Wahconah designers begin yearlong study of school needs

DALTON — Renovation or replacement — and how?

Those are the questions Drummey Rosane Anderson Inc. is considering for Wahconah Regional High School.

On Thursday, the planning and architectural firm officially began assessing options to renovate or replace the school — part of a feasibility study approved by voters in the seven-town Central Berkshire Regional School District last April.

"At the end of the day, we liked DRA," said Shawn Armacost, co-chairman of the Wahconah School Building Committee. "From my perspective, being an engineer, they gave us a lot of options. They reflected that they understood our situation very well at Wahconah."

Wahconah Regional High School suffers from outdated plumbing, mechanical, heating and electrical issues, and inadequate facilities for art and music. The building is over 55 years old.

Work now underway will create a plan for the school, but actual construction still needs voter approval. The target date for district towns to vote for or against whatever the building committee recommends is spring 2019. Projects of this sort generally cost $40 million to $80 million, Armacost said.

The feasibility study will cost up to $850,000, with the Massachusetts School Building Authority to pay about half the amount.

Firm's hiring

A selection panel of the school building authority approved hiring DRA in December.

Armacost, Superintendent Laurie Casna and Assistant Superintendent Melissa Falkowski are members of that 16-person panel.

Seven bids were received by mid-November.

Besides DRA, JCJ Architecture, TSKP Studio, SBA Architects, Jones Whitsett Architects, Tecton Architects and Raymond Design Associates submitted bids. The firms are all located in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

DRA is acting as designer for the new Taconic High School in Pittsfield. The firm will work closely with Skanska, a Swedish company that was approved as the owner's project manager for the feasibility study in September 2017.

Skanska has offices in the United States.

"Between Skanska and DRA, they'll come through the building and go through every nook and cranny," Armacost said. "The goal, naturally, is to achieve a building that's in the interest of 21st-century education."

The designer refines options for the school, considering factors like environment, geography, street access and traffic flows, Armacost said. "Before you embark on any kind of a project, you want to understand what your options are, what your design goals are, and most importantly to us, what our educational goals are."

The design work should take about a year, with a project completion in four to six years.

The firm's recommendation will be informed by community input, Armacost said.

"This a really exciting time," he said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@berkshireeagle.com, at @BE_pleboeuf on Twitter and 413-496-6247.


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