State has wiggle room on building space for Taconic project


PITTSFIELD -- The city's design consultant for the new Taconic High School project said Monday the state might be flexible on building space requirements because the school will combine both academic and vocational classrooms.

That leeway could prove important, as the School Committee nears a final decision on the number of vocational courses to be offered in a new or renovated Taconic High.

About 80 percent of the funding will be provided by the state, and the Massachusetts School Building Authority is seeking details on the feasibility of the vocational curriculum in terms of enrollment, cost and floor space needs.

Carl Franceschi, of Drummey, Rosane Anderson Inc. of Waltham, updated the city School Building Needs Commission on discussions he had with MSBA officials. While the state has established square-footage requirements for vocational and for academic class space, he said, there is no established figure for comprehensive schools with both type of courses, as the new Taconic High will be.

That means the square foot figures used in determining needed space -- and indirectly the cost of the project -- will be between the higher vocational space needs and those of an academic high school, which require less space.

"We've agreed in principal on that," Franceschi said, but added that no firm square footage figure was identified.

Currently, school officials face a challenge to justify all 15 vocational courses approved for the new school last year by the School Committee. That includes anticipating a sharp jump in overall enrollment in vocational courses and a financial commitment to justify -- in the MSBA's determination -- all 15 courses.

The decision on that lineup followed a number of School Committee meetings last year, during which teachers, students, community members and representatives from businesses made impassioned pleas to retain courses that had been slated for elimination.

The curriculum decision, which Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless has asked to be revisited in light of data and projections developed during the preliminary design process, will be up to the School Committee.

Franceschi said the next stages of the design process all depend on knowing the curriculum and fitting the design to those needs. He said the plan now is to submit that information and assessments of the current Taconic High and grounds to the MSBA in May.

McCandless said after the commission meeting that he intends to provide the School Committee with past, current and projected future enrollment information for the programs during the board meeting Wednesday. And he will make a recommendation on the course lineup to be submitted to the state at a late April meeting or in early May.

"I think we have to take a hard look at the current and past enrollments, and at some of the new [vocational] programs as well," he said.

Franceschi also updated the commission on a preliminary analysis of classroom space at Pittsfield High School that would be freed up when vocational programs are moved to the new Taconic High. That might also provide the city with some flexibility in designing the project, he said.

DRB also gave an update on the structural assessment of the current Taconic, indicating that renovation of the building would be prohibitively expensive -- given cement block walls not easily moved to meet modern class space requirements or to add insulation or the mechanical system upgrades needed.

The school also would need a new roof, wall insulation and new windows, a sprinkler system, accessible restrooms and other facilities and the removal of asbestos tile from floors.

The preliminary design phase will produce design alternatives for both a new Taconic and a major renovation for the commission and MSBA to review later this year.

To reach Jim Therrien:,
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