Taconic High School options shared; dream of citywide school persists


PITTSFIELD -- A re-imagined Taconic High School earned initial support on Monday as the public got its first glimpse at options to upgrade the Valentine Road campus.

But while residents had an opportunity to review four different visions of how to expand and improve the school, several city residents held firm to the long-since dismissed concept of erecting a single building to replace Taconic and Pittsfield High School.

The differing viewpoints were expressed Monday during a nearly two-hour tour of and meeting at Taconic hosted by the community outreach subcommittee of the Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission.

A second such public input session -- sans the tour -- is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. July 21 at Taconic. That session will focus on the four options the design team has developed for the high school complex, which include a new building costing upward of $90 million.

The two meetings are part of the ongoing feasibility study jointly conducted by Pittsfield and the Massachusetts School Building Authority to determine which options are educational and financially sound.

Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless was pleased with the turnout and comments from the nearly 60 people at Monday's presentation and group discussion.

"I love the fact we had a sixth-grader -- a possible future Taconic student, representation from the senior citizen community and all others in between," he said.

After representatives from the architect firm, DRA of Waltham, gave an overview of the building scenarios, the audience broke up into four groups to hear more information about the potential project and to weigh in on which is most desirable.

Donna Larkin believes Taconic is long overdue for an overhaul or new facility.

"The school wasn't beautifully constructed and it's old," she said.

Taconic was completed in 1969, the last public school building erected in Pittsfield.

Elaine Scussel was among the handful of city taxpayers advocating for one new high school, an option former Mayor James A. Ruberto had studied six years ago, but was eventually rejected by the commission.

Commission member Florianna Fitzgerald explained that many people -- especially those with ties to Pittsfield High -- didn't want to do away with a two-high school system.

"Nostalgia is something we can't afford," Scussel said.

On July 28, the commission will vote to submit one of the options to the SBA for review, with final approval from the state agency anticipated in January. The City Council is expected to vote on the scope of the project and funding agreement in February 2015.

"The design selection we make ... is not based on specifics but a concept," DRA President Carl Franceschi said. "We will also continue to develop the estimates of the construction costs."

Recently, DRA unveiled the four proposals for a new or refurbished Taconic High School.

The first proposal features basic repairs and upgrades, ranging in cost between from $25 million to $45 million. But that plan doesn't address educational improvements needed at Taconic, according to DRA officials.

The renovation and expansion concept calls for one- and two-story additions between the existing school and Valentine Road -- with an estimated cost between $60 million and $70 million.

The third scenario, with an expected price tag of $80 million to $90 million, involves erecting a three-story academic/vocational building across from Taconic's main entrance. Except for the gymnasium and auditorium, the rest of the existing school would be demolished and what's left would be renovated and linked to the new building.

The fourth option -- and most expensive at $85 million to $95 million -- calls for a completely new school, including the three-story academic/vocational building, which would benefit Taconic's athletic programs.

Project consultant Skanska USA has submitted the four proposals and the rest of the preliminary design information to the SBA. The preliminary design phase includes details about student enrollment and curriculum, which will be used to ensure the scope of the project is in line with the school's programs.

Earlier this month, the commission approved the preliminary design phase, including an educational plan listing the 12 vocational and technology programs at Taconic. The Pittsfield School Committee finalized the plan in late May.

To reach Dick Lindsay:


or (413) 496-6233.


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