Dalton's old high school soon to bow out - at $1.3M cost

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DALTON — In the fall of 1926, residents of Dalton were just getting used to the town's new high school, a three-level building faced with Westfield brick and boasting "modern educational, hygenic and structural features," as an article in The Berkshire County Eagle put it.

On the first Saturday in September that year, residents toured the new Dalton High School on First Street, erected at a cost of $160,000.

They took in the steel lockers, the marble terrazzo stairway landings and tastefully appointed classrooms with "trim and doors made of beautiful native red oak, finished in a pleasing shade of soft brown, and the plaster walls are painted in a harmonious tone of grey buff."

This fall or winter, neighbors will watch the building fall, the end of an educational run eclipsed by the arrival of a new regional high school.

The town's appropriation for the project in 1925, if adjusted for inflation, would be worth about $2.3 million today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator.

That's a good number to keep in mind, given that it will cost around $1.3 million to take it down.

The write-up the building received in 1926 boasted of the building's "unobstructed light on all sides" and "completely fireproof" hallways.

No one knew it then, but the 60,000-square-foot building's fire-resistance would one day balloon its demolition costs.

"It's a big old building and it's full of asbestos," said Town Manager Kenneth Walto.

Residents last year agreed to raise $1.28 million through a bond issue to pay for the demolition — which looms as Dalton's main municipal project this fall.

After years of debate, including failed proposals to create assisted living or senior or affordable housing in the building, the town now plans to clear the site, then expand parking for the senior center at the far end of the lot and create six new quarter-acre building lots.

The hope, Walto said, is to see new homes fill in the big space left by the former school.

As the old school is taken down, the building materials will be treated as hazardous waste.

Walto said bids for the demolition will be sought this month. He said he hoped to have a contract in place by October and for the project to be complete by the end of the calendar year.

Last year, Hill-Engineers, Architects, Planners of Dalton submitted a low bid of $61,000 to provide engineering in advance of the demolition and to plan for the subdivision of the site to create building lots.

John W. Bartels Jr., chairman of the Select Board, said the town will seek three bids: one to knock the building down, another to knock the building down and re-grade the lot and a third to do all that and provide work on utility lines. The costs named by bidders will rise with the scope of the work, giving the town the option of tackling as much as it can afford with current funding.

While some residents in the past spoke of trying to save the building, those pitches have fallen silent.

"I haven't heard anything in quite some time," Bartels said.

When a building committee got cracking in 1925, it was led by Z. Marshall Crane, one of two Cranes on the panel.

The project architect was Thompson, Holmes & Converse of New York City, according to newspaper files, and the general contractor was D.H. Pike of Dalton. Charles R. Foote served as clerk of the works.

The structure they created, in the Georgian architectural style, rose at almost the geographic center of Dalton.

It was hailed as a "new type" of school "to meet the requirements of the industrial, commercial and social life of the nation a complex structure embracing educational facilities and equipment, and fulfilling all hygenic and safety requirements."

When school opened Sept. 7, 1926, 235 students were enrolled.

Today, Wahconah Regional High School enrolls roughly 550 students from seven towns in Grades 9 to 12.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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