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Conte School Option Prompts Protest
Tammy Daniels,
11:34PM / Tuesday, April 12, 2011
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A presentation by Margo Jones Architects and Strategic Building Solutions on the proposed school building project to the City Council on Tuesday veered little from recent ones to the public and School Committee, and many of the questions covered similar ground.

City councilors and residents quizzed representatives on the costs, efficiency and process. The four options presented stem from a $680,000 feasibility study approved in 2008 that was required for any project approval and reimbursement by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

The city is hoping the MSBA will allow a two-school project to fulfill the state's charge of finding educational solutions to 620 students. Of those options, the preferred one is the construction of a new Greylock School and the renovation of Conte Middle School, both to serve kindergarten through Grade 7.

But the proposed resurrection of the old Drury High School as an elementary school hasn't been welcomed by everyone.

"A fifth option does exist," said John Bedard of Meadow Street. "The same exact solution of the Greylock School by putting a new school at the Sullivan site."

Bedard said the West End has gotten new fields and lighting, and now would get a new school so its property values would go up. But the Kemp Avenue area would lose its neighborhood school and see its the property values go down. And he's argued that downtown Conte isn't safe or appropriate for younger children.

"I see this feasibility study as a last-ditch effort to save that building on Main Street," he said. "... this should be about the children ... anyone who says the children would be better off downtown is either an idiot or a liar."

Councilor Keith Bona, a member of the School Building Committee, said there was no expectation the feasibility study would find a solution in Conte, which was closed as a middle school in 2008.

"Clearly, we thought Conte was off the board," said Bona. "At no point was anyone given any instructions to save Conte ... We thought it was going to be too costly."

Kristian Whitsett of Margo Jones Architects also said Conte wasn't really considered an option but the architects were surprised to find it worked well with the "clustering" configuration for teaching and also offered a way to be "green" in terms of reuse.

The Sullivan site, too, had been studied extensively, he said, in terms of additions and building a new structure but the steep terrain around the site limited location, parking, bus drop-offs and "we couldn't figure out where to put the ballfield."

The SBA will only cover site work up to 8 percent of the construction

Renovating and adding on to the current school would mean five levels that would require children and residents going up and down stairs to get from one end of the school to the other, making it difficult for the gym to be used by the community.

Diane Parsons said she was "biased" against using Conte and council President Ronald Boucher, "a fan of neighborhood schools," asked if there was an option to build a new Greylock and fix up Sullivan if the SBA rejected a two-school project.

Wittseg said they couldn't "spend a little bit" on Sullivan because it would trigger more expensive renovations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Bedard was not convinced of the argument against Sullivan and was getting signatures on a petition to keep the school open.

Mayor Richard Alcombright said another public session on the project would be held on Tuesday, April 28, at 7 p.m. at Sullivan School.  "We need people, we need people to give their input."

In other business,

• The council approved a tax incentive agreement that would allow Scarafoni & Associates to purchase the North Adams Transcript building on American Legion Drive and renovate and lease it to the nonprofit Brien Center.

The agreement sets the property's assessment at $767,200, guaranteeing about $21,000 a year for the next 10 years. Abstaining from the discussion and vote were Councilors David Bond (who works for Scarafoni) and Keith Bona (who rents from Scarafoni).

• The council approved a transfer of $83,000 from the technology account to upgrade the city's aging servers, particularly for the Department of Public Safety. The transfer will leave $50,000 in the account, which is replenished through a percentage of the contract with Time Warner Cable.

Information technology officer Kathy Wall said last week that the funds would be used to replace equipment more than a decade old.

"It's hardware that's going to position us so we can handle all of the infrastructure we have now and in the future," Wall told the Finance Committee last week, including the coming installation of fiber optic in the region. "It's a smart purchase because it's going to let us look at our hardware ... it's looking at all of the infrastructure we have, all of the servers that we have. It is going to give us flexibility for technology coming down the road."

• Set a joint public hearing of the City Council and Planning Board on a proposed zoning change on Curran Highway for Monday, May 9, at 6 p.m.


NA_CityCouncil_04122011

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