Mount Greylock school project tax-rate exclusion overwhelmingly approved in Williamstown

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Town voters approved by a wide margin Tuesday excluding the tax rate needed to pay for the $64.8 million Mount Greylock Regional High School project.

According to the official tally released just after 8 p.m., supporters outnumbered the opponents 2,226 to 351. A total of 2,583 ballots were cast out of 4,772 registered voters in Williamstown.

If the tax exclusion vote had failed, the 10-year effort to replace or renovate the 56-year-old facility would have to start from the beginning.

Lanesborough voters are set to vote on the debt exclusion proposal — which approves excluding the tax rate levied to pay for the project from the 2 1/2 percent tax increase limit — on March 15, and a "no" vote there would also doom the proposal.

Carrie Greene, chairwoman of the Mount Greylock School Committee, said she was surprised by the winning margin of the vote, but now the campaign will focus on the vote in Lanesborough.

"It's very gratifying," she said. "I was hoping for a resounding victory, and that's what we got. Now we move right on to Lanesborough — we have two weeks to clarify that there really is no other choice, and that a vote against this project is a vote against the region."

She said 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.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority has pledged $33.2 million in state funding toward the cost of the $64.8 million project. The local share of the cost would be between $31.5 million and $35.3 million.

Lanesborough taxpayers would 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 would 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 would be incurred by issuing bonds.

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 from Grades 7 through 12.

Aging HVAC systems, inadequate science labs and mold issues have been cited. The structure also suffers from periodic issues in 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 situation.

Officials said the cost of repairing the structure will keep getting more expensive, and the state will not share in that cost.

They also noted that with a new 133,000-square-foot building, energy costs would be cut by about 50 percent.


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