Misinformation distorts the real need for high school renovation

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By Monday, Sep 29 Learning, Letters, News  30 Comments

To the editor:

On November 4th, our community will vote on whether or not to approve the Monument Mountain Regional High School Building Renovation.

As was the case last year, there is a lot of misinformation being spread about the project, as well as about the School Committee and district officials, in hopes that it will instill anger and fear in the most financially vulnerable citizens of our community.  Some of this misinformation paints a very one-sided picture of things, conspicuously omitting data and facts that would provide for the opportunity of a circumspect and objective viewpoint.  Other misinformation tries to juxtapose the actions of a grossly ineffective federal government with those of the School Committee.  And then there is some misinformation that has no bearing on reality.  I will call that misinformation for what it is, a lie.  All seem to employ an ultra-provocative rhetoric that has no place in public discourse.

The truth of the matter is that the renovation project is expensive.  People don’t want to spend any more money on municipal projects.  The School Committee gets that.  However, the School Committee would not bring forth such a large project to the community again if there weren’t some pretty compelling and real reasons to do so.  Furthermore, the School Committee would not propose a project that did not realize some significant and real reimbursement from the State to help offset the burden on our taxpayers.

The reality is that the building is almost 50 years old. There have been no substantive updates and repairs to the facility in that time.  Some of the structural and systemic issues with this aging building are approaching a critical condition and need to be addressed within the next few years. Classrooms are largely outfitted to teach kids in 2014 with standards that were defined in 1968.  Building, safety, security and accessibility codes have all changed dramatically since the presidency of LBJ.  More than 7,000 students and hundreds of teachers have walked through its doors. Thousands of people have used the building for community purposes. The building has served our community well but it needs our help to continue to do so in the future.

In 2008, the School Committee submitted a statement of interest to address the need for renovating our school and bringing it up to current standards and to work towards providing a 21st century education for our kids. Through constant and numerous public conversations with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the School Committee prepared a project plan that would deliver on our needs and save the taxpayers almost 50 percent of the costs.

To be clear, there is no $0 option, but there is an alternative. That alternative is to do nothing and to fix things as they break. The School Committee is ready to act upon that scenario if the project is not approved by the community.

What you need to understand is that by going down this path, we will not be entitled to any significant reimbursement from the State because we opted to react to issues rather than anticipate them. The limited reimbursement we receive will still have to go through a process to secure it. This can take up to three months for emergency situations, possibly years for other situations. It also takes time to secure a public vote to approve the spending. If something critical fails that prevents us from using the high school during the school year, we will be on the hook not only for fixing the school, but doubling up resources to teach the impacted students in an alternate location. The time it takes to remedy this situation will be the combination of time it takes to secure funds and public approval and then the time to fix the problem.

Spending a lot more money to fix things as they break and putting our kids at risk is not an acceptable scenario for the School Committee.  But it is not for us to choose. It is up to you the voters to decide. I hope you will see and appreciate the School Committee’s rationale for bringing a critical and albeit expensive renovation to a public vote once again.

I hope you will vote YES on both questions come election day.

Richard Bradway

Stockbridge

Richard Bradway is a member of the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee.

 


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  1. Patrick Fennell says:

    Trivia question……… What are the two largest public high schools in South Berkshire County?

    Monument Mountain for district kids 350 and Monument Mountain for tuition and choice kids 254 kids.

  2. Ellen says:

    School choice is a huge benefit to our school district, and I am glad Patrick has pointed this out. Thanks.

    1. Patrick Fennell says:

      So GB with 40% of the students in MM should pay 70% of the renovation cost, that includes 254 out of district students? How is that a benefit? Until the choice students cost includes building and maintenance cost is is not a good deal at all.

  3. Rich Bradway says:

    Patrick, your numbers are wrong. Thank you for proving my point.

    1. Patrick Fennell says:

      Got my messages deleted. Supply the out of district numbers to support your cause. You guys do not give the public information readily.

    2. Patrick Fennell says:

      Here are the numbers, and Rich you are right according to the state 2013-2014 numbers for Monument High School, which Buddy Atwood managed to get,
      The three districts towns enrollment – 336 or 56%
      Tuition – 101
      Choice – 136

      So you are asking GB with 226 kids in high school to pay for 70% of this project.

