October 14, 2013
By Mickey Friedman
In The Best Small Town in America, it seems we never have enough. Year after year, we say goodbye to the old, then spend ever-larger amounts to build the new. This has happened many times.
The money we allocated to fix the old firehouse went elsewhere, the years passed, and we were told it was too dangerous to use, too foolish to hold onto.
We’ve now got a multimillion dollar brand new firehouse while we wait to reap the meager benefits of selling the old firehouse for a song.
Our elementary school grew old and there were many reasons we needed a new one. Our middle school grew old and there were many reasons we needed a new one.
Our old police station grew too small so we now have a new one.
Our library was small and now it is bigger.
And, of course, there’s Main Street. With its Bradford Pears which aren’t as young or straight as they should be, and much too tall. And the cracks in our sidewalks which could have been patched but weren’t because, as we’ve learned, if you actually fix something, you likely won’t get a brand new one.
Now it’s time for the bigger/better high school.
The more things seem to change … The free money argument worked so well with our Mass DOT-funded Downtown Main Street Reconstruction for which we put in $1 million for design and engineering. It’s state money – mostly. Except for the $1 million. A bargain. A once in a lifetime opportunity. Because if you say no today, you’ll pay through your nose tomorrow.
We needed a new firehouse. We needed a new police station. We needed a new elementary school. We needed a new middle school. We needed a better library. We need better trees. A better Mahaiwe. A bigger co-op.
And so the letters will fall from the letter-writing trees, and the testimonials will testify. Because really truly if we care about the kids … If we care about tomorrow … If we care about community …
The kids need bigger and better. Better science. Better arts. Just like our firemen and policemen and book borrowers …
Yes, we have 10 years before everything breaks at Monument, but isn’t it crazy to fix one problem at a time: the heating system, the electrical, the windows, the plumbing … Because waiting costs more, especially when there’s a 48/52 split out there. The free money.
So here’s where I tell you I read books and appreciate those brave folks who risk their lives to put out our fires, and those who stop the criminals amongst us, and that I cherish the idea of teaching and learning … And try to say that there is a deeper issue here.
That we need some brave souls, a courageous institution or organization, to say we’re going to fix what we already have. That even though the others got new, we’re going to find another way, maybe even the old-fashioned way of repair. Because enough is enough and there are too many folks who have less than they did. Because there are more older folks amongst us. Whose pensions have been devalued. Whose savings have shrunk. Because our tax rates have become a burden.
I would have hoped the school committee would have taken up the challenge. Because if ever there was a “teachable” moment, this is it. An opportunity for truly creative thinking.
Allow me a moment to dream. Teachers, one and all. Math and science, the arts, communication, the building trades, the greenhouse growers. Students, one and all. Parents. Step-parents. Significant others. Community members. All focused on one thing: making Monument the best high school possible for less. All dedicated to maximum efficiency. Utilizing the extraordinary experience of those elders amongst us who have built and engineered and retrofitted. Encouraging the bold ideas of the young minds of Monument. Soliciting donations, money and materials.
And, as an incentive, for every tax dollar saved, we’ll dedicate a quarter to job creation. Because, after all, the main motivator for bigger/better is so that at the end of this exhilarating learning journey our kids will find meaningful, living-wage work. And surely this extraordinary convocation of experience and innovation can come up with several ideas for building a job-making machine here in the South Berkshires, for making something new or fixing something broken, for new ways to create jobs.
Imagine local contractors whose sons and daughters attend Monument, an electrician whose niece is in the eleventh grade, an engineer whose nephew plays football, someone who works for Allegrone, internet gurus, and house-painters. Talk about a twenty-first century education.
I’m talking about community-wide problem solving. Not just community-building but a community actually building. Much harder than taking the Commonwealth’s money but more mindful of what’s really happening to our taxpayers. More than enough, an extraordinary opportunity.