It’s Not Old School
Taconic’s brand-new high school welcomes students
“I don’t think anybody will walk through the front door and feel like they’re in a high school,” says Pittsfield superintendent Jake McCandless.
Photos by Gregory Cherin
First day of school. Homecoming. Pep rallies. Prom. Graduation. All of these events tied together are some of the most important and formative moments of a teenager’s life. Not only are the four years of high school an incredibly powerful point in a young adult’s life, high school is the place where friendships, personalities, passions, and education cultivate and thrive all under one roof—unless that roof is falling apart.
Because of this, many high schools in the United States have adapted their facilities to modern technology to preserve the quality of instruction for their students.
For one, Taconic High School in Pittsfield has undergone a facelift like no other high school in the surrounding area— a brand-new building across from the old school on Valentine Road, which will be demolished and replaced with new athletic fields.
“It’s just a magnificent structure; I don’t think anybody will walk through the front door and feel like they’re in a high school,” says Pittsfield superintendent Jason “Jake” McCandless. “It’s really the first of our buildings that’s been designed from the ground up with what is going to maximize student and staff comfort, morale, and ability to teach and learn.”
The academic/vocational secondary school’s new building clocks in at 246,520 square feet and opens the last week in August, with the first full day of school for all students and teachers on August 30. It features state-of-the-art classrooms and facilities for the 920 students who will be attending Taconic in the fall. “We’ve already seen an uptick in the kids that want to come to Taconic from the city of Pittsfield and from outside the city as well. Right now, we have 225 students that will be entering as freshmen,” says McCandless. Modern education calls for more technological advancements, which McCandless explains was a huge part of the development of this project.
The school will house 12 vocational programs by the end of the building’s second year in operation, which will feature a cosmetology lab, a full culinary setup, and an early childhood education program, as well as computer labs, a gymnasium, and an auditorium. “There were several people who said that if we wanted to be doing the very best that we could for our students in career and technical education, we needed the facilities that would allow that to happen,” says McCandless.
The structure of the building also was designed with safety in mind, especially because of the tragic events that occurred at other schools around the country over the past few years. However, all of these features do come at a price, with the total budget for this project totaling about $120 million. “The Massachusetts School Building Association is paying close to 70 percent of the total cost of the project,” says McCandless. The city of Pittsfield paid about a third of those costs, up to $45 million.
So far, reactions to the new building have been positive. The school will have a new top administrator, too—Pittsfield High School Principal Matt Bishop will step into the same role at Taconic to succeed former Taconic Principal John Vosburgh, who has been hired as superintendent of Adams-Cheshire Regional School District. Pittsfield’s Vice Principal Henry Duval will serve as principal there until a permanent replacement is hired.
“We’re incredibly grateful to the city and the state and all the people that made this project possible,” says McCandless of the new building. “We really are so excited about our students getting to walk into that building for the first time and realize that their community and their state did this for them.”
An Old School
Taconic High School students aren’t the only ones to enjoy that new-school smell. Students at Mount Greylock Middle/High School will walk into changed surroundings, too, when they return to school this fall. That includes demolition of its old building, the construction of a three-story classroom wing, and renovation of existing spaces for the gym, cafeteria, auditorium, and administrative space.
Meanwhile, their neighbor down south, Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, is still awaiting an approved renovation plan. At over 50 years old, it remains the only unrenovated school in the area, with ailing ceilings, walls, and old laboratories and resources that are in need of updating.
Both proposals for renovation budgets, one in 2013 and another in 2014, were rejected. “The high-school renovation proposal failed twice in Great Barrington,” says Peter Dillon, Superintendent of Berkshire Hills Regional School District and Shaker Mountain School Union. The physical degradation of the building also may have a psychological effect on the students, he adds.“From a climate perspective, the high school is dark and out of date. My concern is that students feel undervalued and the physical space is uninspiring.”
The key issue is money. Some Great Barrington taxpayers have long held that they pay for the bulk of the cost for a school that serves a bigger area. The high-school project was unsuccessful because the plan was too grand, notes Dillon. “This time, we have shifted the assessment formula, are better articulating a compelling education need, and are trying to better time the project. In addition, whatever we decide to do will be simpler.”
The New Steps Committee has been formed to move toward that goal and encourages community support. bhrsd.org