  4. Ed Abrahams says:

    Patrick, that you don’t understand the difference between fixed and variable costs, that you don’t understand how we benefit, financially as well as socially and academically, when we get choice students, is besides the point for this vote. We aren’t voting on whether or not to continue choice in our district and even if we were, we can’t end choice for the students who currently choice in which means we need to have a building that can hold them. Great Barrington taxpayers are going to spend $18 million on a new school or we are going to spend between $18 and $25 million on patching up the current building, which will still need to be replaced in the near future. That is what we can vote on. Wishing for a less expensive alternative won’t make it happen.

    Educators, architects, engineers and financial professionals considered every option before they selected this one. They were overseen by the school committee, made up entirely of taxpaying citizens, and by state professionals. They found a way to build a new school AND have the state pay nearly half the costs.

    If we vote no we will spend millions of dollars on the current building while the school committee starts this 8-year process again and then we’ll have to build another school. Even if it’s the smaller school you want, your plan will cost us millions more.

    1. Patrick Fennell says:

      Ed there are presently THREE newer high schools, even combined the district would be considered small by state standards, and how can you a representative of GB defend allowing the citizens to pay for an entire second high school? How come you have not insisted on merging districts, and if BHRSD can educate kids at less than $8,000.00 a student why does GB have to pay almost $19,000.00 per student? For a man who ran as a conservative you like to spend our money quite liberally. Just because a BMW is 26% off does not mean I can all of a sudden afford it, even retired teachers have told me this is just too much, and they are educators, and back to the three new schools, why are over 250 students leaving their new schools to come to Monument Mountain? It isn’t about new science labs, granite seating, fancy sky lights, but quality teachers, which MM has. Besides based on the latest safety scare tactics at two of the ‘educational’ meetings, that I attended, we should be sending our students to either Mt. Everett or Lee High, which are both less than a mile from a police station. The real answers do not just involve brick, mortar, union workers and granite stadium seats, but common sense, long range thinking, in both population and where education will be in 25 years.
      A NO vote allows wiser heads to think things out.

    2. Bill Warford says:

      Hi Ed. I thought the article in the Record last week alleges they did not consider, or present, all the options. That’s a deliberate omission in pursuit of their goal, and as elected officials that’s not right. Once they got caught blatantly hiding what wasn’t in their favor, they lost all credibility. That’s a shame, because respect lost is not easily won again. Patrick points out that Bradway doesn’t supply the numbers to correct Patrick’s assertion. Lest Bradway present the recurring excuse of “I don’t have those numbers with me right now, but…”, that’s been a refrain from BHRSD Committee members in a number of meeting venues since I’ve lived here. That won’t fool us anymore.
      I’m saddened that you’re supporting them in their fight to drive seniors, young people and the middle class out of our community.

      1. Ed Abrahams says:

        Bill, the school building subcommittee and the entire school committee did consider and present all the options, including the repair option mentioned in the Record. Since that option, when real numbers were used, would cost the district nearly as much as the option that gave us a new school, they decided not to go with that option. That was done at several public meetings and by majority vote.

        To me, more important that getting correct information out, is stopping the attacks on the character of the committee members or the integrity of the process. We live in New England, home of hyper-democracy. It is illegal for any deliberations to go on in secret, and nearly every decision made by our all-volunteer committees (made up of taxpayers) can be evaluated and overruled by the voters. We don’t have to agree with each other but before anyone accuses anyone of doing anything illegal, we should be very careful and check our facts.

  5. Mickey Friedman says:

    One Man’s Idea of Misinformation Might Be Misinformation

    Mr. Bradway’s letter about misinformation is exactly that: more misinformation. I’ve seen no attempt at instilling “anger and fear in the most financially vulnerable citizens” coming from the critics of the current Monument Mountain renovation plan. If citizens are afraid is because they rightly fear the ever-increasing taxes they face.

    Nor are the critics of this once-upon-a-time 55.6 million dollar plan, now because of their efforts, a 51.2 million dollar plan, suggesting we do nothing but wait for things to break. That Mr. Bradway feels it necessary to mischaracterize the heartfelt efforts of others to find a less expensive alternative to his is sad and a reflection of the increasing distance between some members of the School Committee and the voters they serve.

    It was in fact the School Committee that solicited feedback and alternatives after the overwhelming NO in Great Barrington. The “listening session” I attended revealed a substantial number of serious suggestions, including having some well-respected local contractor without any financial stake in the process re-examine the proposed budget to find ways to save money without impacting the educational mission of the high school. Others wanted a list of the most important problems in the physical plant that needed to be addressed in the very near future, and a list of things we could address in later years so that our tax increases could be staggered over time. It does no good to mischaracterize this feedback. Especially because the voters of Great Barrington have steadfastly voted to support the School District with their taxes.

