DALTON — Voters on Saturday supported an in-depth study of Wahconah Regional High School, setting in motion a top-to-bottom architectural review that will propose fixes.

Voters in the seven-town Central Berkshire Regional School District approved a ballot question to study the need for renovation or replacement of the 56-year-old Dalton school.

To go forward, the question needed a majority of voters in all the towns — not individual ones — to agree to spend $850,000, with half the cost to be reimbursed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

Results provided by town clerks to the district show the measure secured 74.5 percent approval, with an overall tally of 1,313-448.

It failed only in Cummington, 22-48, and was a 65-65 tie in Peru.

In all, 1,761 voters came out in Becket, Cummington, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru, Washington and Windsor.

"I'm very excited that we're moving forward and taking this step," Superintendent Laurie Casna said Saturday evening.

In the district's biggest town, Dalton, 81 percent of voters backed the feasibility study, 774-178.

Parents, teachers and community members greeted voters outside the Dalton polls urging passage.

Other results by town were Becket, 108-38; Hinsdale, 171-83; Washington, 80-12; and Windsor, 93-24.

The totals reveal where officials will have to improve support for an actual building project.

"We're going to have this as data if we go to a construction project, so that we can do outreach," Casna said.

To make their case for Wahconah, district leaders pointed to deteriorating infrastructure, an outmoded auditorium and classroom spaces, substandard locker rooms and handicap access problems, among other building deficiencies. The feasibility study will supply detailed designs for whatever options those examining the school recommend.

The high school on Old Windsor Road is home to 543 students in grades 9 through 12.


In Cummington, 64 votes had been cast by 3:30 p.m., for a turnout of about 10 percent, according to Town Clerk Donna Jordan.

She and others at the polls had anticipated the vote might fail in Cummington, as it did, because the district several years ago closed the elementary school in town.

"I've heard just as much for it as against it," Jordan said.

Resident Dennis Forgea, a 1963 Wahconah graduate, paused after voting to say he backed the study, which drew 31.4 percent support in Cummington.

"I was upset when they closed our school, but at what point do you punish the kids because you want to get back at the district?" he asked.

"If the school needs work, let's fix it," said Forgea, who serves on his town's Finance Committee. "We're famous for building stuff and thinking it will last forever. I think for the future we have to take care of what we've got. We have a responsibility to educate our kids."

The 64th voter to come through, a man who declined to give his name, said he voted against the study. He said he believes students in the district deserve to attend an improved school, but said he wanted to see more financial accountability in the district.

Voter approval means the state will reimburse half of the $850,000 cost of the study. The study is expected to take 12 to 18 months to complete.

The district's Wahconah Building Committee will meet Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. to discuss next steps, Casna said.

Tom Callahan of Dalton, a former Wahconah principal who serves as co-chair of the building committee, said Saturday that he hopes the study team will produce a design that advances the mission of the district and school.

"I think they [will be] very conscious of how they're spending the state's money," he said of the eventual study team.

Affordability will be a factor in those designs, he said.

Shawn Armacost of Hinsdale, chairman of the district's school committee and co-chair of the building committee, told The Eagle last week he was optimistic ahead of the vote. "This will add value to our community," he said of Wahconah improvements. "It's truly a community resource that's used by all the seven towns."

"Anyone who's seen the facility agrees that it needs work," he said. "Without a strong high school it's hard for the district to maintain its health."

The district faced a June 1 deadline to file with the state to win backing for a study, following a decade of submitting a "statement of interest" in the building authority's program. The district was accepted into the program in December 2015.

The district's share of the study's cost will be covered by towns on a proportional basis, reflecting the number of students they send to the district.

The district calculates the impact on the average single-family homeowner's tax bills over five years as follows: Becket, $16.04; Cummington, $35.32; Dalton, $107.88; Hinsdale, $57.83; Peru, $67.59; Washington, $18.43; Windsor, $53.04.

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.

Investigations editor

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.