|Dalton to Set Special Town Meeting for Wahconah Track|
|By Sabrina Damms, iBerkshires Staff |
02:33PM / Wednesday, September 14, 2022
|Images of the Wahconah track that Central Berkshire Regional School District officials provided to the Select Board on Monday.|
DALTON, Mass. — The Select Board voted to hold a special town meeting to decide whether to expand the scope of the Wahconah Regional High School project to include a new track at an added cost of up to $45,000 a year to the town.
It has not yet set a date.
During last month's meeting, the board informed residents that on Aug. 22 the School Building Committee recommended expanding the scope of the project because the project is $2 million under budget.
Central Berkshire Regional School District leaders attended the meeting Monday night to present why they believe expanding the scope is necessary and opportune.
The reason they did not include the track in the original scope of the project was that the building was a priority and they did not know that they were going to be under budget.
According to their presentation, the track was constructed in 1980 after receiving a donation from the Lombard family.
It was resurfaced several times, the last being 20 years ago but it is recommended that tracks be resurfaced every three to eight years depending on the weather.
It was recommended by Berkshire Design Group to remove the existing pavement, repave it, and then apply a new surface to the newly paved track. The design firm did not recommend resurfacing for a variety of reasons.
One is that "exposing pavement would lead to inconsistent adhesions of the surface coating. To obtain consistent adhesion 1 inch of asphalt would need to be scraped off," according to the presentation.
Another is that "with pavement cracked in many areas the scraping equipment would most likely damage the remaining asphalt. If that happens, [they] are tearing the whole track up anyways."
Rich Peters, a member of the School Building Committee, said it would be difficult to get a company to guarantee the work if the track was simply repaved or patched.
"There's a rubberized coating that's on the track and it's worn down to the bare pavement," he said. "Quite frankly, if you walk the track you'll see a lot of those open spaces. The challenge is you could, if you had one or two of these open spaces, you could go through and pull it down, cut it out and put a patch in and just go around the track ... but every two feet you're going to be put another patch in so you're really patching half the track at this point."
The understructure of the track — about 16 inches of gravel — is in good shape so the consultants are recommending a complete repaving.
"Because of the cracks and the amount of bare spots, you need to roll the whole thing up and put a new pavement down," Peters said.
The other piece that Superintendent Leslie Blake-Davis wants the towns to consider is the safety component.
"I'm not a track expert, but I do know what's been brought to my attention, that the condition that the track is in, maybe not right now, but maybe in a season or two, it's starting to deteriorate, she said.
"And it's starting to deteriorate to the point where we would start getting feedback from officials, other athletic directors, coaches that they might have concerns about their student running on this track."
If repairs are not completed by the time it is determined that it can no longer be used, then the track team would have to bus to other areas, which would be an added operational cost.
The cost of the new track is estimated at $750,000 but $900,000 would be budgeted for contingencies.
Finance Committee and Traffic Commission Chair William A. Drosehn III questioned the cost especially since the town was able to pave a mile and a half of Dalton Division Road for about $300,000.
"I am a little perplexed by this number and this is also coming from the Finance Committee chair, not the Finance Committee. So we want to be sure that when we get information and we know what's costing. I'm a little concerned with this," Drosehn said.
"A) the cracks can be sealed. I'm disturbed primarily by all of this. I'm disturbed by the fact that has not been maintained. And that seems to be a common theme with these pieces of equipment and these beautiful buildings that we build. We seem to forget to maintain them when we get them building."
Blake-Davis said that even if they did maintain the track they would still have to rebuild it because of how old it is.
"We want to be very transparent and part of the reason we're coming here tonight, is because we can't really ignore the fact that the track is not in great shape," she said.
"And I do understand, we didn't really anticipate that we would be $2 million ahead of where we are right now, which is really good news. So the design team, the construction company, they've done well by us. We're proud of that fact."
The building project was approved for up to $72 million. The district covers $29.5 million and the Massachusetts School Building Authority funds the balance.
On Aug. 25, the School Committee approved the expansion of the project's scope and determined to use a town-by-town vote, meaning if any one town votes it down, it won't pass. The regional district is comprised of seven towns.
Dalton Town Clerk Heather Hunt reached out to legal counsel Timothy Zessin of KP Law for input on the matter.
"If Dalton Select Board wants to offer the residents an opportunity to vote on the incur of additional debt, a special town meeting must be convened no later than Oct. 24," she said.
"If no meeting is held, it will be implied that Dalton supports the move to incur the additional debt."
If the town were to approve expanding the scope of the project, it would have to pay back almost $45,000 a year over more than two decades.
"I can tell you by the last special town meeting that we attended I sat up on that podium and I heard from numerous people, not one, not two, but numerous people that this town is pretty well tapped out money-wise," Drosehn said.
"So $44,000, in reducing the debt that goes into this new school is a number: it's $1.2 million at the end of the 27 years. That's a number. That's a real number. And if we had the opportunity to skip it at this level, and go get ourselves a grant, or we can go and talk to our benefit associations, we can find donations and things of that nature to put this track down."
Dalton, as the largest community in the district, will pay about 63 percent of the district's cost for the new school, or about $1.4 million a year with a new track included.
When asked about grant opportunities, Director of Finance and Opportunity Gregory Boino said the district had not yet looked into that.
The MSBA reimburses up to 8 percent of eligible site work, which includes basic site preparation, walkways, landscaping and athletic fields for physical education. Peters said even though the scope would expand, and thus the grounds involved, the project is already beyond the 8 percent eligible.
The school has not looked into grant opportunities yet if the towns were to decide to hold off on the track.
Select Board member Dan Esko said it is clear that the track needs to be replaced but agreed with Drosehn's comments.
"Why borrow as a first resort when other alternative means of financing could be explored," he said.
The total collective cost of the project per year between the seven towns would be $2,273,851 with the track and $2,202,984 without it.
The board agreed that the track needs to be replaced but determined that a town meeting is the best option to get the opinion of the public.