    Sadly, we learned that the School Committee, despite the rhetorical flourishes that began and ended the listening session, didn’t really want to make any substantial changes. Because in fact the Committee had already decided to make exactly 4.1 million in cuts – the limit the Massachusetts School Building Authority had set for you. And you knew that greater cuts would force a new application and the loss of the agreed upon MSBA reimbursement.

    Were you justified in accepting those terms? Yes, if you honestly felt this was the best deal for the taxpayers. But were you less than honest with the citizens when you told them you were open to making significant changes? Yes. Or to use your words, you were “conspicuously omitting data and facts that would provide for the opportunity of a circumspect and objective viewpoint.”

    And have you in this letter addressed the very telling reality that you would have had us spend 4.1 million additional dollars for the renovation that quite obviously we didn’t have to spend. Because everyone knows the budget went from 55.6 million dollars down to 51.2 million dollars only because the voters said NO. And somehow none of these cuts will negatively impact the education are young people will receive. Who is going to take responsibility for asking us to spend 4.1 million unnecessary dollars? And why should we trust the “experts” you invoke when they, too, had little problem spending taxpayer money that didn’t need to be spent? We should now trust them when they tell us that we need to spend 51.2 million dollars? Where can we get some 47 million dollar experts?

    Lastly, as for monkeying around with the data and facts, how’s this:
    “To be clear, there is no $0 option, but there is an alternative. That alternative is to do nothing and to fix things as they break. The School Committee is ready to act upon that scenario if the project is not approved by the community.
    What you need to understand is that by going down this path, we will not be entitled to any significant reimbursement from the State because we opted to react to issues rather than anticipate them.”

    No one is suggesting going down this path of yours. Nobody wants to do nothing. We just want to do something other than giving you 51.2 million dollars.

    What we don’t want to do is waste a penny if we can help it. Certainly not 4.1 million dollars or ten million dollars.

    You know very well there are many alternative plans available for us should the current proposal fail. Will they take time? Yes, of course. But you began this process in 2008 with your Statement of Interest and embarked upon a strategy to roll all your desires into one proposal that over time grew to become 55.6 million dollars. You could have made a different strategic decision but you didn’t.

    You want to be mad at the voters for not agreeing with you, that’s your right. But I and others have pointed out there are ways to move forward with new applications under the MSBA Major Repair Program, with reimbursement rates equal to the rate you’ve secured, to deal with all the pressing and future problems with the building and a later application to address the issues of the science labs etc.

    Is this a perfect solution? Not at all. But it has certainly worked for other school districts.

    And David Long, a parent, has spent an extraordinary amount of time, reworking the entire proposal, making even bolder suggestions about thinking outside the MSBA box. His proposal deserves serious consideration.

    He as well as I and all the other concerned citizens are just trying to find answers that will gain the support of a majority of voters in Great Barrington.

    I’m sorry you feel it necessary to mischaracterize our concerns. And our desire to save the taxpayers as much money we can.

    Mickey Friedman
    Great Barrington

    1. Rich Bradway says:

      Mr. Friedman, simply reading the Berkshire Record and only the opinions of the writers therein does not constitute a well-rounded viewpoint. I have observed this tactic not only by what is written in the Record, but also in other “news” outlets, social media, online forums, pubic meetings, etc. I lack the fingers on my two hands to count the number of times certain people have used misinformation to prove their point. Furthermore, repeating incorrect information all the time or saying it louder does not make it any more true.

      Everything you are proposing with respect to the MSBA Major Repair program is simply not accurate. All of that was explored by the School Committee and the Building Renovation Committee before we brought forth the proposed project last year. All of this was discussed and documented in public meetings. Your assertion for securing a rate that is commensurate with what we have for the proposed project does not jive with the actual process that took place our would take place in your scenario. Furthermore, the reimbursement rate is not the sole function of what the MSBA defines for providing a reimbursement. When looking at projects, the MSBA defines criteria for what costs are eligible for reimbursement. What was clearly defined to the School Committee was that basic repairs would have a lower percentage of eligibility for reimbursement then the proposed renovation project. That lower eligibility combined with a marginally lower reimbursement rate clearly illustrated to the School Committee that we would be paying more overall for a repair-only scenario then the proposed renovation.

      I will staunchly defend the logic we employed as we poured over these options researching numerous public documents and laws/regulations, interviewing peer districts that went through the same process and grilling the MSBA in countless public meetings. Certainly over what you have attempted to do in the course of a weekend, trying to create connections between points that don’t exist or cannot be connected.

