NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A new $61 million Greylock School was the choice of the School Building Committee on Thursday.
That recommendation will be taken up by the full School Committee on Oct. 17 in anticipation of a submission of the city's preferred option to the Massachusetts School Building Commission's Facilities Assessment subcommittee.
The committee was tasked with deciding a preferred schematic option out of the three that were proposed: a renovation at Brayton School, addition/renovation at Greylock or a new Greylock.
The writing was on the blackboard as the discussion got underway at Brayton School. Each committee member indicated a preference for Greylock and more of them specifically for a new build because of the site, the ease of transferring students, and the fact it isn't attached to another building.
"Greylock new to me is like the clearest of all these," said committee member Benjamin Lamb, a parent. "At the new building, there's not all these unknowns that you can discover when you punch a hole in a wall or roof and when you're talking about the Y and you get to Brayton, it's like putting petroleum jelly all over that lens, right? ...
"It feels like going with the clearest, cleanest option that gives the best nonstop single-phase site control that doesn't deal with the gooiness of a roofline and everything that gets triggered in a building like this [Brayton] ... Am I crazy that Greylock new makes so much sense?"
Mayor Jennifer Macksey agreed that Greylock was the better site "because of the unknown of this building."
"Looking at the numbers, I feel Greylock is feasible for us in the long term," she said.
Superintendent Barbara Malkas noted that Colegrove Park Elementary had an influx of students after it opened as families moved into that neighborhood to attend the new school.
"If you build it, they will come," she said.
The preliminary estimates provided by designer TSKP Studio put all three options within a $1 million of each other. However, there's a great deal of uncertainty with the cost range of Greylock new option running much higher than the other two.
On the other hand, said Jesse Saylor of TSKP, those outward projected costs may be too conservative based on the average costs calculated by the MSBA.
"Our initial range that we had presented was construction costs between $730 and $916 [per square foot] for new construction. But what we realized is that that was too high," he said. "Our office has just completed ... two elementary schools in the MSBA pipeline recently, our designs have been below the MSBA average construction costs."
The most recent schools are coming in at $700 a square foot, which is below the MSBA average. One outlier in Amherst is a net-zero school "with all the bells and whistles."
The MSBA is currently capping its reimbursement at $432 a square foot but Saylor noted on the graph shown to the committee that it had jumped up at several points as prices increased. There was the possibility it could do so again but it's not guaranteed that would happen before the city signed a funding agreement in June.
Business Administrator Nancy Rauscher said there elements of Colegrove Park Elementary School that are showing inefficiencies where the project could not go new.
"But those little variables out there, including that potential for a higher end on the range for new school would be a concern and also just the issue around the MSBA construction cap," she said.
Richard Alcombright, who as mayor shepherded the Colegrove project, thought Brayton and the attached YMCA was in a better situation for reuse than Greylock, or the Sullivan School closed during his tenure.
"I think it leaves the mayor, the administration of the city with a much more marketable option or usable option for this building," he said. "It takes that pressure away. So I apologize Sullivan is still there."
The MSBA is expected to fund 80 percent of eligible costs. The city's contribution would range between $20 million and $30 million, or more than three times what it paid for Colegrove Park.
"I also think that if we don't make the right decision now between a renovation and a new we'll never see it and I think we have to look to the future," said Macksey.
"I caution everyone that these are estimated costs. I don't want anybody to go out thinking we're building a $61 million school and the taxpayers have to pay for that. This is still a lot of work in progress, but I'm in favor, obviously, of a new school."
Saylor also cautioned that there was a lot of work ahead.
"We're not done when we select an option today," he said. "It's just choosing a direction."
After more than 30 minutes of comments and questions, the committee was ready to vote.
"Although I'm not in the classroom, I do spend a lot of time with people who are and I do think that the Greylock new really seems to be the option," said Lisa Blackmer, business administrator for the Northern Berkshire School Union, who made the motion to select a new Greylock.
The vote was unanimous and will be take up by the School Committee next week for a vote on whether to submit a new Greylock as the preferred option.
School officials will also be visiting Easthampton next week to tour Mountainview School that opened last year and learn about that project.
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