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Mount Greylock School Committee Again Postpones Decision on Turf Field
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:11AM / Tuesday, November 24, 2020
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — It will be at least two more weeks before the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee decides whether to put an athletic field project out to bid.
On Monday, the committee was expected to decide whether to authorize architect Perkins Eastman to draw up bid documents for a project that would include an artificial turf field as the centerpiece of a larger initiative to address deficiencies in the playing fields at the middle-high school.
But Business Manager Joe Bergeron informed the committee that despite his best efforts to prod the Boston firm, it sent its proposal to the district just after 2 p.m. on Monday, and the committee agreed it did not have enough time to review the proposal for $44,000.
"I can say I didn't see it until right now," said Michelle Johnson, who participated in her first meeting on the committee since her election earlier this month.
Perkins Eastman quoted the $44,000 for the work it would do developing construction design documents and specifications to be included in bid documents under the state procurement law. That quoted price also included coordinating permitting with the Town of Williamstown, where the regional school is located.
"It is late arriving," Bergeron said of the Perkins Eastman letter dated Monday. "I did the best I could under the circumstances."
The committee agreed to refer the question to its newly reconstituted Finance Subcommittee. After the November election and the departure of two members of the three-person subcommittee, the full committee Monday agreed to appoint Carolyn Greene chair of a subcommittee that also includes Steven Miller and Johnson.
Greene organized the first meeting of the subcommittee for next Thursday, which would give it time to review the Perkins Eastman proposal and make a recommendation to the full committee at its scheduled Dec. 8 meeting.
Bergeron noted that the School Committee did vote on Oct. 16 to move forward with a process that could conceivably get the project "on the street" in February and March, which Perkins Eastman had previously identified as an optimum time to generate bids.
The Finance Subcommittee also Monday got another assignment from the full committee: a recommendation for how much of the remainder of the Williams College capital gift that the district should reserve for future capital needs.
The original gift from the college was $5 million, and the amount currently in the Mount Greylock portion of the college's endowment stands at $3.7 million, the committee learned in mid October.
Bergeron told the committee that while the School Committee cannot bind future elected bodies to any commitment to preserve any or all of that $3.7 million, the idea of holding some portion of the gift in reserve has been talked about by iterations of the committee for years.
And he said it would be advantageous to hold some portion of the fund in the Williams endowment, where it could appreciate along with the rest of the college's investment portfolio.
"At the end of the day, one of the positions I think is important to keep in mind is this gift is the only way the district has funds invested in anything more than a bank account," Bergeron said. "The way it grows over time is incredibly valuable and should not be squandered because it's a rare gift for any school district to receive. That's my opinion, but it's grounded in the nature of the endowment."
Greene, who was on the School Committee back when Williams made its gift to Mount Greylock said the idea of a reserve took hold when the committee moved a new parking lot — an appropriation of about $1.2 million — into the add/renovation project. The thinking before that move was that the parking lot, an expense that would not be supported by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, could be a potential use of the Williams gift.
"The [building reserve proposal] started as $1.2 million and then it was $1.5 million and then it was $1 million," Greene said. "There was a recommendation from the Finance Subcommittee for $1.5 million, but it never made it to the floor of the School Committee."
Greene said that the School Committee could decide now to put a sum aside or wait until it gets bids for a fields project and then decide whether some of the gift could be preserved.
"What Joe [Bergeron] was referring to is this is the only [account] that will grow," Greene said. "[The capital reserve] has been a discussion point for many, many months.
"I'm happy to leave it for now, not actually vote tonight, but it is something where the town bodies of government are kind of waiting for us to make good on that commitment at some point. That's the feedback we've gotten from the Select Boards [in Lanesborough and Williamstown] and one of the town Finance Committees [in Williamstown]."
Jose Constantine, like Johnson a victor in the Nov. 3 election, asked what kinds of capital expenses Mount Greylock would see in the next 10 or 20 years and, therefore, what would be a good target for a capital reserve.
Bergeron told him that since Mount Greylock was an add/reno project, there are "legacy" parts of the building administrators know they will have to replace sooner rather than later. And there are parts of the new construction as well that have a natural lifespan and estimated replacement costs attached, like roofing and flooring.
Miller said he agreed it makes sense to have some of that data before making a decision on whether to hold back a portion of the Williams gift and what that portion should be.
"I do like the idea of postponing this until we have more information on other stuff," MIller said. "While it may not be binding on [future] School Committees, if we set aside money, that's something School Committees will take into account."
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