Sunday, February 21, 2016

More anonymous advocacy re the MGHRS renovation vote -- this time from the proponents

Update: Wendy Penner reports:
The mailers were sent out by the Build Mt Greylock ballot question committee which has filed with both towns. Led by Cheryl Sacks and Valierie Hall, Treasurer Jim Majhon. The group has been holding and promoting outreach events and asking for donations from supporters. You can see the FB page here:    Hope this helps! 

Large postcards were delivered by U.S. mail to residents and businesses in Williamstown (and probably Lanesborough, too) promoting the renovation of Mount Greylock Regional High School. The postcards say only: "Preparation and postage paid by the Build Greylock organization."  Who's that? Speak up, please. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The anonymous pamphleteer: Here is the text of a web page which trashes a plan to renovation Mount Greylock Regional High School

Why is this posted anonymously, and who posted it? They took the time to use a method to register their domain anonymously.  The Berkshire Courier weekly has a story which implies that two town officials in Lanesborough might be behind the site. Will they speak up and confirm or deny? Meanwhile, in the interest of a constructive public discussion, comments may be added to this post. -- Bill Densmore (owner/author of this blog). 

Here is the text, cached from:

To anyone paying attention it should be obvious that the time to update the Mount Greylock Regional High School physical plant was approximately 20 years ago. Originally constructed in 1960 and added to in 1968 little work, other than routine maintenance, has been performed unless forced by pending catastrophe.

The MGRHS District is a partnership between the towns of Williamstown and Lanesborough formed to educate the students from those towns. The residents of both communities  will soon be asked to vote on one of the largest Proposition 2 ½ debt exclusions ever put before either town. The seven member MGRHS School Committee has already decided for you, the taxpayers of the member  towns, to incur a debt up to $33 million and now the only say you will have in whether this project moves forward as presented or not is your participation in the debt exclusion vote.

You and you and you and all registered voters will be asked to make this decision. An affirmative vote in both towns will exempt each town's share of a project from their town's respective tax levy calculation, thereby permitting more taxes to be raised.

Any building project should be educationally effective and affordable. It should be a balance between both need and desire. Is the current proposal the answer? Is the scope too large?  Is it not large enough? Do we know that all possible budgetary efficiencies have been achieved before taking on this debt? Should the vote be yes or should it be voted down and sent back to the drawing board? On what information will you base your vote?

During the the last 2 1/2 years most of us have passed through or or found ourselves within one of the many echo chambers rolling through the Mt Greylock community designed to incite moral outrage about the MGRHS building. Many of the of the talking points were based in truth. Some were down right funny, and others, if thought about should raise some strong feelings of outrage at the hyperbole balanced on a thin line stretched between two pillars of honesty.  Early on we were told that there was water pooling on the roof. We were told that because the classroom vents were close to the ground,when the lawn is cut the grass is blown into the vents (really). Rather than run the lawn mowers in the opposite direction we should spend $64.8 million.

For years the MGRHS administration has known about the need to take action on the stage curtain, but it became a very convenient tool to announce the official prohibition (and then not) of the auditorium's use whether or not it was truly necessary. That action caused considerable inconvenience for teachers, students and parents who then had to cart kids, props, and instruments to the various donated spaces around the community. If you do that enough times  there are sure to be some converts to the camp advocating the spending of $64.8 million .

Then of course, there is the infamous wet floor, a perfect storm if you will. A very odd combination of atmospheric conditions that caused condensation on the floors of this school and many other buildings, brand new homes in the area included. This happened once in a 50 plus year period and may not for another 50, but as the saying goes " ... never let a serious crisis go to waste...". So rather than simply sending students home, photographs were circulated throughout the community, the press was notified and the battle cry went out to replace this north county Chernobyl; what's $64.8 million! The result, thus far, has been somewhat effective, commentary by both adults and students are littered with "unsafe", "unhealthy", "embarrassing", and "depressing" while discussing the Mt Greylock building.

Several thousand people in Williamstown and Lanesborough will soon be asked to endorse the School Committee's project choice, but on what information will those decisions be based? Will each and every voter cast a vote informed by their attendance at and observation of the Committee's fact finding, discussions, deliberations, additions, and deletions? Or will some (many) base that vote on what they were told at one of the many in home pep rally/sales meetings held around your town?

