The seven towns of the Central Berkshire Regional School District (CBRSD) are the latest Berkshire County communities to confront a knotty problem: What to do about a high school building that is no longer sufficient to meet the educational needs of its students.
Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton was built in 1961 and is essentially a time capsule of a school built during the presidential administration of John F. Kennedy (Eagle, January 6.) Its appearance aside, the school is from an era when accessibility and security weren't important factors in construction. A half century of progress in science, technology, engineering and mathematics - the STEM fields at the focus of Massachusetts education - have dated the school's facilities and equipment. Seven teachers must share the school's one science lab. Wahconah's cooling and healing systems are antiquated and patched together.
The school's shortcomings must be addressed, and an opportunity to do so came last July when the Massachusetts School Building Committee invited the district into the 270-day period in which preliminary planning can begin for a renovation project or a new building. The Wahconah School Building Project Committee was activated and a guided tour for parents, students and community members is scheduled for 10 a.m. today.
Two new Berkshire high school projects have gone before voters recently and excellent cases were made for both. A new Taconic is under construction in Pittsfield but unfortunately a replacement for Monument Mountain Regional High School in the Berkshire Hills Regional School District couldn't win approval from Great Barrington voters. Monument may be in marginally better shape than Wahconah, but no renovation, done without state funds, will address its failings.
The argument is often heard that Berkshire towns with declining populations and tax bases can't afford to undertake major school projects. A better argument is that those towns cannot afford not to, especially if substantial funding is made available through the state. Good schools with state-of-the-art facilities attract families and businesses, fueling growth. The new Taconic has great potential to become a destination for students who want to be prepared for the technological jobs that are and will be available in the Berkshires.
The towns of the CBRSD should agree to a feasibility study before the 270-day "eligibility period" expires at the end of May. It can't be said at this point what needs to be done specifically with Wahconah Regional but it can be said that the status quo is insufficient 17 years deep into the 21st century. A feasibility study will begin the process necessary for the district to move forward for its students and its towns.