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Clarksburg Accessibility Grant Could Fund School Elevator
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
02:26PM / Wednesday, September 29, 2021
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Chairwoman Danielle Luchi speaks at Wednesday morning's Select Board meeting.

Correction: The town was not awarded a grant to address accessibility issues. There apparently was a miscommunication between town officials and the Massachusetts Office on Disability when officials were trying to catch up on grants the town administrator had been working on. The town is eligible to apply for the competitive  grant. The headline has been changed to reflect this although it is not clear if the grant would be big enough to cover the construction of the elevator.
 
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — A priority for years at the elementary school has been the ability to make all three of its floors accessible to everyone. 
 
That once insurmountable problem may be solved now with the approval of a $350,000 state grant that will include money for an elevator at the school.
 
Select Board Chairwoman Danielle Luchi announced the grant from the Massachusetts Office on Disability at Wednesday morning's meeting, along with a grant for LED lights in the school. Between the MOD and Green Communities grants, "bits and pieces" of every town building will be touched, she said, such as heat pumps and insulation at Town Hall. 
 
The grants had been in process by Town Administrator Rebecca Stone, who is currently out on extended medical leave, according to town officials. (Luchi later responded that she could not answer any questions about this.)
 
"Any grant that Rebecca was working on, that was my first go-to when I realized that she was going to be out longer than we thought," Luchi said. "I just want to make sure that the town didn't lose any grant money that it had coming in because I do care about the school and I do care about the town at the end of the day, and I don't want to see us fall behind."
 
Bringing the 60-year-old school into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act has been considered one of the most costly and difficult expenses in any rebuild or renovation. A project to advance those upgrades — along with other significant needs — was shot down by voters four years ago because of the $19 million price tag. 
 
School officials have made some headway in upgrades, including a new accessible bathroom, security system and front entrance, and preschool area. But access within the split-level school was limited, with an outdated lift to get up the steps to middle school classrooms and only stairs to get to the combined gym/cafeteria on the lowest level.
 
But even as the grants were good news, Northern Berkshire School Union Superintendent John Franzoni, who attended the meeting at the Community Center, said the long-term survival of the school had to be faced. The School Committee wants community input on whether the school should remain open or if it should consider a merger with North Adams, a topic that's surfaced a number of times over the past decade. 
 
"My concern is that, I've said for pretty much the whole three years I've been here, is that we have issues in our building that need to be addressed long term to stay open because of ADA compliance and everything that was in that project four years ago," he said. "We have a situation where our only natural partner, were we to close our school for some reason down the road, it was not operational, is North Adams, and if they close one of their three elementary schools that puts them down to two.
 
"And then what would happen to our 150 kids in Clarksburg who are currently residents in our school?"
 
Nearby North Adams is expecting to close Greylock School after an enrollment study showed a decline in numbers over the next decade. Clarksburg had been invited as a liaison for a proposed Greylock school project in recognition of the potential closure of the small town school. But, on the advice of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the city is now eyeing a project at the newer Brayton School that would accommodate Greylock's pupils. 
 
"We're kind of in a timeline, I would say, that makes it necessary for us to make a decision as a town for what we're planning to do," Franzoni said. 
 
The School Committee is seeking a nonbinding resolution on a town ballot asking for direction from voters. 
 
Luchi said she would consult with town counsel on how a ballot petition should be presented and agreed with Franzoni that a joint meeting of the board and committee should be held to discuss the issue, including whether it should be on the December special election ballot or the annual town meeting ballot. 
 
In other business, Luchi said the town is entering into a National Grid program that will see all its streetlights switched out for LEDs. The program will also give the town a $10,000 rebate and cut its kilowatt usage in half. Several people at the meeting asked about light pollution and if the LEDs would be blue tone. Luchi said they would not be blue but the same lights used on River Road, and in Adams, North Adams and Williamstown. She said she would check with National Grid about light pollution concerns and, at a question from Library Board of Trustees Chairwoman Debra Bua, about exterior lighting at the library from the other grant. 
 
The board accepted the resignation of Angela Garrity as town accountant; Garrity was hired last December. Sharon Davignon was hired temporarily to take charge of payables. She is an accounts payable clerk in the North Adams Public Schools. After the meeting, Luchi was able to confirm that Ericka Oleson, the former treasurer, and Donna Estes, former accountant, will work on reconciling the accounts for fiscal 2021. Estes will also step in as interim accountant. 
 
The treasurer's office had been struggling for months to stabilize its procedures and clean up a backlog. Hilltown Municipal Accounting Services was brought in at 16 hours a week to aid the effort and personnel were switched around. Luchi said the hirings were done under emergency authorizations to complete fiscal 2021. She anticipated completion within a couple of weeks and said Hilltown was putting in extra hours to speed things up. The Department of Revenue is being kept abreast of the situation, she said. 
 
• Luchi also responded to comments by Robert Norcross about keeping things professional on social media. Articles about the problems in the treasurer's office have been posted on Facebook, followed by heated comments to which Luchi responded. She said she deleted her Facebook account. 
 
"I didn't ask to be thrown in this position, I didn't ask for these people to do what they did," said Luchi, who stepped in when the former chairman resigned. "I am a human at the end of the day. And it's very hard to be bashed back and forth and reading these newspaper articles, and I'm just trying to do the best that I can."
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