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State Says North Adams Gets One School Project
Staff Reports, iBerkshires
11:42AM / Friday, February 03, 2012
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The state School Building Authority has determined it would only fund one new school project for the city, ending nearly a year of controversy.

Mayor Richard Alcombright said Friday that he had been informed of the decision - described as tentative - late Wednesday by project engineer Carl Weber.

The city had hoped for approval to build or renovate two elementary schools to accommodate 620 students. The building project was prompted by the closure of Conte Middle School and the realignment of the academic structure to kindergarten-Grade 7 and Grades 8-12.

In a statement, Superintendent James Montepare said the deicision was "not a total surprise." The city and its architects had hoped for two projects based on initial responses by the MSBA but the outcome was never guaranteed.

Because the city's initial proposals were based on 620 children, the  mayor said he had asked for clarification from the MSBA on its decision. "They aren't discounting anything," he said, so the city could, if it wished, put forward a proposal accommodating fewer students.  "They're basically saying one project and what we need to do is decide which one project."

Of the projects put forward by the architects, the School Building Committee had selected the renovation of Conte and building a new, larger Greylock School as the most cost efficient and academically viable. That sparked protests from Sullivan School parents who were angry over the possible closure of Kemp Avenue school. Renovating or rebuilding had been determined to be the most expensive project because the steep hillside on which it was built.

The protests had the School Building Authority taking a second look at the plans. The MSBA sent representatives to review all three sites in December but has not released its results yet to the city to aid in planning. Alcombright said the city will be able to move forward once the MSBA gives it "clarification" on site and building feasibility.

"What it really does is leave all three sites on the table," said Alcombright, referring to Conte, Sullivan and Greylocks schools. "It does allow us one school project and the School Building Committee will get together to affirm or reaffirm one direction."

Greylock School had been considered the optimal project, receiving support from parents, faculty and officials. The location offers space to build a new school while keeping students in the old one, cutting down costs and easing transition. The site is also level and easily accessed. (More informations on the options and costs can be found here.)

A proposal to build a "megaschool" on the same site to accommodate 620 children was shuffled to the bottom; the mayor described the proposal a not "palatable" to the committee.

A single school, smaller school would also be less costly in that the payments for it would kick in at just about the time the debt for the renovations at Drury High School and Brayton Elementary will fall off the books.

The mayor, who also is chairman of the School Committee, said meetings for the School Building Committee will be scheduled on Feb. 16 and 29, with the time and place to be determined.

"I'm thinking we'll be going back to the MSBA in March," he said. The city has been given an extension until October to get the project approved.

Updated 4:52 p.m. and rewritten throughout with added quotes.
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