      It is an expensive project. I admit that. I said that in my letter. I will repeat it. It is an expensive project. Opting not to do the project and engaging in some other scenario will be expensive. My position is that alternate scenario, especially the one you propose, will be more expensive, more intrusive to students, and the increased burden will be more variable and volatile on taxpayers for the same period of time to pay it of, if not longer.

      I base my position on the fact that I sit on the Buildings and Grounds, Technology, Warrants, Building Renovation sub-committees. I see firsthand how expensive it is to operate and repair an aging and deteriorating building. I know very intimately the state of technology in the district and what we need to do to better utilize this tool. I have a solid grasp of what elements of the high school facility pose the greatest challenge not only to our wallets, but also to our kids and their education.

      I do not have issue with people who oppose this project for something as simple as having an opposing opinion as mine.

      Where I have issue is with proselytizing critics and cynics who only show up at budget time to foist misinformation and lies on the public solely for the purpose of playing on people’s emotions. They can argue that they are “all about public education” but their inaction speaks louder than their words.

      1. Dave Long says:

        Mr Bradway- I think you are actually making Mickey’s point. Reimbursements are calculated using a scoring system that determines the outcome. Cost vs reimbursement is determined by the assumptions about what is included and why. Change the assumptions contained in the “repair only” option to the proposed, and you get a different answer. Change them again, and one will get another answer.

        People have been pleading for a change of assumptions. There is no evidence from any meeting I have attended or any document that I have read that demonstrates that the design committee even tried to be responsive to these pleas.

        The alternative plan that I have been circulating demonstrates that there are other ways of looking at the problems that yield better educational opportunities, costs far less, relies heavily on local contractors, and implements alternative energy to further reduce operating costs. These are the things residents have been asking for– solutions for these things were offered to the committee in public meeting.

        Ever since I started attending the meetings about the renovation, I have heard residents say that they do not accept the assumptions — and why. No one listened then….and now the chasm of understandings seems set in stone. It is hard to say which side has spread more misinformation. But if does not pass (which I hope it does not), we will have to see past these diffences to get to a better answer.

  6. Sheldon Hoxie says:

    Whenever one side claims a monopoly on the truth, watch out.

  7. Bill Warford says:

    It’s always projection with these guys! Isn’t this the same Bradway from the BHRSD Committee who allegedly hid information and spread misleading information about state funding for renovations, as published in the Record last week? The guy who thinks granite curbing and BHRSD administrative facilities make for good education? What about those scare tactics designed to “instill anger and fear in the most financially vulnerable citizens of our community” at their public forums – the ones where “you can pay us what we demand now, or we’ll make you pay more later” was their essential message?
    The Monument Now crowd has no credibility left. They’ll say anything right now to get what they want. Why should anyone believe their ‘tax calculators’ or attend their public forums where one’s concerns are dismissed and ruled invalid?

    1. Ed Abrahams says:

      Again, Bill, please be careful about calling your neighbors dishonest. Please support your opinions with facts, if you have them, but please, please stop calling the taxpaying volunteers who make up the school committee dishonest. The specific reference you repeat twice now in these comments was not hidden at all. That is a matter of public record.

  8. Michelle Loubert says:

    Just read about the 37 percent National Grid rate increase. This, combined with ever increasing heating costs, food prices, and Gt. Barrington tax increases is, alone, enough to crush home budgets. If this project goes through, a property assessed at $300,000 in Gt. Barrington will see a tax increase of $270 for this project alone. Stockbridge-$90. This means that Mr. Bradway, who lives in Stockbridge, can apply the $180 difference to his electric bill. BIG difference. It’s easy to advocate for a project when someone else is paying for it. Listen to political campaign rhetoric. Repeatedly, we here “tax burden” yet, this term seems to disappear from our elected officials’ conversations when it comes to this project. So, Mr. Bradway, if this project is so necessary in your opinion, how about sharing some of your $180 savings with a Gt. Barrington taxpayer?

  9. Michelle Loubert says:

    Forgot to mention: Gt. Barrington taxpayers…tax bills will arrive in your mailbox shortly, due November 1. When you are writing your check and complaining about it, if this project succeeds, your bill November 1, 2014 will be nothing more than a fond memory. If you’re feeling the tax bite November 1, remember it November 4 and vote no for this project.

