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 is a member of the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee.