DALTON — Something has to be done about the Wahconah Regional High School building, and an advisory committee looking at its past, present and future, is looking for input from the public.
The current goal is to get the seven towns of the Central Berkshire Regional School District to agree before June 1 to fund a feasibility study to determine any sort of school building project, be it new construction or a renovation of the 56-year-old, 118,096-square-foot structure.
At 10 a.m. Saturday, interested community members, families and students are invited to attend an approximately 90-minute interactive tour highlighting the current state of the building, its structural needs and assets, and to discuss future needs of the district and its 21st-century students and educators.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority voted back in July to invite the district into the "Eligibility Period," a preliminary planning phase for a state school project looking to renovate or replace an existing school building. That 270-day period gives the district until June 1 to mobilize a town vote and secure a feasibility study agreement.
Thus the Wahconah School Building Project Committee was activated, including 27 representatives from the district and its communities, including students, teachers and parents, along with administrators. The committee's role is to advise the district's school committee on how to proceed with a project and what state reimbursements the district might be eligible for based on a project proposal. The group is co-chaired by School Committee Chairman Shawn Armacost and former Wahconah Principal Tom Callahan.
The School Building Project Committee met on Wednesday night in the school's aging library, which appeared to display the same 1960s carpeting and shelving system that the school opened with.
Longtime Wahconah educator and administrator Tony Pagliarulo was present, and asked several questions about what the feasibility of a building project would be for the towns, from how the towns would shoulder the costs to whether a renovation or retrofitting is preferable to new construction.
"That's the purpose of that study," Armacost said. "[We would be] funding a study to tell us what's the best course of action to take."
And that's why public input matters. The district has to decide what possibilities it would like to explore, which will determine the cost of the feasibility study, how much it will ask the towns to borrow, and what percentage of the study costs the state can reimburse.
The district could choose to look solely at new construction, solely at renovation or at both options. It could also choose various studies of possible grade configurations, from a Grade 9 through 12 model, a Grade 7 through 12 model, or another combination.
The high school, which currently is Grades 9 through 12, holds more than 500 students, teachers and staff members, and is also used for community events. But its facilities aren't adequately meeting educational needs and terms of accessibility, nor does it have the most efficient heating and cooling system. For example, the school has a single science lab with antiquated equipment and is shared by seven teachers. The school's HVAC solutions are piecemeal, with three different kinds of systems being used. And as Massachusetts continues to push STEM fields and curricula in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the school lacks modern educational space and safety equipment.
The sooner the district establishes a feasibility study proposal based on the interests and desires of its towns, the sooner a price tag and vote on the study costs can be delivered.
According to a Nov. 1 state document on designer and project management fees for current high school projects, the designer feasibility study fees for the ongoing Mount Greylock Regional High School project in Williamstown was listed at $600,000; the designer's study cost for the ongoing Taconic High School project in Pittsfield was $948,748.
Superintendent Laurie Casna said of the Central Berkshire effort, "If the feasibility study is approved when the vote in the towns takes place in the spring, the MSBA will provide a substantial percentage of the funding."