    1. Neel Webber says:

      Michelle.
      I have worked and negotiated with school committee members and BHRSD administration for years, a bit over 19 to be precise. The most recent being contract negotiations for the teachers union. Not once, as in never, have they been flippant about spending taxpayer money. When an expense is being considered, whether it is a book or a building, they carefully thread the fine line between state law, what is best educationally for our kids and the pocketbook of the people they represent. They investigate and research intensely, and many times, again from my personal experience, keeping spending to a minimum is what drives the discussion. Unfortunately, education costs money.
      Your comments in the above post implying that Mr. Bradway’s residence in Stockbridge makes his ideas about this project suspect because his tax rate will go up less than yours is both outrageous and offensive. First, you seem to presume that the tax burden of Stockbridge residents is easy…. Tax burden is relative for every individual taxpayer, regardless what town they live in. Second, do you know, as a school committee member, that Mr. Bradway contributes hundreds of hours annually as well as a considerable amount of expertise to be sure that all the students in our district are getting what they need to well educated, engaged citizens? Please stick to the facts rather than attack the person presenting them.

      1. Bill Warford says:

        Granite curbs. New Admin amenities. Stone seating (Granite bleachers? They won’t really say…) at the fields. Clerestory windows? Bragging about eliminating teaching positions, but unwilling to cut their Admin budget?
        Not flippant about spending taxpayer money, eh?
        They deserve to be attacked over this. This is not about education. It’s about their egos, and that bronze plaque in the new MMRHS.

      2. Patrick Fennell says:

        You are the one attacking. Anyone who lives in GB or West Stockbridge are looking at a bigger tax hit, and with the Sewer Treatment Plant update, higher electric bills, and still paying for other capital projects have reason to be concerned. The 54 million dollar project was very padded with luxuries like granite seating, so no they did not watch out for the taxpayers, building an entire second high school for wealthy towns like Richmond, Alford, and Monterey is asking a lot from the district taxpayers. Why hasn’t that problem been solved in Boston by now? GB was stuck with four old schools after the last two school projects and are still paying for at least two of those. Stockbridge benefits greatly in that 72% of the town hall is compliments of GB. There are better ideas and options that need to be studied.

  10. Mickey Friedman says:

    I am going to keep this simple. The pie chart offered by the School Committee shows a repair option costing $33.64 million with a MSBSA reimbursement of $4.9 million which results in a cost to Great Barrington of $23.4 million, much more than the $19.4 million your 51.2 million renovation will cost GB. Only a foolish voter would vote against your proposal. Yet I have found many a renovation project that garners so much more than the 14.57% reimbursement rate you suggest . And at the last information session I attended Mr. Coons quoted a 48% reimbursement figure available under the Major Repair Program of the MSBA. The Newman School received a 31.38% reimbursement for a $27.4 million repair project that includes the repairs to the heating and ventilation system (including related code-required alterations and mechanical work) improvements to the electrical/technology infrastructure, renovation of the kitchen, auditorium, structural, lighting and sound installation, and reconfiguration of the guidance/nursing/office areas. They would gotten more but the MSBA doesn’t support the costs included in the 27.4 million for the temporary relocation of students.
    http://rwd1.needham.k12.ma.us/newman_renovation_updates/Financing the Project
    I could cite other projects but anyone familiar with Google can find them. Repair project after project received far greater reimbursement percentages than you suggest. Why you imagine it’s productive to attack citizens who are only looking to save the taxpayers money is beyond me? I try always to have sources and spend a good deal of time researching what I write about. At the end of the day you have made your choices and the voters will make theirs.

    1. Neel Webber says:

      Mickey, have you spoken directly to someone from the MSBA regarding reimbursement rates for a BRHSD building project? If so, what did they say? My understanding is that they evaluate every town and every building plan individually with many different sets of parameters to come to a rate. Therefore, comparing our town to Needham, Pittsfield or wherever, doesn’t really give a reliable number. Is my understanding accurate?

