|Mount Greylock School Committee Holds Questionable Vote on Multipurpose Building|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff |
02:23AM / Thursday, November 07, 2019
UPDATE: On Thursday afternoon, the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee posted a special meeting for Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 6 p.m., to hold another vote on the bid for a multipurpose building.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Tuesday decided to accept a bid to build a new multipurpose building to house its district office, storage and public restrooms.
But a possibly illegal aspect of the vote designed to appease proponents of a new athletic field opens to question the validity of the action.
On a 6-0 roll call vote, the members at Tuesday afternoon's special committee meeting OK'd a compromise motion devised by Dan Caplinger and seconded by Steven Miller.
Caplinger moved that the committee accept a bid from David J. Tierney Jr. Inc. of Pittsfield for $2.5 million to build what is often referred to as the administration building but which would include storage space for supplies currently stored off campus in space in Adams donated by a local business owner as well as the restrooms that would serve the campus's athletic fields.
Included in that motion, Caplinger moved that the School Committee commit to "allocate $2.5 million toward Phase 2," a reference to the district's project athletic fields themselves.
The Phase 2 Subcommittee was formed to determine how best to address deficiencies in the fields related to the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX — discussions that broadened to include a proposal to build an artificial turf field unrelated to either ADA or Title IX. The district has until April 2022 to bring the fields into compliance with the ADA, a deadline triggered by the $64 million addition/renovation project at the middle-high school.
It appeared that Caplinger's intent in tying the Phase 1 and Phase 2 allocations into a single motion was to satisfy concerns raised earlier in the meeting by Miller.
"I'm uncomfortable supporting anything for Phase 1 [the building] until we're certain we'll commit a certain amount of resources for Phase 2 [the fields]," Miller said. "If we do go forward, I'd like to ask that any motion include reserving a certain amount of funds for Phase 2, and the endowment."
That last piece referred to a future capital needs fund — one of three priorities, along with the administration building and fields — that were identified years ago by the Mount Greylock School Committee as intended uses for a $5 million capital gift from Williams College. On Tuesday, the committee heard that gift — taking into account funds already expended on things like design work for the building and fields — has appreciated to about $6.8 million of current value.
In making his motion, Caplinger explained that even after the building project currently on the table and the $2.5 million commitment to a fields project, the district still would be able to hold a reserve to address future large capital expenses, like boiler replacements.
One problem: The fields project is not even out to bid.
In the hours after the meeting, telecast on the district's YouTube channel, Superintendent Kimberley Grady began hearing from people who questioned the legality of a public body setting the "floor" for the price tag of a public project before it goes to bid under the commonwealth's procurement laws.
"I need the [district's] lawyer to weigh in on it," Grady said by telephone early Wednesday morning. "I probably will have to re-watch [the meeting] with the attorneys and come up with a plan before the 14th."
The School Committee's next regular monthly meeting is Nov. 14.
Grady said she was uncertain how one legally questionable aspect of the vote affects the status of the $2.5 million contract awarded to Tierney.
"There have been questions raised as to the validity of how the vote went because Phase 2 was included," Grady said.
Tuesday's special meeting of the School Committee was an opportunity to rehash many of the arguments that have come up throughout the last several years as the panel has grappled with how to address its deficient fields and replace square footage lost in the addition/renovation project.
The latter condition — the lost square footage — is the result of a strategic decision by a past iteration of the School Committee and its School Building Committee not to include the district office in the "new" Mount Greylock Regional School and not to build storage space to replace square footage that was lost in the $64 million project.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority, which is underwriting the building project, does not participate in the cost of square footage for central administration at all, and the School Committee/SBC felt that leaving such space out of the building project would keep the project's cost to local taxpayers down. In addition, it had the Williams College gift, given at the outset of the building project; if that $5 million had been applied directly to the building project itself, it would have reduced the MSBA contribution by $5 million. Spending the money strategically on items outside the scope of the MSBA-funded project (i.e., central office space and fields), would maximize the benefit of the gift.
For years, district officials and Phase 1 Subcommittee members have reviewed off-campus options for the central office that would not involve a new building. Repeatedly — and at least once at the direct request of Miller — the same search of rental properties has come up empty.
"I do think it is worth considering, given the magnitude of the cost, if we're able to find a rental property that works and keep the $2 million," Miller said again near the beginning of Tuesday's 1 hour, 45 minute meeting. "The interest alone is enough to generate the rental cost."
Toward the end of the meeting, Miller again referenced the rental idea.
"While I'm still skeptical about the decision to build the multipurpose building, I do trust my colleagues on the Phase 1 Subcommittee that we have put people on these committees who have looked at stuff for a long time," Miller said just prior to the vote on Caplinger's motion.
