Decision looms on choice: Renovate or rebuild Monument High?

A group of Monument Mountain Regional High School students, community members and officials are exploring what a potential construction project at the Great Barrington school might look like.

GREAT BARRINGTON — The quest to revamp Monument Mountain Regional High School is nearing the decision point, and students are brimming with ideas and assistance.

A group charged with evaluating whether the school should be renovated or rebuilt will present its findings to the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee and the public at the school May 23, after a student-led tour of the aging building.

But before then, members of the Next Steps group will share their ideas with the public in hopes of sharpening their design and programming vision for a new Monument.

Next Steps already has rolled out designs by teams of Monument and New York University students, who have used the dated school as a way to re-envision architecture for a 21st century education. The students will present their designs in New York City on Monday, at a student-led and created symposium on programming and architectural redesigns of public high schools.

Next Steps, which is composed of local residents, as well as school and town officials, was born from the district's need to find a solution for the school after Great Barrington voters, in 2013 and 2014, rejected spending for the district's renovation plans for the 51-year-old building.

As the group began exploring how to proceed, it became clear that it would not be able to present a definite decision about whether to renovate or build new. Instead, the group aims to present the clear advantages and disadvantages of each option.

In a straw poll last month, members narrowly voted in favor of building new, though all members appear flexible about weighing the advantages of a renovation. The School Committee will make the final decision.

But as the group approaches its final meeting Tuesday, a consensus has emerged on a broad vision for mapping the future of Monument as a modern educational institution that elevates vocational training. And the group emphasized the need to address the failing building within the next five years, and that students must be involved in drawing support from the community for whatever plan is chosen.

"There is no debate that something has to be done," Next Steps co-Chairman William Fields told The Eagle, noting that the original design of the school left a lot to be desired.

"She went through her whole sophomore year ... never seeing light through windows," he said of student Lucy Doren, who is leading her peers on the charge to rally community support for a modern school. "She came to school early in the dark, she never saw light, and she left in the dark."

Great Barrington voters rejected the previous proposal, a $51.2 million renovation/addition project, because they would have shouldered a much larger share of the $28 million cost to taxpayers than residents of West Stockbridge and Stockbridge, the other towns in the district. The state would have covered $23.2 million.

That formula has since been adjusted to more fairly distribute the tax burden across the towns in the district.

Rough estimates for a 2023 project peg the cost of a renovation/addition at $70 million to $96 million. A new school is estimated to cost $79 million to $100 million, with the state paying for about $23 million to $31 million.

Building connections

Group members say that, given the poor condition of the school and its inadequacy for 21st-century education, the time to act is now.

And some believe that the focus should be exclusively on matching the design with educational vision.

"If we believe a high school in the 21st century should have flexible and adaptable classrooms, breakout spaces for students to work on group projects, and a library filled with natural light and comfortable seating, that is what we should request of our architects and engineers, whether they suggest we renovate the existing building or build new," said Josh Shapiro.

Shapiro, a Stockbridge native who graduated last year from NYU, helped create a conceptual, modern design for Monument on its current footprint.

He and his peers presented what they called the Paideia Project at the Edify Symposium last year.

At Monday's symposium, Monument students will join those from NYU.

Student designs include elements that will integrate students in different pursuits, build community and accentuate learning by doing.

Doren, a senior, has worked with 20 fellow students on a redesign and programs meant to build connections. The school, she said, is now physically isolating students into "stereotyped" factions.

"The academic wing is far from auto shop and the art and music," she said. "If you're interested in science, you are very disconnected from students in wood shop or auto shop."

Students are proposing changes to programming that would expose every freshman to vocational training, and keep alienation at bay.

"We lack a student community," Doren added. "The culture at Monument has been the same for so long."

One idea is to turn the automotive program into a real auto shop for service and inspections, Shapiro said.

"It's something to help the community rally around the project, if the community is going to spend all this money on this new school," he said.

Heather Bellow can be reached at or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.