Perri Petricca: Time is right for Mt. Greylock project

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LANESBOROUGH >> I look at the proposed Mt. Greylock Regional School building project as both a Lanesborough resident, with four children in our school system, and as a businessman in the construction trade. Through either lens it looks to me like the time to do this is now.

As a resident and parent I'm aware of how poorly the current building serves our community. It was built over 50 years ago for 1,200 students; it now serves fewer than 600. It doesn't meet safety codes and contains high levels of hazardous materials. It was built long before issues such as energy efficiency; the Americans with Disabilities Act and the use of personal computers were considerations.

Building outdated

It's too old, too big, and too inefficient — wasting by one estimate as much as $700,000 a year in unnecessary energy costs and maintenance. Our goal should be to provide the best place for our children to learn. The school building is an important element of the educational process, it should enhance the experience, not detract from it. Our students and teachers deserve better.

Over the years I've learned a little about complicated building projects, how to finance them, and how their costs can go up over time. The proposed project is a fair compromise between renovation and new construction. Its projected cost to the district of $31.5 million to $35.5 million is less than all-new construction would have been. It's also significantly less expensive to the community than the estimated $58 million, non-reimbursable, cost of merely repairing the aging infrastructure and bringing the building up to code.

Can every construction project have cost taken out? Yes. You can always drive the cost of the project to zero if you decide not to proceed, but then you are just trading off expenses. If we ignore the problem, the cost of maintenance, repair and operations will ultimately exceed those of the proposed project, and there will be no contribution from the state to assist us. The School Committee, through careful design and decision-making, has reduced the estimated maximum cost to the district by more than $7 million.

As important as the design is to a building project is how it'll be paid for. The district is very fortunate to have been invited into the process of the MSBA, which will reimburse more than $30 million of the projected total project cost of $64.8 million.

I think the district is also right to bond its costs over 29 years. This project will provide us with a facility that will last another 50 years. Spreading the payments out, especially with interest rates near record lows, lowers the burden on everyone.

For all these reasons I think this is a good project for our school district and our towns. Here's why I also think the time to vote this is now.

* By staying with the MSBA and its deadlines we gain tens of millions of dollars.

* Bond rates are currently near historic lows. The longer we wait, the more likely we are to increase our costs for the next 29 years.

Good time to build

* The construction climate in the Northeast is still favorable for owners. Raw material and energy costs are low and the residential and commercial markets in the region are still weak, making institutional projects, such as schools, attractive opportunities for contractors, subcontractors and material suppliers.

* Waiting as little as six months would risk not only hikes in bond rates and construction costs but also of pushing the completion date back by a whole year because of the difficulties of building in the winter.

I understand that some people wish that the project would slow down, or that we could avoid the expense of rehabilitating and modernizing our school. They're my neighbors and I respect them. A project of this size can be a little scary since towns the size of ours don't face one often.

However, we have been given the opportunity to address a critical need in our community, at a fair price and with the support of the states. I believe not only that we need this project, but that the time for it is right now.

Perri C. Petricca is president of Petricca Industries.


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