NORTH ADAMS -- The required $29.7 million bond needed for the renovation of the former Silvio O. Conte Middle School into a K-7 elementary school cleared its first hurdle Tuesday night, as the City Council voted 7 to 2 in favor of passing it to a second reading.
Final approval of the bond, which will most likely come before council at a special meeting on Feb. 5, requires a two-thirds vote to pass. Councilors John Barrett III and Marie Harpin voted against the approval at Tuesday's meeting.
Barrett, who initiated a feasibility study with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) in 2009, said that he wasn't opposed to finding a solution for the school district, but thought that a renovation of Conte into an elementary school wasn't the right option.
"You need to build a school from the classroom out, not with bricks and mortar," he said.
Barrett referred to a 2008 study by the New England School Development Council, which looked at the city's facilities and made several suggestions, including the need for a long-range plan.
"At the time, the report said we could rehabilitate Sullivan and Greylock schools for $10.5 million and $11 million," he said.
The study was used to secure a $680,000 feasibility study from the MSBA in 2009 to examine the best options for the North Adams Public Schools -- a renovation of Greylock and Brayton elementary schools, a new school to replace Greylock and Sullivan or the rehabilitation of Conte into an elementary school.
The conclusion of that study is the current plan to renovate Conte.
"I believe the citizens of this community have a right to vote on this and if it is passed, they will get the necessary signatures to put it on the ballot," Barrett said. "The citizens of this city don't want this project. It will be defeated if it goes to the ballot box. I want to see investments made. We have to be innovative. We should be looking at a charter school that is run by the School Committee."
According to the city ordinances, to put a bond funding on a ballot, three registered voters of the city would need to initiate a petition by filing with the City Clerk's office. Once the petition is certified, signatures of 20 percent of the city's registered voters would need to be secured and certified.
Harpin stated that she was voting against the bond because she has heard concerns from many residents about how the city couldn't afford the project.
"People don't have enough pockets in their pants [to pay for it]," she said. "There's also a concern that people don't want to lose a neighborhood school."
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright presented the council with a five-year debt schedule, showing how the city's cost, $6.5 million, would be absorbed into the annual budget.
"I've said from the start that I would not support this if it required a Proposition 2 1/2 override or a debt exclusion override," he said.
Councilor Nancy Bullett said she favored the bond approval, not only because the MSBA had agreed to finance 80 percent of the project, but because of the need to update Sullivan School.
"If we were to wait another year or two, I would be concerned about the safety of the children in that school," she said. "The gymnasium floor is literally coming apart under their feet."
Councilor Keith Bona said the city could forfeit the MSBA's commitment and take a gamble on "getting back in line" with a new proposal, but he wasn't willing to take a chance at having to wait another five to seven years for another shot at a new school.
"We'd also have to keep spending money," he said. "We can pay $6.5 million for what will be a ‘new' school, or we can put $2 million worth of Band-Aids on Sullivan."
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