On Saturday, voters in the Central Berkshire Regional School District (CBRSD) will decide whether or not they should begin a process, not how it should be concluded. That's an important distinction that town and school officials have been striving to make across the sprawling, rural, seven-town district.
The district is seeking approval from the seven towns — Becket, Cummington, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru, Washington and Windsor — for a feasibility study about the future of Wahconah Regional High School (Eagle, April 6). The study would cost up to $850,000, with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) expected to pay for as much as 54 percent. Independent professional studies are not inexpensive, but the cost of this comprehensive analysis would be comparable to the one recently financed for Mount Greylock Regional High School.
Wahconah, at 56 years of age, is experiencing the ravages of time, as the infrastructure has both deteriorated and grown outdated. A leaky roof is 20 years past its lifespan, there are heating problems and issues with modern standards of handicap access. Science laboratory space is inadequate and there is just one art room. A school built when lectures were the primary method of teaching lacks the space and the proper spacial alignments for contemporary interactive learning approaches.
This process could have begun 10 years ago, which was when school officials first submitted a "statement of interest" in a feasibility study, but it wasn't until 2015 that the MSBA invited the district into its assistance program.
The study will provide comprehensive information for the district's towns and residents as officials look at options to renovate or build new. Pittsfield chose the latter option with a new Taconic High School. Williamstown and Lanesborough chose an extensive renovation of 55-year-old Mount Greylock Regional, which was experiencing essentially the same difficulties as WRHS is now.
School and town officials have traveled the district to explain what is at stake on Saturday. A "no" vote would constitute a rejection of the MSBA's invitation and send the CBRSD back to the end of the line. It took nearly 10 years for the district to get to this point and school officials believe it could take another 10, if not longer, to get back to this point. Meanwhile, costs of fixing and maintaining the existing building would fall on the district's taxpayers.
The district has been presented with a great opportunity to receive state funding assistance for a necessary study that will present the seven communities with options while not requiring a decision as to what option to explore until a later date. A "yes" vote makes sense and we hope district voters make that vote on Saturday.