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Mount Greylock School Committee Hears About Parking Lot Issue
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:07AM / Tuesday, May 30, 2017
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The foundation of part of the new 'central core' at Mount Greylock Regional School is seen in the foreground with the bottom of the three-story academic wing in the distance.


Mount Greylock Regional School Committee members Al Terranova, left, and Steven Miller disagreed on changing the panel's policy for how meeting agendas are set.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee last week signaled that the School Building Committee should consider keeping a parking lot rebuild and outdoor amphitheater on the table as the true cost of the school building project comes into sharper focus.
 
The School Committee engaged in the discussion during a presentation from building committee Chairman Mark Schiek, who reported that his committee at its May 4 meeting authorized its architect to do final design work and get an estimate on the two site work projects.
 
That decision drew immediate fire from the Lanesborough Board of Selectmen, who called district officials on the carpet to complain about the potential of adding cost to the addition/renovation project.
 
In a 12-1 vote at the May 4 meeting, the School Building Committee reasoned that it made sense to consider adding the parking lot and amphitheater back into the project and spending money borrowed at historically low interest rates rather than leaving the potential added expense for the district to cover by other means down the road.
 
One possible source to pay for the parking lot: funds from Williams College's $5 million gift to the district to support the building project.
 
The downside there is that district officials are hoping to conserve as much of that $5 million as possible to build an endowment to pay for extraordinary expenses (new roofs, boiler replacements, etc.) in years to come — following a model used by Williamstown Elementary School, which received a similar gift from the college when it was built.
 
"If the building project can pay for this work, it should, speaking as a member of the Williams College gift working group," School Committee member Chris Dodig said.
 
The discussion at the School Committee level recalled a clash at the School Building Committee, where Robert Ericson voted against the move to create an "add alternate" for the site work package that the district ultimately will reward this summer.
 
Ericson first said he would prefer to consider the parking lot and amphitheater designs separately.
 
He said he agreed with the parking lot work but objected to the outdoor amphitheater, which was part of the project's original design but dropped by the SBC as a cost-saving measure. As he has in the past, Ericsson argued that Mount Greylock students could build an amphitheater on the grounds.
 
"I see things like the amphitheater, which instead of us designing, that would be a good task for our kids to do," Ericson said. "Have a design group put together their feelings for a amphitheater that would fit their needs and have it be a project for our growing into adulthood children to participate in."
 
School Committee member Al Terranova, like Ericson and Dodig a resident of Lanesborough, took offense to the idea his town's Board of Selectmen was suggesting it alone wanted to save money on the project.
 
"Every committee I sit on, we're always concerned about the impact on taxes," said Terranova, who represents the School Committee on the School Building Committee and is a past chairman of Lanesborough's Finance Committee.
 
Terranova argued that using bonded funds to pay for the site work could end up saving the district money in the long run.
 
"We have a bond rate of under 3 percent — 2.99 — that's an incredible bond rating," Terranova said. "To take that money out [of the building endowment] when you can keep it in … The Williams College endowment produces substantially more interest than 2.99 percent.
 
"I'd rather use the interest that money produces five years down the road than spend it now."
 
Schiek emphasized that the School Building Committee has not made a final decision on either the parking lot or the amphitheater. It only has authorized design work that will give it a true idea how much either element would cost.
 
He also clarified that even if the project's costs continue to come in below estimates — as they have to date — the district would not have "extra" money to "give back" to its member towns.
 
"In theory, if we have bonded money for the project and it's left over, that money can only be used on a 30-year capital project," Schiek said. "We need to use it in a certain time frame for a major capital expense."
 
That is why the district did not take a chance that it might borrow more than it needed at the time of its initial bonding. The regional school district won't know the final local share until the Massachusetts School Building Authority closes out the $64 million project and decides the final reimbursement — after the building is built and, for example, LEED certified.
 
"We borrow in two stages," Schiek said. "We borrowed a very large chunk — approximately $30 million. We originally expected the district would be responsible for somewhere in the range of $32.5 to $35 million. So we have to have a cleanup bond at the end to kind of buffer that difference.
 
"I think [the Lanesborough Board of Selectmen's] argument is, if you take the parking lot out, you'd have to borrow less at the end."
 
No one on the School Committee challenged the path chosen by the School Building Committee, which next meets on June 1 at 4 p.m.
 
Schiek told the School Committee that it will start seeing structural steel in the "central core" of the reconfigured Mount Greylock and see exterior studs and facade on the three-story academic wing in the next couple of weeks.
 
While Terranova waged a rhetorical battle from afar with the Lanesborough Board of Selectmen, he also clashed with fellow School Committee member Steven Miller over a policy question that came before the panel on Tuesday.
 
The issue was whether the committee should change its policy allowing two School Committee members to force an item onto a meeting agenda.
 
The district was advised to move away from that practice by a district governance project consultant from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees.
 
"You can always request an item," School Committee member Carolyn Greene said. "The policy was that if they requested it, it had to be included. … My issue with saying if you have to School Committee members it has to be included is that you're deliberating outside of a meeting.
 
"Chances are if Person A talks with person B, and Person B doesn't get on board with it, then Person A talks to Person C, and you have serial deliberation. That's a violation of the Open Meeting Law."
 
In Greene's hypothetical, Persons A, B and C plus the chairman — to whom the agenda request would come — would constitute a majority of the seven-person committee.
 
Miller argued that the School Committee should keep its current policy of allowing two committee members to generate an agenda item whether or not the chair wants it.
 
"I don't like not doing something because you're afraid it's going to be abused," Miller said, referring to Greene's hypothetical. "I haven't seen us abuse the policy of two School Committee members being able to bring an agenda item. … I have see us abuse two School Committee members asking and it not being added."
 
Terranova defended the new policy.
 
"I think the chair sets the agenda," he said. "The problem with saying two people can, in essence, overrule the chair is that it's very, very disruptive to the committee.
 
"If something is on the agenda and the committee makes a decision … two weeks later, a member wants it back on the agenda, and it's the obligation of the chair to say, ‘We've discussed it, ruled on it and the committee is moving forward.' That's why Robert's Rules [of Order] gives great authority to the chair.
 
"From other committees I've been on, that has happened, and we're discussing in April a vote we took in October. I think the chair has to stop that."
 
The School Committee voted 4-2 to follow the advice of the MASC official and change its policy to not allow two members to "force" an agenda item. Miller was joined in his dissenting vote by Dodig.
 
In other business on Tuesday, the School Committee received a positive report from the district's financial audit, heard a review of a recent survey on drug and alcohol use among area teens and, at the request of Miller, read into the record the Attorney General's Office response to an Open Meeting Law violation allegation.
 
The committee also held a lengthy discussion about potentially expanding the junior-senior high school district to include its feeder elementary schools.
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