Mount Greylock HS advocates for renovation

Last Thursday, the Mount Greylock School Building Project went before the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to discuss the school’s Statement of Interest to renovate the existing building, which is currently in a state of disrepair.

The MSBA meeting is in response to the school closing due to humidity earlier in September. On Sept. 11, the school had to cancel classes due to a humidity problem, which resulted from a failed ventilation system within the building that was not able to cope with the unusually warm temperatures. The humidity caused the floor to seep, leading to concerns about students and faculty slipping in the building. This issue is the pinnacle of many facing the school and its insulation, ventilation and heating units. The school faces other structural problems including collapsed ceilings, boiler failures, bursting of frozen pipes and hazardous moisture and mold problems, according to its Statement of Interest.

School officials recently announced the MSBA staff would recommend Mount Greylock for the “eligibility” period, the first phase in the building approval process. “The MSBA uses the Eligibility Period to determine whether a district is ready to manage and fund a capital project,” Superintendent Rose Ellis wrote in a public letter on Sept. 18. “It also helps to determine a District’s financial and community readiness to enter the capital pipeline,” she said. The Eligibility Period is 270 days and will closely inspect the school’s readiness for renovation.

Currently, the largest issue facing the school is its size. While most schools have overcrowding issues, Mount Greylock building is oversized for the student body. The building is designed for 1100 students, but it currently serves only 600. This size causes the school to spend a disproportionate amount of funds on heating due, in part, to outdated insulation. Without insulation in walls and windows, heat generated by the furnaces leak out. “I’d hate to see an infrared, heat-focused photo of our site,” Principal Mary MacDonald said. According to the district’s Statement of Interest, “a recent energy study predicted heat savings of up to 50 percent in a new smaller, energy-efficient facility.”

One issue that plagues students and teachers each day is the school’s univalent system. This system draws in air from the ground level, which not only creates air quality concerns but also creates noise problems. Students are unable to hear teachers in the classroom because of the noisy ventilation system. When teachers then turn off the ventilation system within their classroom, carbon monoxide builds up, and this carbon monoxide buildup makes students sleepy. To compensate, the teachers must then turn the univalent on again, making the room noisy and repeating the cycle.  “It’s a frustrating circle,” MacDonald said.

Building failures have forced teachers to relocate because of mildew within their rooms. Recently, the digital video and photography teacher had to relocate his class out of his newly outfitted state-of-the-art lab into the library, where he did not have access to the technology needed for the course. While the teacher was able to adjust curriculum, “the course – as originally designed – was hampered by the need to move,” MacDonald said.

The high school utilizes College lab space for its Advanced Placement Chemistry and Physics courses. The Mount Greylock labs lack proper ventilation, so the school is unable to safely conduct the investigations on the College Board’s Advanced Placement laboratory list within its facility.

The building, built in 1961, is taking a lot of time and money that could be directed toward improving education for the students. “Do we buy a jumbo dehumidifier or finance transportation for a field study?” asked MacDonald. Questions like these prevent the school from making academic headway to benefit students because the building continually draws the administration’s attention. “If I am consulting the facilities manager on how to get ahead of a weather-based problem, I cannot review curriculum and instructional strategies with teacher,” MacDonald said. A new building would allow the school to put more attention toward curriculum and classroom development within safe and sustainable facilities.