Williams College steps forward with $5 million fund for Mount Greylock school building


WILLIAMSTOWN — Williams College is pledging $5 million toward capital needs beyond the Mount Greylock Regional School building project.

The college also has pledged to help find renewable energy sources to reduce power costs for the public middle and high school.

Located on Cold Spring Road, the 56-year-old building serves about 550 students from Williamstown, Lanesborough, Hancock and New Ashford. The project calls for a new, three-story academic wing on the existing building. While much of the existing school would be torn down, the auditorium and gymnasium would remain. Two critical votes are set for next month in Lanesborough and Williamstown that will determine the fate of the project.

The $5 million fund will "support the Mount Greylock Regional School District's capital needs outside the scope of the building project that the school district is pursuing with the Massachusetts School Building Authority," or MSBA, according to a statement Williams released Thursday.

"Williams is pleased to be able to strengthen further its partnership with Mount Greylock to include a fund for the school district's capital needs, current or future, that fall outside the proposed project with the MSBA," said Williams College President Adam Falk. "The fund is designed to support supplementary capital projects in ways that will increase educational value and reduce costs to the district and its member towns."

According to Williams spokesman James Kolesar, the college was seeking a way to reduce the projects capital costs to the taxpayers. Were Williams' funds to be used to defray the cost of the MSBA-funded building project itself, the state's contribution would be reduced by the same amount. As a result, the funds will go toward capital needs not associated with the MSBA-funded work.

The MSBA has authorized spending $33.2 million toward the estimated $64.8 million project. Current estimates show the local share of the cost is between $31.5 million and $35.3 million.

Both towns would need to vote to exclude the bond debt from the Proposition 2 1/2 tax increase limit. If one town doesn't pass the debt exclusion, the project fails.

The debt exclusion vote in Williamstown is March 1. The Lanesborough vote is March 15.

Lanesborough has set a special town meeting on Feb. 23 to answer questions about the project, while an informational session is set for tonight at the Williamstown Elementary School at 7 p.m.

Kolesar said Williams officials have discussed how to contribute to the effort off and on for about 10 years, when the school district began examining ways to solve the problem of a failing school facility.

Now that the two towns will vote on the building project, Williams officials wanted to release as much information about the $5 million fund as they could so voters could factor it into their decisions.

"People are understandably looking at all the options, and we thought it was important to let them know as much as we could," he said.

The funds will be available beginning July 1. The school committee would decide the best way to use the money and which capital needs to address, Kolesar said. The committee would have options, including using the interest gains to pay down capital costs or to set aside some of it to pay for needs while the rest accrues interest.

A similar fund was set up for the Williamstown Elementary School. It was built from 2006 to 2010 with an original principal of $1.1 million. Since then, the school has spent almost $214,000 from the fund's spending account. As of June 30, 2015, the fund's principal had grown to $1.5 million.

In addition, Williams College officials have started researching ways to lower the new school's greenhouse gas emissions and reduce its utility costs, if it is built.

The project is already designed to meet the silver standard of the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), in accordance with MSBA regulations. The college would invest in ways that make the facility even more environmentally sound and energy efficient, Kolesar said.

"Mount Greylock is very fortunate to have now both the prospect of financial support from the MSBA for the main building project and from Williams for other projects, which will enhance educational quality, spare our member towns these capital costs, and reduce our utility bills going forward," said Doug Dias, Mount Greylock district superintendent. "This is truly an exciting moment for our school and for our community."

The college's announced investments come at a time when some in Lanesborough are debating the cost of the project and calling for more of a financial boost from nonprofits in Williamstown, such as Williams College and the Clark Art Institute, in ways that would reduce the cost to Lanesborough taxpayers.

The Lanesborough taxpayers' share of the building project's local cost would be 32.3 percent, or about $10.6 million, causing a tax rate increase of between $1.61 and $1.81 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or an average annual increase in the tax bill of $304 to $392.

In Williamstown, taxpayers would pick up 67.7 percent of the local share of the cost, or about $22.3 million, with a property tax rate increase of between $1.42 and $1.60 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That would increase the average annual tax bill by $393 to $569.

The average daily cost of the tax increase would come to about $1 in Lanesborough and $1.31 in Williamstown.

The debt would be incurred by issuing bonds.


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