An artist's conception of the planned new Wahconah Regional High School. The location of the current building is indicated by the orange dotted line.
Wahconah Principal Aaron Robb, center, talks about one of two 'portable' classrooms that have been used at the school for decades.
A set of stairs in the school's performing arts wing presents difficulty for students with mobility issues.
The auditorium at Wahconah Regional High School, where a fund-raising effort a few years ago was able to raise enough money to replace some (but not all) of the seating. The newer seats are at left.
The boys phys ed locker room, which doubles as the visiting team locker room, is small and cramped. The school was built before Title IX and had to carve up existing locker rooms to create space for the girls teams.
The antiquated boiler system can't evenly heat the school.
An artist's conception of public space at the planned new Wahconah Regional High School.
DALTON, Mass. — Visitors to Wahconah Regional High School frequently see one of the best football facilities in the county and a packed gymnasium filled with banners and get the impression that nothing needs to change.
But look behind the scenes, and the nearly 60-year-old building has issues, issues that Central Berkshire Regional School District officials hope to address with a new high school.
Last week, Wahconah Principal Aaron Robb conducted a building tour as part of the district's outreach effort in advance of an April 6 bond exclusion vote that will allow the district to move forward with a $70-$74 million project that would be funded in part by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
Robb showed the antiquated boiler system and explained why the building is unevenly heated and the "portable" classroom space attached to the building that Wahconah has used for decades. He explained how a new building will address the Americans With Disabilities Act compliance issues that linger from the 1961 construction.
Then he took the tour into the nurse's office to explain how Wahconah's students will be better served by architecture that creates a suite of student support offices.
"The vice principal's office is on the other side of this door," he said, pointing to an interior door in the nurse's office. "I've worked in that office, and I got really good at working not to overhear things.
"In the new construction, it's all about privacy."
The planned student support center will have the vice principal's office, guidance counselors, nurse, school psychologist and school adjustment counselor all in their own wing, accessed by a common entry from the rest of the school.
Students who need to see any of the professionals in question will be able to make and keep appointments without signaling to other students which service he or she is accessing.
"No one knows their business," Robb said. "They could be going to the guidance counselor to talk about college applications for all anyone knows."
In the current school, by contrast, the school adjustment counselor's office is wedged between two classrooms and not soundproofed, not allowing for the kind of privacy that students in need of services should be able to expect.
It's not the kind of thing that the occasional visitor to campus for an athletic event would recognize but it is crucial to giving the best possible help to students in need, school officials say.
Building advocates also say the district's seven towns will benefit financially from engaging with the MSBA.
It is an argument familiar to voters in other towns that recently approved school building projects.
According to a fact sheet prepared by the group Families for a New Wahconah, the district's feasibility study found that base repairs to the existing school to remedy things like heating, plumbing and ADA compliance would cost on the order of $35 million to $40 million price tag would be borne entirely by the member towns.
On the other hand, the MSBA would participate in funding the new school, leaving the district's towns to split a local contribution of between $40 million and $44 million.
"A no vote does not makes sense," the advocacy group's flyer reads. "For a difference of $5 to $9 million, we will have a new school in the fall of 2021."
A no vote on April 6 also likely would mean educating another generation of Central Berkshire students in an outdated facility.
"If we vote no, we lose all the state aid and we will move to the back of the line," the flyer warns. "It could take 10 or more years to have the financial support of the state again."
The district's school building committee will present information on potential tax impacts of the proposed building project the middle of this month, and the "Families" group likely will continue its advocacy methods right up until the April 6 vote.
If that vote is successful, the district's architect, DRA of Waltham, will finish construction documents with a goal of putting the project out to bid for a March 2020 ground-breaking and September 2021 occupation. The new school would be built on land that currently encompasses the school's baseball field and parking lot.
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