Pittsfield school building needs subcommittee has high hopes for new Taconic High School design


PITTSFIELD -- School officials must be assertive if they want a project designer who "gets it" working on the Taconic High School of the future.

Consultants with Skanska USA Building Inc. relayed this message recently to Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission's Design Subcommittee. The full commission will meet next on Oct. 21 at 5:15 p.m. in the Pittsfield High School library.

The design subcommittee is considering the process by which an architectural firm will be chosen to create designs for a new or renovated Taconic.

"This is so critical," said Dale Caldwell, senior project manager with Skanska. "This designer is going to design your school for the next 50 years."

He said the district hopes to have a firm in place by January 2014.

Whichever firm is selected will first undertake a feasibility study of options and do preliminary design work at the school. The primary goal is to determine whether the building should be renovated or torn down and built anew, which will determine the project's cost.

Pittsfield school officials have been collaborating with the state on a plan to expand or replace Taconic, which opened in 1969. Any project undertaken will receive a 78 percent reimbursement from the state.

A total of $1.3 million has been set aside by the city as the estimated maximum cost of the feasibility study, most of which is subject to reimbursement from the state. According to Pittsfield Public Schools' timeline, schematic design work should begin in July 2014, and the feasibility study should conclude that November.

According to Kathleen Amuso, co-chairwoman of the Building Needs Commission, the firm chosen will design options for both a renovated and a rebuilt Taconic, and from those designs a final choice will be made for the project.

Caldwell said some firms -- none of them local -- already have called to inquire about the project.

"Ten without question have asked me about this project," Caldwell said. "Some of them even asked to walk the site."

Five, perhaps, will ultimately bid on the work, Caldwell estimated.

At a Dec. 17 meeting in Boston, city representatives and officials with the Massachusetts School Building Authority will vet the applications. Caldwell anticipates a few plainly outshining the others, and he said the meeting provides city officials a chance to voice their preference.

"It will be pretty evident [by the applications] who understands the message of the school and wants to work on this project," he said.

But the MSBA also takes into account the resources of applying architects and may opt for one lower on the city's wish list. Much depends on how effectively city representatives lobby for their favorite, Caldwell said.

The subcommittee's members said they'd prefer applicants with experience working on vocational educational buildings and who would incorporate local consultants into the work.

Public input also stands to become an increasingly large consideration, subcommittee member Frank K. Cote said.

"More and more, people are going to start getting engaged and giving opinions," Cote said.

Another dimension to the planning, said Pittsfield school Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless, is that any project should increase Taconic's population by more than 120 students, as Pittsfield High School's vocational students will be incorporated into the other school's enrollment.

"In terms of our resources, it allows us a tighter focus in one place," said McCandless, who became superintendent in July. "It's nice to be the new guy coming on, but [others] have been working on [Taconic renovation plans] for the better part of a decade."

To reach Phil Demers:
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