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What I really said — and why I now support the Monument renovation

Most of the costs of the renovation plan are actually repair and code-upgrade costs. No realistic scenario can avoid paying the principal costs of sustaining that building, sooner or later. in the meantime that building is going to need work, probably starting with that expensive roof. Postponing decisions about facilities ... means educating a generation of students in a decaying building.

To the Editor:

A story in Great Barrington’s other paper this week reports that I have decided to support the high school renovation. No doubt because space was limited, the story truncates the reasons I gave. Here is the full response I sent to the question, “Have you made up your mind yet as to whether you will support the $51m MMRHS renovation project this time around?”

“The short answer is yes, I support the plan under which Great Barrington will contribute $18 million over the next 25 years to renewing and improving the high school. I hope you have room someplace for a longer answer.

“I voted no last time, and I was genuinely undecided when I submitted that letter to the Record [three] weeks ago. Two trains of thought helped me make up my mind. First, the then-promised lower cost alternative plans turned out on close examination to be unhelpful. Mickey Friedman’s notion is essentially the same as the repair-only option that the school committee looked at several years ago — in public meetings — and decided not to pursue because renovation could improve the building at no greater cost to the towns. Mickey’s position amounts to demanding that we start over in order to get to roughly the same place at a later date without saving any money. David Long’s proposal is imaginative but speculative, and after working through some of its implications I concluded that it, too, would not save the town money. (The reasoning is set out in more detail in comments I made in the discussions on Dave’s Facebook page about the school and on the Berkshire Edge; at 1,100 and 1,500 words. Those may be longer than you have room to run).

“Second, I thought through scenarios about either downsizing, sending the tuition and choice-in students someplace else, or on the other hand postponing action until after South County school districts are reorganized to create a larger base to pay for the school. It cuts through complications to recognize that in any event there will be a high school at this centrally located campus in the hub town of South County. Moreover, that high school will be based on the MMHS building.

“Most of the costs of the renovation plan are actually repair and code-upgrade costs. The biggest single item is the roof, and that cost would not drop much if one classroom wing were razed in order to force the student body to shrink. (It wouldn’t drop at all if the wing were mothballed for possible future or alternative use). Ditto for the second biggest item, the HVAC systems. No realistic scenario can avoid paying the principal costs of sustaining that building, sooner or later.

“As I told [the Record] last May, progress on some other fronts would make this decision easier. It would be better if the three towns in the school district revised their regionalization agreement to apportion costs according to assessed value rather than kids in the schools. It would be better if the district were expanded, or if it reached some kind of formal agreement with the out-of-district towns that send their kids to MMRHS, so those towns would help pay the capital costs. It would be better if state-mandated rules about choice stipend and tuition payments were more economically sensible, by permitting choice and tuition to include a contribution to capital costs. And it would be better if Great Barrington revised its tax policies to shift the burden toward taxpayers that are more likely to be able to afford it. There has been some progress on a couple of these items, and maybe a “no” vote would marginally increase pressure to change some or all of them. But in the meantime that building is going to need work, probably starting with that expensive roof. Postponing decisions about facilities until these difficult tasks are done means educating a generation of students in a decaying building.”

Michael Wise

Great Barrington

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