Williamstown Residents Weigh In On New Youth Center

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Iberkshires (Nov. 30)

By Andy McKeever

John Rahill of Black River Design shows a new plan to put the Youth Center in the northeastern corner of the elementary school’s property.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A School Committee vote on a new Youth Center scheduled for Tuesday night is postponed as the building committee attempts to reach a consensus on the playground.

Recent designs of the center, set to be built on school land, which uprooted the playground faced opposition at the last School Committee meeting and threatened to delay construction. The School Committee formed a 13-member subcommittee that developed ways to keep the playground intact but moved the swingsets. Those ideas and another from Black River Design, the engineering firm hired to design the site, were presented Monday to the public.

“It was very productive. We had an opportunity to share information that we just assumed everybody had,” Youth Center President Paul Jennings said. “We’re hoping to stay on target because the timeframe would have the heavy construction being done when school isn’t in session but if we have to push it back, we’ll push it back.”

A crowd of about 75 residents voiced an array of opinions of the project. Many supported the engineering firm’s latest idea to put the building behind the parking lot on the northeast section of the property. However, the firm had not completed a complete study on that location and traffic on Church Street was of particular concern for that design, Jennings said.

“There are so many advantages to this new location. You only have one chance to put the building in the right place and I think this is the right spot,” resident Marylou Briggs said.

Others said to go “full-steam ahead” with the current plans while other suggested attaching the center onto the school.

“This is what we wanted. I love the plans, I love the ideas and I’m sure we can work out some minor details,” said resident Jonathan Igoe, former Youth Center director.

Youth Center officials rejected the idea of attaching it to the school saying it was not cost effective. The building committee said it would study any options presented.

“We’ll spend the money necessary to vet other options,” Jennings said. “We can make either one of those locations work well.”

The center does not have an exact deadline, Jennings said. Donations continue to come in, including a large one last week, that would help pay for any delays, he said. The building committee will meet Tuesday, Dec. 7, with Black River Design to reach a consensus on the location of the building and the School Committee will be updated on Dec. 8, he said.

“We will take all of this back to our building committee and our job now is to see how each thing works out,” Jennings said. “Whenever you build a new building, there isn’t a perfect place.”

Planning for a new youth center building began in 2007, when the center’s board of directors was informed that renovations would cost double the cost of a new one, Jennings said. The group decided that the school was a central place for children and made the most sense. The School Committee approved usage of the land and created an advisory committee to develop a request for proposal for an architect, which led to the hiring of Black River Design. At that time, an artist’s rendition showed the building to be two stories with a smaller footprint than the most recent design.

“They came and talked to us about our needs and Black River Design took a lot of time observing our program. Then they observed the elementary school recess to see how the area was being used,” Youth Center Executive Director David Rempell said. “We sat down and discussed what the building needed to have and we ended up with a 12,000 square foot building, which is similar to what we presently have when it’s not flooded.”

The present building on Cole Avenue is 10,000 square feet, he said. The new building would feature additional areas for a small kitchen, media center and for younger children that the current building does not have, Rempell said.

While designing the building, John Rahill of Black River Design said a set criteria including function of the building, making it pleasant, being green and energy efficient, cost, aesthics, security, compatibility with the school and being net zero ready were focused on. The group decided against a two-story building because of additional costs associated with putting in an elevator and stairs, difficulty in supervising the children and energy efficiency, he said.

“A one-story building is 30 percent more efficient,” Rahill said. “For usable square footage, the two-story was much more expensive.”

When the group presented the new designs to the School Committee earlier this month, it led to a lengthy debate which prompted the subcommittee development.

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