasionally was given the football near the goal line and rammed home a touchdown.

However, Amuso lauded McCandless for the multitasking job he did over his three years in Pittsfield schools in helping to nail down the final project approvals. That included securing state funding, working with the project designers, traveling to MSBA sessions in Boston, and remaining calm and positive despite the long, sometimes frustrating process, even when she was not so calm, Amuso said.

Thanking educators, officials, residents and state officials, McCandless said, "Thank you for believing in the power of education." In the new Taconic High, he said, "we celebrate potential; we celebrate hope."

"This is a milestone for all of us," said Tyer, telling those present that "it is tempting in difficult economic times to dial back" such investments in the future, "but I think that is precisely the time to invest."

She praised all those involved in making that commitment.

The new Taconic, with an enhanced vocational/technical course curriculum and modern classrooms, shops and other school spaces, is considered a key to boosting the city's economy by preparing students for good-paying jobs now sometimes going unfilled in the region.

The project sends a message that "we are investing in our children and economic development," Farley-Bouvier said.

When potential business investors approach the city, she said, their first concern "is quite frankly, not lower taxes." More important to businesses, she said, is "a well-educated work force."

She added that the greatest concern expressed by parents is that their children have a good education and opportunity for a good job afterward. "We are saying today to families, Pittsfield has invested in the education you want for your children," the lawmaker said.

Taconic Principal John Vosburgh thanked the officials involved and residents for "having the courage to take this step," saying he remembers other negative votes that sunk major development projects in the city.

Taylor Hebert, a member of the SkillsUSA team at Taconic, said she wishes she could experience the new high school but knows students and staff members will appreciate the planned building, as it will eliminate roof leaks, wild swings in indoor temperatures and hall sections not handicapped accessible in the aging current school.

"Thank you for investing in education, specifically in vocational education," she said.

Also lauded were the city's project consultants, Skanska USA, the project designers, Drummey Rosane Anderson of Waltham, the construction management firm, Gilbane Inc., and David Tierney Construction, a local firm working on the project.

They have been, "our outstanding professional partners," Farley-Bouvier said.

The Taconic Chorus, directed by Jessica Passetto, performed at the start of the afternoon program.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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