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Meetings scheduled on Wildwood Elementary School renovation or replacement project in Amherst



Last modified: Wednesday, September 16, 2015
AMHERST — Community members will have two opportunities this month to provide input for the Wildwood Elementary School renovation or replacement project.

Architects will be present at an Amherst School Committee meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the Amherst-Pelham Regional High School and at two community forums at 3:30 and 7 p.m. Sept. 29, at the Amherst-Pelham Middle School auditorium, according to assistant superintendent Michael Morris.

“We are in the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) pipeline,” Morris said Tuesday. “The nice thing about being in the pipeline is they agree to pay 68 percent of the cost of the project for anything we do, assuming they approve.”

In order to receive that support, however, Amherst must consider a number of options.

The district is currently entertaining three options — renovate the Wildwood School, replace the Wildwood School with a new school or replace both Wildwood and the Fort River School with one new school and consolidate all elementary students into that school and the Crocker Farm School.

Under the final scenario, Crocker Farm Elementary School would house pre-K through Grade 1, and the new school would have Grades 2 through 6.

The School Building Committee met Tuesday with representatives from the project management firm Joslin, Lesser + Associates Inc. of Watertown, and project architect JCJ Architecture of Hartford, Connecticut.

Thomas P. Murphy of Joslin Lesser said following the meeting that community involvement is important for school building projects.

“We always look for an open and transparent process,” he said. “It is critical to the success of a project so there are no surprises in what we submit to them.”

Murphy presented the committee with a timeline for the project. It listed several School Committee, public School Building Committee and general public meetings over the coming six months. The MSBA is expected to rule on the project in March.

Vincent O’Connor, a Town Meeting member from Precinct 1, was present at the meeting. He said he wanted to be involved as an interested resident, though he said he is not on the School Building Committee.

During the meeting, O’Connor suggested that the residents of Amherst could lend expertise to the process and that many of them should be invited to participate.

O’Connor said he and those he knows are all in favor of keeping three schools rather than consolidating to two. “All the literature I’ve heard quoted says that smaller elementary schools are better,” he said.

Morris said that financial and educational information about how the different options would affect students and the tax rate would be available at future meetings.

O’Connor and Morris agreed that the need to renovate or replace the Wildwood School is critical.

“They have been needed for 30 years,” O’Connor said of renovations.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@gazettenet.com.