NORTH ADAMS -- "Vote yes for Conte."
It's the message local residents will start receiving in their mailboxes and hearing from volunteers knocking at their doors over the next few weeks, as the Friends of North Adams Schools begins a campaign aimed at securing votes in favor of funding the renovation of Conte School into a K-7 elementary school.
"This project is an enormous opportunity to provide our children with 21st-century learning," Lynette Ritland Bond, chairwoman for the group, said Wednesday during an announcement on the steps below the school in Colgrove Park. "Conte will provide more space for the core academic classes, special education, art and music, health and physical education, library and administration. This school will have the city's largest gymnasium, outdoor play spaces and community space."
The $29.7 million renovation project would cost the city $6.5 million; $23.2 million, or 80 percent, would be reimbursed by the state School Building Authority (MSBA).
Approval of a $29.7 million bond for the project was authorized by the City Council at the beginning of February, but a citizens petition aimed at rescinding the funding has put the bond to a public vote on April 30.
"Our committee's mission will be to provide the facts and to motivate voters of North Adams to overwhelmingly vote yes and fund this project," Bond said.
Over the next four weeks, the committee will launch an informational campaign via a website, Facebook page and mailers. In addition, the committee and city will co-sponsor an information session on the renovation with the project architects and project manager at 6:30 p.m. on April 17 in MCLA's Murdock Hall.
Bond, the sister-in-law of City Councilor David Bond and a mother of two, said she helped form the group because of the enormous amount of misinformation circulating in the community about the project.
"Right now, the thing I keep hearing over and over again is that there are other options out there," she said. "That time has passed. There were options a year ago. In February, 2012, the decision was made by the MSBA, who approved this site. This is the site. This is the only opportunity we have for an 80 percent reimbursement rate."
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright added that if the city waits to do a school project, it would need to "sink significant money into sagging infrastructures that will see no reimbursement."
"It will obviously increase our debt load," he said. "It will be in buildings that will continue to fail us, time and time again. This is our project This building will be renovated into a school. It has been a school for 150 years and will continue to be a school for another 150 more."
Alcombright noted that the MSBA's reimbursement of $23.6 million is the largest sum of money that has ever been given to the city for a single project.
"If we don't take it, it will go to someone else. They'd take it in a heartbeat in Williamstown," he said.
North Adams Public Schools Superintendent James E. Montepare stressed that if the funding should fail to pass, the school district would have to start the MSBA approval process from the beginning.
"I started this process in 2007, so this is seven years in the making," he said. "The new deadline to submit statements of interest is April 10, so that time will already be passed. It will be a year down the road before we can start again -- new statement of interest, new feasibility studies and then what we've vetted for the past three years. People have had an opportunity to come to the 27 forums that we've had to talk about this. We have [talked about this] over and over again. We've voted on this many times. It always came back that this was the best option."
School Building Committee member Ronald Superneau said the city can no longer afford to take chances and try again in the future.
"There's no saying ‘you can get it down the road' or ‘we can get it again.' You can forget about that. It's not true," he said. "We can't wait any longer. We need to do something about Sullivan School and this is the answer."
For more information, go to SupportConte.com.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email