Our Opinion: Berkshire Hills Regional School District's tough road back into school mix

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Someday the Berkshire Hills Regional School District will have a new Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington — but it won't be in the near future. It needs one and should have had one by now. But the truth of the old saw about striking while the iron is hot has been demonstrated to the chagrin of the district and its students.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has rejected a request from the district to place it on its list of eligible projects for the current period of awarding funding grants. ("Monument rebuild funding plan rejected," Eagle, Jan. 8.) Competition is stiff to join the understandably popular program and only 11 schools were chosen from 61 official statements of interest. Happily, Greylock Elementary School in North Adams was one of the 11 that made the cut. Monument Mountain will have to wait at least a year to get back into the competition.

This is a demoralizing blow to the school officials and volunteers who have tried for more than a decade to win funding approval for a renovation or a rebuilding of the high school, which was built in 1968. The school is structurally dated for contemporary teaching methods, with its deficient science labs a prime example, and suffers from a leaky roof, malfunctioning heating and cooling systems and the usual wear-and-tear to be found in a school more than half a century old. ""The building is an obstacle in where the district is going in both academic and vocational education," said Bill Fields, co-chairman of the volunteer Next Steps Committee, to The Eagle's Heather Bellow.

The rejection is doubly painful because the school was previously accepted twice for MSBA funding and a full building plan developed, only to have it turned down by voters in Great Barrington, the largest town in the district, which also includes Stockbridge and West Stockbridge. Concerns were expressed about tax hikes and other projects that had to be funded, but those issues exist in every district. If those arguments are allowed to carry the day indefinitely than district schools will continue to deteriorate, with all that means to students, teachers, parents and the economic health of the towns in the district.

Pittsfield has all of those concerns, but it agreed to fund its share of a state-of-the-art new Taconic High School. That school, with its strong focus on modern vocational training, is open to students. The Central Berkshire Regional School District based in Dalton is similar to the BHRSD, with all or many of the same issues, but member towns narrowly approved construction of a new Wahconah Regional High School, When the district opens its modern new school it will have a selling point for businesses and residents to move into district towns that the BHRSD will not.

The efforts of the school officials and supportive citizens have been laudable over the years and it is difficult to keep rolling the rock up the hill only to see it roll back down again. For their efforts to someday bear fruit, residents of Great Barrington — who would pay less than before because of a new funding formula — must join residents of the other towns in assuring those leaders that they fully support a renovated or ideally new Monument Mountain Regional High School.

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