      1. Mickey Friedman says:

        Dear Mr. Webber
        I’ve done research on the MSBA website and the internet. Quite frankly I didn’t ask the MSBA specifically about how they would decide on a reimbursement rate for a BRHSD building project under the Major Repair Program for a couple of reasons: 1) I have no standing in the matter 2) It would be completely hypothetical and a waste of their time should they choose to be so generous with their valuable time until and unless the School District chooses a new approach …
        I, unlike you, believe that it is informative to see the experiences of other School Districts facing similar challenges. And believe there are certain lessons that can be learned. It’s easy to dismiss those lessons with the obvious every town is different, but in fact the MSBA is faced with repair/renovation issues that are often quite similar – roofs, windows, electrical systems, HVAC, security concerns, ADA accessibility issues, technology upgrades, etc etc … If you look at several different projects and Districts with all their different sets of parameters you’ll be hard pressed to find a reimbursement rate as low as the 12% reimbursement rate the School Committee has chosen to build its main argument around – that there is no real alternative to the 51.2 million dollar plan, and that any repair only plan will be more expensive.
        I’ve just asked the MSBA for a list of recent repair/renovations projects under both the Major Repair Program and the Accelerated Repair Program and the reimbursement rates the MSBA has made available. And I’ll be glad to share that information.

  11. Michael Wise says:

    [Apologies: this is a very long comment.]
    Four scenarios are in play here about what to do if the School Committee renovation plan is rejected. Here are some impressions and observations about what those scenarios might cost. I offer this in the spirit of a problem-solving exercise. Chewing over the ideas that have been put forward has helped me make up my mind.
    The “repair only” scenario, in the School Committee’s presentation, is based on a strategy of fixing things as they come up. It appears to respond to inquiries and requests that were made after the first vote (by me, at least, and probably by others), to have a clearer explanation of what it would cost to keep the building going if it were not renovated as the School Committee has proposed. The scenario assumes that the first steps would be expensive items for which MSBA would reimburse some of the costs at a rate of 41 percent under its accelerated repair program. In the scenario’s total cost of $39 million, the biggest elements are replacing the roof, at about $8 million, and upgrading or replacing heating, ventilation, electrical and plumbing systems and fixtures, totaling about $16 million. These figures include factors to account for costs of design, management, overhead, permitting, and contingency, as well as a substantial amount for inflation, because this scenario assumes the projects would be done piecemeal over an extended period of time. If the repairs were done faster, the total cost would be lower.
    In its scope and total cost, the “repair only” scenario looks like what was called the “do nothing” alternative, which the School Committee considered during the schematic design phase two years ago. At that time the rough estimate of these repair-only costs was about $42 million (according to the minutes of the School Committee meeting on August 23, 2012, on the schools’ website.) The School Committee decided then to pursue a renovation option, reasoning that although it would cost more, MSBA would also reimburse more and renovation would add educational value. With some hindsight, that decision can be quantified: MSBA reimbursement at 41 percent of the costs of a major repair project costing $42 million leaves the towns’ share at $25 million. MSBA reimbursement at 49 percent of a renovation project costing $55 million leaves the towns’ share at $28 million. (For simplicity, this comparison applies the MSBA reimbursement percentage to all of the costs; in practice, some of them for each scenario might not be reimbursable). In effect, the school committee felt that renovation would add value worth $3 million. To be fair to the School Committee, the minutes do not report that anyone made that particular calculation; rather, the Committee decided to pursue one of the renovation options and told its building committee to squeeze costs down toward the repair option. With the cost of the renovation project now cut to $51 million, applying the 49 percent reimbursement factor leaves the towns’ share at $26 million, that is, about the same as the repair-only alternative.
    Mickey Friedman’s scenario would return to the repair-only project and do a separate project to add better science classrooms. So that more of the costs could be reimbursed, this scenario assumes that an application would be submitted under the MSBA’s standard major repair program, rather than its accelerated repair program. Starting over would postpone major costs for several years – unless an emergency arises – because work would not begin until the longer MSBA application process is completed. Total costs for repairs would probably end up the same under the regular and the accelerated processes, though. Starting later would increase the inflation factor for early elements of the program, but doing the repairs in a shorter period, as an integrated project rather than piecemeal over ten years, would reduce the inflation factor for items that come later. If these two effects offset, the “repair only” scenario’s cost estimate of $39 million would be a plausible baseline for the “repair” part of Mickey’s scenario. So, assuming that MSBA accepts and approves the new application for major repairs, and assuming for simplicity that in the major repair process all of the $39 million would be reimbursed at the 41 percent rate, the towns’ share of the total costs would be about $23 million, and Great Barrington’s share of that would be about $16 million, that is, about $2 million less than renovation project.
