School renovation needed for public education excellence

In his letter, Rich Bradway writes: "After reviewing dozens of potential project scenarios, the School Committee came up with one project that would encompass updates to the building in all areas -- structure, utilities, security, safety and education."

To the Editor:

How many of you remember Adams Supermarket? It came to mind the other day somewhat indirectly when I saw my 8-year-old son and his friend sitting at the picnic table in our backyard. I remember when my family got that picnic table. My mom got it at the Top Value Stamp Store in Great Barrington with stamps she collected from buying her groceries at Adams Supermarket. Although it probably can only support a couple 60-pound boys nowadays, it amazes me that the picnic table is still standing today some 40 years later. I guess an annual coating of wood preservative can go a long way.

That thought got me thinking of other businesses in our community now long gone. Like Greenfield’s on Main Street in Great Barrington where I would buy little china figurines for my mom for her birthday. Or the “I’m not a tourist, I live here” T-shirt I had custom-made for my dad at Gatsby’s. Or bringing my trumpet to Harland B. Foster’s of all places to get it fixed. I thought back to the time when I worked the swing shift at the Rising Paper Mill for three summers so I could help pay my way through college. Boy, that place made some of the best artist stationary around. Yes, they still make paper in that building but it is not the same place.

Some places have survived the test of time, like Ward’s Nursery, Taft Farms, the Book Loft, and the Snap Shop. Places I still enjoy shopping at today. Heck, look at the Mahaiwe. Once the only movie house in Great Barrington, it not only has survived but has evolved and become a major performing arts center in the area.

Since those days of my youth, a lot has changed. Although some cherished businesses are no more, new ones coupled with those that have survived have shaped a renaissance of sorts in our community, particularly Great Barrington. With this renaissance have come new faces, new families and new friendships forged.

One constant that we have had in our community has been Monument Mountain Regional High School. For more than 46 years, the school has been the epitome of public education excellence. More than 7,000 students have passed through its doors.

Some students went on to be well-established lawyers, doctors, nurses, scientists and engineers. Others embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and started their own businesses, some in our community. Many became accomplished tradesmen whose talents and skills are sought-after both locally and abroad. Others became accomplished musicians, writers, actors, and artists. Many became parents and even some grandparents. You name it, Monument helped produce the workforce and community we have today.

Many people loved the culture of learning and community at Monument so much they came back to work in the school district, the high school in particular. Some even became School Committee members. Five of the 10 current School Committee members are graduates of Monument. Furthermore, two new candidates running for the School Committee in November either graduated or taught at Monument.

It must be a testament to the great things that have gone on in that building for so many to have committed their careers or their free time to preserve the excellent education and sense of community that Monument afforded them.

Over the last few years, this same School Committee, has seen what the passage of time has played on the high school building and its aging infrastructure. Meeting practically every other Thursday for 10 months of each year in public meetings, they have analyzed the costs of what it will take to maintain and update the building so that it can continue to be a source of excellent public education in our community.

What they see is a significant number of unavoidable updates that will need to be addressed in the next few years. Updates both to the physical plant and to the educational capacity the building has to offer.

What they see is a very expensive proposition.

What they know is that there is no way they can maintain the status quo on the high school building and expect it to endure for the next 10 years, let alone the next 40. What they know is that any work done on the building will impact student learning during construction and so any work must be accomplished with minimal impact.

What they know is that construction costs will go up over time, exceeding an average rate of increase of 3 percent each year. What they know is that interest rates are at an all-time low right now.

What they also know is that they won’t get as much financial assistance they would like from outside sources, particularly the State, if expenses are incurred annually through one-off repairs, thus making the annual operating budget for the school district even more unpredictable and more difficult to swallow as the years go by.

What they especially know is that our community has endured a number of expensive municipal projects over the last 10 years or more and that any public funds required to be spent need to be done prudently.

After reviewing dozens of potential project scenarios, the School Committee came up with one project that would encompass updates to the building in all areas — structure, utilities, security, safety and education — which will allow it to adapt and endure for the next 40 years. A project that is phased logically to reduce student impact and is designed to complete construction in 3 years. Most of all they came up with a project that will realize almost 50 percent in State reimbursement funds totaling almost $24 million being paid back to the community.

While the net cost to our community will be significant, it is still within the annual 2.5 percent cap on the tax levy for each of the three district towns.

Although Monument has been maintained exceedingly well till now, it’s hard to compete with father time indefinitely. Like that picnic table in my back yard, which is probably more oil-based product than wood at this point, it will be foolhardy for me to think I can keep it around for another 40 years so that my grandchildren can use it with the expectation it won’t break beforehand.

I hope you will vote yes on both questions regarding the Monument Mountain Regional High School renovation project on Tuesday, November 4, 2014.

Rich Bradway

Stockbridge

The writer is a member of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District School Committee.