Where did they get that information? The most recently repeated line is that the Building and School Committees have conducted a thorough , open, and transparent fact finding process and that the project that you are expected to endorse is the only choice - there is no other way. That in itself must be true because the building committee told you that it is. If you've found yourself repeating this,ask yourself how many Building Committee meetings (not in home pep rallies) did you attend?

Few of us would engage in a project or make a large purchase personally without due diligence proportional to the expenditure. Most of us have made the mistake and remember the sting after making a large purchase based solely on information provided by the salesperson. Anything with a $64.8 million price tag deserves more than a cursory look.   So, again, on what will you base your vote?

Critical thinking forms part of the foundation of all learning and the correct conclusion can never be arrived at without asking the right questions. So here follows a series of questions that as a start must be answered before this project is allowed to go forward. Provided at the end are the contact information for the members of both the  MGRHS School Committee and Building Committee in order to obtain your answers to the following questions.

1) Why was the MGRHS facility not maintained and incrementally updated?

Why is the McCann building (pictured left) not said to be falling apart around them?McCann Technical High School in North Adams was built in 1962, 2 years after MGRHS. Constructed of steel, block, brick and with a flat roof it is in many ways similar to Mt Greylock.  McCann built an addition in 1969 and underwent a $1 million renovation in 2008.   The MGRHS facility is said to have myriad problems not seen in similar local facilities and some have pointed to a longstanding cultural sensibility wherein preventative maintenance would preclude the construction of a new building. Is that sensibility still alive and well?

2) Though the academic records of the Adams Cheshire Regional School District (Hoosac Valley) have been gleefully derided by some, there have been no parallel public discussions of that district’s Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) underwritten renovation, completed in late 2012. Housing 664 students in 7 grades it was completed at a total cost of $40.5 million, that is $25 million less than the proposed MGRHS project. How’d they do that?

3) Enrollments are a moving target but with currently  only 441 students in 6 grades from Williamstown and Lanesborough, and with enrollment projected to decrease after a slight bump why construct a building for 535 students? This question was asked and the MGRHS School Committee and Building Committee decided that the number of students the District would declare to the SBA (School Building Authority) that the District member towns are responsible for educating is 535 students in 6 grades and that the District needs to construct a facility for that population. Part of the justification for that number is that a "critical mass” is necessary in order to offer a particular range of academic programs.

4) If programs can’t be effectively run with a student population less than 535 how is it that Lenox Memorial High School maintains Level 1 status while serving 410 students in 7 grades?
And how does Lenox accomplish this at $2000.00 less per student than MGRHS?


5) Presently there are approximately 105 students from other towns attending MGRHS under school choice or tuition arrangements. The MGRHS Committee has designed a building large enough to accommodate those students as well. The question is not whether these students should continue to attend MGRHS, rather if a facility is built to accommodate students from towns other than Williamstown and Lanesborough how much will those towns contribute to the construction project? Not contributions to operate the school but to build it. What mechanism is in place now to charge these towns for a school we are going to build for them?

6) During the Building Committee's selection process one design percolated to the top repeatedly. In forums where the public was asked to rate designs this iteration was consistently among the top 2 choices. Dubbed R1C.1 it discarded the most problematic portions of the building. It not only reduced the building's footprint, but it disturbed virtually no new ground. Utilizing the "quad" as the main academic area where one could reach any room by walking no more than half of the hallway's distance. There was no need for an elevator, no stairwells, and there were not 2 dead ends on each of 3 floors. This version was estimated to be eligible for one of the highest reimbursement rates from the Commonwealth by limiting waste;  of all the designs this sent the least amounts of building materials to the landfill. Massachusetts now rewards projects with higher reimbursement rates for maximizing reuse where it makes sense. In late June and up to July 23,2015 the cost to the District (after State reimbursement) was estimated to be $32 M for this option.


Then  7 days later the district's share for this plan was increased by the building committee to $41.2 M, a $9.2 M or 22% increase.

At that juncture the two projects were coincidentally said to be within approximately $500, 000 of each other and the choice was made to go with the option made up of more new construction.  More new construction - what a coincidence!

Is the plan that the voters of Williamstown and Lanesborough are being asked to endorse really the best option? How much less would the local taxpayer's share of a project be if the discarded version had come under further cost "paring" by the Building Committee? Go ahead and ask for a detailed and specific accounting (without vagaries) of the factors attributed to the $9.2M increase that drove up the $32 M plan to $41.2 M plan in just 7 days.   Good Luck with that!!