    These figures do not include the cost of new science facilities. That cost is not separately itemized on the renovation plan budget, so estimating it is something of a guess. Assuming that the difference of $20 million between the direct construction costs on the budgets for the renovation and repair scenarios represents the major new items (relocating offices, library and cafeteria and building the new science wing), and assuming that the science wing alone represents about a third of that difference, its direct construction cost would be about $7 million, and adding the associated soft costs would make the total about $10-11 million. Reimbursed at MSBA’s maximum (for us) of 49 percent, that leaves about $5.5 million for the towns’ share, and about $3.8 million for Great Barrington. Adding new science facilities to the major repairs in a combined new application to MSBA amounts to the renovation project minus the improvements to the core. Mickey’s scenario thus proposes, in effect, to start over in order to get to roughly the same place at a later date without saving money.
    Patrick Fennell hasn’t proposed a plan, but his contributions imply one: do nothing beyond routine maintenance to Monument Mountain until the towns and districts of South County have formed a new super-regional district, and after that political task is done the new district can decide what to do about its facilities. Perhaps Patrick envisions that this new district would decide to use all of the four high schools we have now. If so, that means incurring the costs of keeping them up, that is, spending money to repair or renovate Monument Mountain. Or perhaps Patrick has in mind a more radical plan, that the new district would put all south county students into the other three schools, because they are relatively new, and shut down Monument Mountain rather than invest any more in it. Abandoning the building would of course save the cost of repairing it (but not of tearing it down or mothballing it) and postpone or disguise the so-far-unknown costs of creating and administering the new district. Rationalizing the proliferation of school jurisdictions in Berkshire County is a sensible goal, but that could take years. Postponing decisions about facilities until that difficult task is done means educating a generation of students in a decaying building.
    David Long’s alternative scenario, like Mickey’s, is similar in two major respects to the renovation project. Its educational centerpiece is also a new science and vocational technology unit. And it would do most of the same expensive basic repairs, replacing the roof and much of the HVAC and plumbing. It differs from the renovation project by postponing or rejecting improvements in the core public areas, by leaving out upgrades of the electrical system, and by envisioning a different method of organizing some of the work in order to reduce costs that are attributed to using the MSBA process. Notably, he would improve the basic classroom spaces through a series of small-scale projects. It is unclear whether David’s proposal would bring the building into ADA compliance.
    David’s scenario assumes MSBA assistance for items that amount to about half of the $25 million cost that he estimates; however, for those items, his estimate uses only direct construction costs, rather than the bottom-line figures prepared in connection with the School Committee’s MSBA-directed application that include contractor overhead, design, project management, contingency and inflation. David’s estimate for roof, boiler, plumbing and network repairs is $10.5 million, but on the spreadsheet detailing the repair-only scenario, the total for those items is $24.4 million. David’s overall estimate does include a 20 percent factor labeled “additional contingencies and student projects,” which is not itemized. David is understandably concerned that the conventional school construction process escalates costs. But assuming substantially lower overhead and contingency costs than is standard for MSBA projects, for the parts that are to be done under an MSBA program, is not realistic. As for the rest, no matter what the management structure it would be unwise to assume that those costs could be as low as 20 percent of direct construction costs.
    After raising the estimates for the big-ticket MSBA-reimbursed repair items like the roof and HVAC systems, applying a higher multiplier for design, overhead and contingency for the rest, and including some of the deferred core improvements, I come up with a total cost of David’s scenario that looks more like $38-40 million than $25 million. How much of that MSBA or some other party might reimburse or subsidize is a matter of speculation. It is hard to see how the towns’ obligations would be less than under the renovation plan or the repair scenarios.

