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Egremont Schoolhouse ‘friends’ double down to finish foundation fundraiser

"It [the Egremont School] is the heart of the community. While it gives the kind of educational experience that is so important these days, it is also a unique institution, located as it is in the center of town." -- Ellen Maggio

Egremont — The quest to raise money to improve the Egremont schoolhouse continues. And there is good news to report, says Susan Bachelder, a member of the Friends of the Egremont Schoolhouse, a group trying to raise money to complete the renovation of the schoolhouse, especially the replacement of the 137-year-old building’s foundation.

The group, which has already raised $6,550, met Friday night (Oct. 27) and discussed a matching challenge deadline looming for Halloween night, Bachelder said in a written statement announcing the Friend’s efforts to “double down” on fundraising efforts

“With the matching funds we have, that brings our total to $13,000, and that is amazing,” said Cynthia Wade, one of the founding members of the group.

Friends of the Egremont Schoolhouse was formed less than a month ago. Its goal is to meet the shortfall between what are the projected costs for the Egremont Schoolhouse’s new foundation, and the state’s last grant award.

Along with Kate Chebatoris, and Ellen Maggio, who have sent their children to the Egremont Village school, everyone at the Friends meeting on Friday said they understood the value the building provides.

“It is the heart of the community,” Maggio said, “While it gives the kind of educational experience that is so important these days, it is also a unique institution, located as it is in the center of town.”

“That includes all alumnae, parents of alumnae or alumnae-in-training, whether Egremont residents or not,” Chebatoris quickly added. “There are 100 years of students who know the value of that building and would love to help the little school in any way big or small. Now is a good time to do it while we have this challenge.”

The South Egremont Village School. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Because of increased runoff on the ledge underneath, the building’s foundation needs to be replaced. As the bid proposals are being drafted, the town needs to raise an additional $20,000 to supplement the state’s grant in order to proceed quickly.

“Waiting for another town meeting was not an option,” Bachelder said. “To have the work completed and the tables, chairs, and a fresh paint job in place for the new school year, we needed to fund now, so we just started calling around and sending letters to those we thought would understand the importance.”

Also on board to help reach the stated goal of $20,000 are Danile [yes, that is how her first name is spelled] Jordan Kelly, Nancy Fay Hecker, and Lucinda Fenn Vermeulen.

Another meeting is scheduled for mid November and will tally up the funds raised, as well as begin to plan the details for a fundraising party at Kenver on Dec. 1.  Kenver already has benefit notecards from Hecker available for a donation.

Susan Bachelder, appearing before the Egremont Board of Selectmen. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Bachelder added that, “Everyone on The Friends hopes that the December party will be as much of a thank-you celebration for all of those who have helped so quickly with this campaign.”

Taxpayers in Egremont appropriated $250,000 to renovate the school, which is in the village’s National Register Historic District and was one of the last one-room schoolhouses in continuous operation in the nation. The town also received a $50,000 grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission for renovations to the building, which was built in 1880.

At this point, it is unclear whether the building will be used again for educational purposes. At its Sept. 7 meeting, the Southern Berkshire Regional School Committee voted to fund the school, whose operations it had attempted to put on hiatus last year.

In response to that, the town of Egremont filed a lawsuit alleging the school committee had violated the regional agreement that required a formal procedure to be followed for closing one of the so-called “outlying schools” — the three schools located outside the district’s main campus in Sheffield: Egremont, Monterey and New Marlborough Central.

Carl Stewart, chairman fo the Southern Berkshire Regional School District. Photo: David Scribner

The school committee voted to settle the lawsuit in June, agreeing to either fund the school or begin the process to formally close it through a series of public hearings and approval in separate votes in four of the five member towns, as stipulated in the regional agreement, which dates to 1953.

Last year, the school committee put the Monterey schoolhouse on hiatus. The announcement earlier this year that the school committee intended to do the same in Egremont threw the budget approval process into chaos, with both Egremont and Monterey voting down funding their own shares of the district’s FY 2018 budget and forcing the school committee to regroup and ultimately to settle the lawsuit.

And with school enrollments shrinking dramatically across the county, both Southern Berkshire and the Berkshire Hills Regional School District are engaged in talks about a potential merger.

While the Egremont community school is closed for this academic year for renovations, if the school is not used for educational purposes next year, there has been talk of using it for a community center. School Committee Chairman Carl Stewart has said the Policy Subcommittee will decide how the school will be used and it depends in part on enrollment. As part of the settlement of the lawsuit, the school committee voted to set aside $175,000 to fund the operations for the school for next year.

Bachelder says those who would like to help can visit the town of Egremont website and go to “Pay your Egremont bills online” and click on the school donation button, or call Town Hall at 413-528-1082. All donations are tax deductible.

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