"I appreciate you saying that," School Committee Chairwoman Regina DiLego replied. "But it feels like you'll only trust us if we commit to spending the money on the Phase 2 project.
"I'm going to vote for it because I think we need to pull the trigger and get the building project started. But, personally, I'm disappointed that this is the only way we can accept a bid for the building we know we need."
DiLego at another point in the conversation said that as a resident of Lanesborough, she objected to the idea of placing the district office in a rented property in the heart of Williamstown, moving it farther away from Lanesborough residents and their elementary school, one of just three schools in the district. The Mount Greylock campus, while in Williamstown, is in the southern part of the town and was chosen specifically for its proximity to Lanesborough when the original two-town middle-high school district was developed in the late 1950s.
Grady also expressed her disappointment at the tone of the discussion around the multipurpose building.
"Everyone is talking about it as the district office," Grady said. "If we were just going to do a district office, I could use about 2,800 square feet in a nice little ranch and call it a day.
"We have this massive monkey we forget called storage, and the other one is called bathrooms. Don't let this be about, 'We have to build a palace for the superintendent and her team.' The rental space [for storage] we've had for free for the last year comes to an end. In order to replace that storage space, you're looking at upward of $3,500 a month that I have to take out come January.
"I'm in less space [in the building as designed] than storage and bathrooms."
Grady also said publicly for the first time that the current construction trailers used to house the district office on the Mount Greylock campus do not meet town building code for that use, and the grace period extended by Town Hall has an expiration date.
"My offices are in a trailer that is not going to be renewed for code," Grady said. "I'm not ADA compliant. I'm not secure. I don't have power when there's a storm. I could leave tomorrow, and you'll [be hearing] another superintendent who will wonder where they're going."
"I sit here every meeting wondering why we're pitting the district office team against kids and athletes."
Likewise, one of the most consistent voices in the community in favor of the artificial turf field expressed frustration about that cause being demonized by some in the community.
David Armet told the School Committee he has heard from opponents of the turf field who say they will not patronize his business, "because I wrote a letter to the editor."
"It starts to feel like … if you have a child who is an athlete and you want the best athletic facilities, somehow that is a negative," Armet said. "I don't feel comfortable being accused of the things I've been accused of in this town. Yet we have elected officials in this community who are allowed to speak out and say their piece on a variety of issues."
School Committee member Al Terranova used Tuesday's meeting to respond to a comment made last month at a meeting of the Williamstown Finance Committee, which noted the potential political ramifications of building an artificial turf field after the district received a letter from Lanesborough's Select Board opposing the idea.
Terranova said the Lanesborough Select Board's unanimous vote on the matter does not represent his entire town.
"When a Williamstown Finance Committee member made the statement that Lanesborough was overwhelmingly against it, that is not correct," Terranova said.
Moments later, Terranova made his own misstatement.
"We've got to do something with ADA, and we've got to do something with Title IX," Terranova said in reference to the athletic fields. "We know we've got to do something with the fields. I would support Steve and Dan's motion. … Make a decision now and go forward with it.
"It's going to cost you $2.5 million for the ADA and the Title IX and the fields no matter what you do."
The district in its first round of bidding for the fields project received three bids ranging from $2.85 million to $2.98 million. Those bids broke out costs for different parts of the project. The synthetic field — the part not related to ADA or Title IX — had a price tag ranging from $1 million to $1.5 million
One point of agreement that did come out of Tuesday's meeting: The School Committee agreed that the multipurpose building should be built with finished bathrooms rather than plumbing the space now and adding the fixtures later — resolving the main question to come out of the last Phase 1 Subcommittee meeting.
Caplinger's motion to accept the bid called, in part, for the district to find funds within its appropriated budget to pay for the $315,354 "add alternate" to fully fit out the public restroom after the committee heard comments from the president of the Berkshire Building Trades Council. The idea of using appropriated funds to cover part of the Phase 1 cost was not on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting, neither was a discussion of the Phase 2 budget.
"I would like to echo [Perri] Petricca's comments," Tim Craw said, referring to Petricca's quote on iBerkshires.com from the Nov. 1 subcommittee meeting.
"This is not going to get cheaper. It's going to get more expensive. I would say he's being conservative. … Commercial construction in Western Mass is coming into a recession. I'd expect [the project] to be 30 to 40 percent more expensive after March 2020."
Craw added another factor to the mix before the School Committee took up the question of whether to accept a bid on the project.
"You'll have a hard time getting contractors to come back and bid," Craw said. "This is the second time around. It costs a contractor to do an estimate — $15,000 to $20,000 for a project of this size."