    1. Mickey Friiedman says:

      Forgive me Michael but I haven’t had my coffee yet and you’ve lost me by going back in time. If I could re-direct your attention for just a moment to the ubiquitous pie-chart, and the most recent Repair Only scenario put forth by the School Committee. The total cost of this newly configured Repair Option is 38.6 million, reimbursed with 4.9 million dollars by the MSBA. You seem to accept the fact that a Repair Option would garner a reimbursement rate of 48%, far higher than 12.69% of the pie-chart which argues it will be far more expensive to fix Monument than just vote YES for the 51.2 million dollars. But if in fact we can be reimbursed at 48% the district’s share of the 38.6 million will be 18.53 million dollars. I am heartened to see that the 42 million dollars you are remembering for the Repair Option has gone down to 38.6 million. Nevertheless, the MonumentMatters group will ensure that this pie chart is ever-present, telling the voters these are choices they face … maybe my math is all wrong. And maybe you can put your problem-solving instincts to the choice the voters are being asked to make as framed by the School Committee.

      1. Michael Wise says:

        Technical bit here, Mickey: the spreadsheet that details the repair-only option (accelerated process) shows which items get reimbursed and which ones don’t. Doing the math on those items shows that the MSBA would be paying 41% for those items. And nothing for the others, of course, which explains why the percentage reimbursement for the whole project is lower. My reconstruction assumes, as I think your scenario also does, that in a non-accelerated process, in which MSBA would take more time to convince itself about a project’s bona fides, MSBA would be willing to pay for more. And that is why my reconstruction of your scenario assumed MSBA would then pay 41% of all of the costs, not just some of them. That percentage looks to be in line with the MSBA reimbursement schedule that Karen Smith and others have point to: some incentives on top of the baseline 31%, but not all of them, and for us no credit for being particularly poor. The 49% reimbursement, as I understand it, reflects maximum incentive points (they’re capped at 18), including points for adding to the educational dimension. Plain repairs wouldn’t do that.

    2. Mickey Friedman says:

      Dear Michael
      I’ve just had half a latte. A final thought. I’ve learned a bit about the power of NO which brought our costs down from 55.6 million to 51.2 million. Perhaps a fresh set of eyes and a heightened concern for the taxpayers might find further cuts, cuts that dispense with the wished-for and discretionary yet preserve the necessary. Perhaps all the figures being used in the Repair Only scenario can head downward. Just a thought. David Long, who has my respect and gratitude for spending a great many of valuable hours trying to re-configure the project and save us all some money, is just one of many willing to look at the problem again. Critical thinking and a willingness to examine and re-examine prior assumptions may be annoying to those who believe they’ve done their best and solved the problem but it often creates new opportunities previously unseen and overlooked.

  12. Kristi Farina says:

    I am a 25 year veteran teacher at Monument Mountain, a resident of West Stockbridge AND I am a member of the building committee. I am offended by many of the remarks regarding the lack of intelligence or transparency of the committee of volunteers. I gave up my time for over two years to attend meetings discussing the options for the future of Monument Mountain and the financial impact these decisions would have. NOT ONCE did the committee or any member of our committee or the school committee try to mislead the public. In fact, we held information session after information session where less than 10 people came to ask questions, hear about process or give us their input. We were not meeting secretively. We were not trying to “sneak” things past the town with this project. There were itemized detailed descriptions of the renovation available. The items folks are listing as “extravagant” like the hillside seating or the granite curbs were originally chosen by the committee because of the longevity factor (just come take a look at how our current concrete curbing looks). These items have been cut out of the reduced version.
    As far as the school population is concerned, we MUST differentiate between school choice and tuition students. The tuition students come to us from local towns that DO NOT have a high school of their own and the school committee renegotiated their rates last year with a plan to revisit this annually. Additionally it would not be reasonable to expect them to pay our “average cost” rate as that figure includes the annual cost the district must pay for students who require outside placement.
    Finally, I believe most residents understand and appreciate the fact that Monument is the only comprehensive high school in Southern Berkshire county. There are no vocational programs available at any of the three other recently renovated schools in our area. These programs are important to our students and community. These offering are important and add to the educational experience of all of our students. More over, there are VERY specific guidelines regarding the building upgrades that need to be include to maintain our automotive program and horticulture program’s Chapter 74 status. If residents in Great Barrington really want a school to serve only their 350 students they should expect that all of these programs would be cut as well as much of the arts and most of the electives we offer.

  13. John Dreger says:

    It is hard to really understand the various arguments concerning the process used to determine the costs of renovating–or not renovating–Monument. But let me offer another perspective: one reader feels that the annual cost of $19,000 per student in Great Barrington is exorbitant, suggesting that the job could be done just as well for less than half that. I currently teach at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT, where the tuition is $41,000 per student annually. If in fact a child can be given a good education for $9000 per year, are the CEO’s and hedge fund billionaires who send their kids to Hotchkiss stupid?
    I myself attended public high school in Holyoke. We had boarded up windows and drop celiings with tiles missing in many a classroom. The message this sends to the kids is that their education is really not worth much, and so they don’t take it as seriously as they should. When kids–especially working class and poor kids–think this way, it only accelerates the bifurcation in our society that allows the lucky few to send their kids to places like Hotchkiss while everyone else scrambles for a share of our ever decreasing economic pie.
    Good schools cost money. If you really, really can’t afford the tax increase that would be necessary to pay for renovating the high school, then by all means vote no. But accusing the school committee of dishonesty and/or profligacy because it means incurring an unwanted expense is unfair and ultimately short sighted. I plan to vote yes because I think it is in the best interest of our community.

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