NORTH ADAMS - With less than two weeks to go before April 30th's vote on whether or not to fund the $29.7 million Conte School Renovation Project, proponents and opponents turned out Wednesday night to voice their concerns and ask questions during an information session hosted by the city.
City and school officials, along with the project's management team and architects presented an overview of the proposed renovation and its funding to a crowd of about 100 individuals gathered in MCLA's Murdock Hall.
"Over the last few weeks there has been a lot of information and misinformation about this project in the community. Our intent tonight is to provide all of you with factual information," Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said. Owner's Project Manager Mel Overmoyer, of Strategic Building Solutions, explained the reasons behind the selection of the former middle school as the city's preferred option.
"It has many advantages, including not having to vacate a building and relocating the kids during construction," he said. "It also lends itself quite well to becoming a school again and overall it costs less than the other options."
Overmoyer noted that Sullivan Elementary School, which would be replaced by the new elementary school, has "significant structural and space issues" and "does not accommodate new state-mandated space requirements."
Kristian Whitsett, project architect with Margo Jones Architects, explained how the building was designed to meet the needs of the 21st century classroom, along with ample playground space with safety in mind.
"It will have three times the amount of flat playground space that Sullivan has and dedicated drop-off loops for cars and buses," he said.
North Adams Public Schools Superintendent James E. Montepare explained that the building was designed to incorporate shared learning spaces and technological advances.
"There's a whole different mindset of delivering education," he said. "When I think of what a classroom looked like when I was in school, it was desks in rows and a teacher telling you to read a chapter or a dialogue of 'this is what you need to know, remember and spew back to me later.' Things have changed - kids sit in groups and today's education is about critical thinking and problem solving. Kids come in to school in kindergarten with cell phones and iPads and apps."
During a question and answer session, audience members questioned how the funding of the project was to be split and if contingency fees were incorporated in the budget, as well as how the plan answered the district's overcrowding problems and would address safety of student walkers.
"What happens if the project goes over budget? Does the state fund that too?," Robert Moulton Jr., who helped spearhead the citizen's petition that brought the funding to a vote, asked.
Overmoyer explained that the state School Building Authority (MSBA) does not fund any overages, but the $29.7 million budget includes a larger than normal contingency account and also includes funds for inflation.
"With that being said, we will be managing the project throughout construction and construction costs are still relatively competitive," he said. "We just bid out a $50 million project that came in $5 million or 10 percent under the approved budget."
Answering Councilor Keith Bona's request to explain the funding further, Overmoyer noted that $3 million in contingency funds had been set aside and the budget also includes funds for "all the furniture and fixtures."
Councilor John Barrett III questioned how the plans met the requirements of the original feasibility study.
"This does not take care of the overcrowding problem," he said. "The issues at Sullivan School are bad, but in a few years the same issues at Greylock Elementary are going to happen and the deplorable conditions at that school are not going to be met."
Alcombright replied that while the project doesn't solve the district's entire overcrowding issue, that couple with the district's move of the preschool program, the project will provide some relief to Brayton Elementary School.
"It will relieve 50 percent of the overcrowding," he said. "We'll have about 60 or 70 kids, in addition to the preschool, redistricted from Brayton."
The mayor added, "Greylock has always had its issues and is in need of physical repairs. However, I have been told by several reputable sources that it is also the best of those two schools."