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David Scribner
Great Barrington Finance Committee met Thursday to discuss its views on the proposed Monument Mountain High School renovation project. From left, Chairman Sharon Gregory, Leigh Davis, Tom Blauvelt, vice chair Michael Wise and Walter F. Atwood III.

Finance Committee challenges school officials to produce credible high school renovation estimates

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By Friday, May 23, 2014 News 2

Great Barrington – Convening Thursday (May 22) at high noon, the Finance Committee has demanded greater credibility from School Committee proposals to either renovate the 48-year-old Monument Mountain Regional High School for a scaled-down figure of $51 million, or perform basic repairs to the aging building’s infrastructure for $44 million.

The committee was meeting in advance of a Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee meeting Thursday evening at the Middle School where a decision about which alternative to adopt will be made, with a district-wide vote likely in the fall.

The Finance Committee did not take a formal vote on a recommendation to the regional school committee.

Whatever the alternative, Great Barrington taxpayers would be see the average property tax bill increase by $337.67, the School Committee has estimated.

Only a portion of the repairs would be eligible for state assistance, while the renovation has already been approved for 48 percent reimbursement. The final cost to the district, the School Committee insists, would thus be the same for either option.

“It appears to me that they’ve stacked the numbers to make it look as rebuilding the school or simply repairing it would cost the same,” declared Finance Committee Chairman Sharon Gregory. “They need to make a credible case for the repairs. And they haven’t done that. I’d like to believe them but I can’t.”

She could support the school renovation project, she added, if it could be credibly shown that the cost of basic repairs were comparable to the rebuilding of the MMRHS facilities, thus resulting in a modernized educational environment that would substantially benefit students.

“The figures they gave us include a 5 percent inflation factor for the repair option,” she noted. “I think 3 percent is more reasonable.”

She also argued that before the district – and town voters – underwrite a major upgrade of the high school that the School Committee undertake a serious examination of the size of the school and what the future of education is likely to require of school facilities.

“We need to right size the district, either by adding school districts like Richmond or Farmington River, or reduce the size of the school itself,” she maintained.

Michael Wise, the newest member of the Finance Committee agreed.

“It’s in our interest to have a quality school, but at the same time, we in Great Barrington enroll 48 percent of total enrollment but are paying 55 percent of the cost,” he pointed out. “This is a gap that is unsustainable. It is prudent to step back and to determine who’s in it to pay for it.”

The School Committee meets at 7 p.m. tonight (Thursday, May 22) at the Monument Valley Regional Middle School.


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2 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Karen W. Smith says:

    Once again Ms. Gregory is at a meeting and does not even read the facts off the sheets she was given.. The inflation factor that was used was 3.5 % not 5 % as she has stated. All of the repairs that were included in what she was presented came right out of the cost estimates that were done for the project. Those figures have been available for 7 months to the public. TO boot she is quoted as stating she does not believe that the up to code or repair option costs 44 million. She sat at the sub committee meeting on Tuesday for 2 hours and did not once raise issue with the numbers used for the scenarios. Why ??if you don’t trust or believe what was being presented why did she not ask that when it was being discussed?? Why was the Finance committee meeting not held on Wednesday evening as is the schedule?

  2. Michael Wise says:

    Correction, David: I said GB pays 55 percent of the school district’s total costs (per the 2015 budget, combining operating (net) and capital costs). GB supplies 69 percent of the in-district students, and that is the basis for figuring the per-town contributions. The district gets some money from other sources, which is why our share of the contributions is not the same as our share of the total costs.

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