Southern Berkshire Regional school board seeks state money to fix its small schools
SHEFFIELD -- Towns are urging the Southern Berkshire Regional School District to examine closing at least one of its elementary schools, but the idea isn’t gaining any traction with the School Committee.
Committee Chairman Carl Stewart told The Eagle on Monday that the requests to close a school will not be discussed by his board and that applications have been submitted to the state to fix the small rural schools.
"We aren’t going to do the same exercise we did two years ago" when school closings were considered, Stewart said.
The district serves students in Alford, Egremont, New Marlborough, Monterey and Sheffield. The outlying elementary schools targeted for elimination are in Monterey and Egremont.
New Marlborough and Sheffield have requested closing the Monterey School because of low in-district enrollment and large capital repair costs. New Marlborough has requested closing the South Egremont School.
New Marlborough town officials have estimated that $225,000 could be saved by relocating nine in-district students at the two schools. Monterey School, which is a pre-kindergarten program, has seven students; the South Egremont School has 10 students in kindergarten and first grade, according to school officials.
Stewart said the district will not revisit closing the elementary schools because public hearings in 2011 clearly showed there wasn’t enough support to close these schools. A school closing would require the support of a supermajority of the School Committee and approval from four of the five towns in the district.
"We had multiple hearings, at least five or maybe six," Stewart said. "The decision was made not to send it to the towns for a vote."
The School Committee at its last meeting also approved sending individual applications to the Massachusetts School Building Authority requesting state funds to fix the Monterey School, South Egremont School and New Marlborough Central. An application was also submitted last year on behalf of these elementary schools, but it has not been approved.
The application for Monterey School requested a replacement building.
"The Monterey School building has outlived its useful life as a school for 21st century education and there it is more feasible and cost effective to build a new structure rather than repair the existing structure," the letter states.
The district requested a wholesale modernization of the South Egremont School, including new wiring, foundation, floor, furnace, ventilation system, along with assistance to make the building compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The application on behalf of the New Marlborough School also seeks funds for extensive repairs. These repairs include repair to the gymnasium building, a remodeling of the kitchen, a new boiler/heating system and sprinkler system.
Bonnie Silvers, who serves on the building, grounds and technology subcommittee, said the requests were more expansive than in years past.
The letter describes the schools as an "integral part of our educational mission" and a "vital and modern function in the operation of our district."
The School Committee expects the towns to pay for any extensive building repairs, she said. The district will only contribute funds if they relate to public safety, educational services, or an emergency need.
"We are a regional school district, and we have the obligation to submit [the application," Silvers said.
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