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Mount Greylock School Committee: No Need to Gauge Community Support for Fields Project
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
01:32AM / Monday, October 26, 2020
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Without an actionable measure to vote, the Mount Greylock School Committee on Thursday spent nearly an hour talking about the athletic field decision that will be left to the next iteration of the panel.
And three members blocked a proposal to collect data to help inform that decision.
The committee learned Thursday that its architects had not yet given the district a price for drafting new detailed design documents needed for a request for proposals to do upgrades to Mount Greylock's athletic fields.
Those same architects also advised the committee not to review potential "value engineering" deductions from the project or follow a proposal to put out simultaneous RFPs for a synthetic turf field and a natural grass field.
That "two-RFP" approach would have been one way to honor a September 2019 decision by the School Committee to get hard numbers on both a grass and a synthetic field before deciding which, if any, to install on the Cold Spring Road campus.
But it might not have been in the district's best interest, the committee was told.
"Perkins-Eastman's professional take was paying double for preparation for two of everything used for bid documents is probably a waste of money as far as they're concerned," Business Manager Joe Bergeron said. "You also open yourself up to bid protest around the selection being a political, rather than an objective, process. So once the bids came in, there would be political and subjective things going on about who won the contract. That would create some problems for the committee and the district.
"[Dueling RFPs] would also decrease the quality of the bids submitted because people's attention and tying up their time in the process in bidding as well as their financial commitment would not be worth it to them."
The advice from the architects was that the School Committee should decide between grass and artificial turf first and then put the project "on the street."
Bergeron is serving as the district's point person to communicate with the architects during the development of an RFP. On Oct. 16, the School Committee voted, 4-2, to direct him to pursue an RFP that: addresses needed improvements to address deficiencies under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX; installs an artificial turf field with an environmentally friendly, renewable infill rather than the standard crumb rubber; and lists a track as an "add alternate."
Last fall, the district sent out an RFP with largely the same parameters, except listing an environmentally friendly infill as an add alternate, like the track. That time around, the district got three bids with base bids ranging from $2.85 million to $2.98 million. The bids on the track came in between $549,000 and $879,000. The bids on the alternate for a biodegradeable infill came in from $64,500 to $153,000.
The committee left its Oct. 16 meeting anticipating it would be able to take the next step on Thursday and approve the expenditure to draw up the detailed design documents.
After it became apparent that would not happen — and with the idea of a grass field RFP off the table — Carolyn Greene suggested that the committee take advantage of a lull in the process to survey the community to gauge its level of support for installing a synthetic field.
Christina Conry agreed.
"We haven't done a climate survey around the field or the track or anything in that regard," Conry said. "What if we find out 95 percent of the community and families and students want an artificial turf field? That's going to give us direction. What if we find out, on the other side of the fence, that 95 percent of the community doesn't want an artificial turf field at all?
"We could get some valuable feedback."
Al Terranova argued against the idea of asking members of the community to weigh in on the issue — first when Greene brought up the idea in an afternoon meeting of the committee's Finance Subcommittee and again later during the full committee meeting.
"If we're going to do that, let's do away with elected officials," Terranova said. "Let's have a survey on what to do with the police chief and town manager in Williamstown. Let's do a survey on what to do with the streetlights in Williamstown. Let's do a survey to decide what to do with the marijuana thing. We are elected to make decisions. We're not elected to take a survey."
One of Terranova's examples, the "marijuana thing," was an apparent reference to Williamstown's current debate about a bylaw governing production of cannabis in town. That issue only could be resolved through a "survey," of sorts, as it would require a two-thirds vote at town meeting.
Alison Carter also dismissed the idea of a survey on the synthetic vs. grass field question, questioning whether survey participants would be as well informed as School Committee members.
"I'm totally for transparency and doing a temperature check of the community, but I really worry about how we could structure a survey to make sure people who are responding are not doing so based on incorrect information," Carter said. "If we were to do this now, there's a real danger of that happening.
"I'm worried that people are talking to their friends and raising concerns, and if you don't know any better, [artificial turf] sounds horrible and scary."
Steven Miller joined Carter and Terranova in opposing the idea of a survey.
"As Carrie [Greene] has said, if playability is the number one issue, this is a no-brainer," Miller said. "We have the athletic director stating that synthetic turf meets our need and grass does not. We should have a meeting next week and vote on the documents then."
Miller twice suggested a special meeting for next week to give the School Committee one more chance before the Nov. 3 election to approve the appropriation to draw up the new detailed design documents.
Neither Jamie Art, Carter nor Terranova are running for re-election; Greene is being challenged in her bid to stay on the committee. The School Committee meets Wednesday with the select boards from Lanesborough and Williamstown to fill an unexpired term due to a resignation. That means the seven-person committee is guaranteed to have at least four — and possibly five — new members when it convenes after Election Day.
"To the next committee, I'd be discouraged if you override the work of a committee working on the issue for 4 1/2 years," Terranova said during the Finance Subcommittee meeting.
Art cautioned his colleagues against prioritizing a synthetic playing field over preserving the proceeds of a $5 million capital gift for future extraordinary maintenance needs at the middle/high school given the fact that the Lanesborough Board of Selectmen, Williamstown Select Board and Williamstown Finance Committee each have recommended the latter path.
"Of far more value than the amount of money in the capital gift is this district's public good will and trust," Art said. "This process will either inspire confidence or erode confidence.
"Make sure that the decision's not just what the School Committee thinks is best for the district, but it is after a process that the public feels like makes sense to them. I don't think we're there yet. If we don't do that as a district … we might end up with a really expensive amenity. It may be lovely, and the towns might resent it.
"At that point, you have given the other independent bodies that we need to work well with a bat that they can beat up the School Committee with in budget fights year after year after year after year.
"Don't do that."
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