NORTH ADAMS -- The city's Planning Board unanimously signed off on plans for the $30 million Conte School renovation project Monday, including the removal of four staircases from the west side of the property.
However, the city's Historical Commission hasn't given the city its approval for the removal of the stairs, as it's waiting for an opinion it requested from City Solicitor John DeRosa. The commission raised the question of whether state School Building Authority funds could be used for the removal of the lower stairs after its members learned that Colegrove Park would no longer be utilized by the school department.
"We questioned if any of this should be done as we're not sure of the Colegrove Park situation," Historical Commiss ion Chairwoman Justyna Carlson said. "As it stands, we have a motion that we could not approve [the plans] until there was more information provided."
Originally, renovation plans called for parts of the hillside and Colegrove Park to be used as a playground by the school. But those plans were put aside after it was determined the plan was cost prohibitive and that faculty members weren't interested in using the space.
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said after talking with DeRosa earlier in the day, that he expects an opinion on the status of the staircases by Friday.
"We believe it will be favorable," the mayor said. "What I want to communicate to the community as a whole are two things: First, the faculty and those involved have expressed they do not want to use the park and hillside. There just isn't time in the day now, with educational learning time [requirements] to bring kids down the hill to a playground. The final thing is that there will be no access to that school through the west door. It was the main entrance, but now that door will only be accessible for emergency vehicles."
Resident Joyce Wrend, who said she favored the project, expressed her concern over the removal of the staircases.
"Aesthetically, taking those stairs out will change the look of our school completely from North Eagle Street," she said.
Julie Sniezek, of Guntlow and Associates, said that any changes to the stairs, whether it be a removal or a replacement would change the look of the hill and surrounding areas.
"We're working with the Historical Commission, both local and state, to come up with a balance that is acceptable," she said.
Architect Kristian Whitsett, of Margo Jones Architects, said the biggest change people would notice on the actual building would be the replacement of the windows. He also confirmed the cost of replacing the retaining wall, estimated between $500,000 to $700,000, had already been figured into the project's overall costs.
City Councilors Marie Harpin and John Barrett III questioned how changes to the building and site designs, including the replacement of a retaining wall on the west side of the property, were affecting the overall budget.
"We have a budget from the MSBA that we are sticking to; there will be no change in cost," Mel Overmoyer, project manager, said.
Barrett also questioned how much had already been cut from the project to keep it under budget.
"We haven't made any cuts," Whitsett replied. "We've identified deduct alternatives. You never know what the bids are going to come in at, so it's prudent to have a series of deduct alternates the School Building Committee can decide on. If bids come in extremely high, then you have a certain list of items you can take out."
A total of $750,000 in deduct alternatives have been identified, he said.